By Jane Best
The north of Sri Lanka is emerging from decades of instability and, more recently, displacement on a huge scale.
I am visiting the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu in the Northern Province at the invitation of World Vision Japan. RIJ funded a project through World Vision Japan (and thus World Vision Lanka) supporting the training of pre-school teachers in Mullaitivu district, essentially the last area of conflict.
I have spent the last two days in Killinochchi District where thousands of people have been resettled by the government in the last three years.
Most of the people I met had been living in the area before displacement but they lost everything, including birth certificates, qualification certificates and land ownership papers.
It is clear as we drive around that some areas have developed faster than others; those who have moved in more recently lack support as aid is gradually being scaled back.
In the past two days I have visited pre-schools, women’s groups, livelihood programmes, community training and a psycho-social initiative.
Pre-school teachers require a diploma to continue teaching and to ensure some security in terms of pay and conditions. I met teachers who had the diploma and some who are currently undergoing the training. I was interested to hear their opinion of the training. They all said it is excellent, that it gives a new perspective on their work and a greater understanding of the children.
This does not surprise me as the standard of education in Sri Lanka is high, with a literacy rate of 92%. An enviable record.
We visited several women’s groups working on livelihood programmes and most of them doing really well. I thought the women were great. They have formed small groups working on activities such as making and packing spices, snacks and rice flour. They were keen to tell me about their achievements and how much they have learnt from the programme – communication, working together, marketing and how to save!
Most of them have set up a Savings group and been able to borrow money for new enterprises, such as sewing, poultry production or opening a shop. They are really canny, even to the point of dissolving the scheme and sharing out the money after one year to avoid things getting out of hand. They re-establish the scheme a month later. They have a lot to teach us!
Our last visit this afternoon was to sit in on a session that is part of the REMIND programme. REMIND was started two years ago to address mental health problems and assist people in post-conflict recovery. This was the first of 16 sessions where the participants gather together and talk about their problems. Of the group of 10 people I met, three of them were having trouble articulating their story, but under the steady urging of the facilitator everyone was able to verbalise their problems. It is an initiative I have come across in other post-conflict situations and one which is very valuable. The participants I met today were already learning they are not alone and the value of sharing their experiences. I was impressed with the programme and with the skill of the facilitator.
I understand this programme also includes street theatre performances.
I came away thinking that there are three important factors in emotional recovery:
To Share, To Cry, To Laugh.