Another group of ex-combatants return to society after rehabilitation

Three decades of war came to an end in May 2009. The Government Rehabilitation program was officially commenced on October 2009 for Ex-LTTE cadres who had surrendered to enter the rehabilitation process. The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (BCGR) was vested with the responsibility of rehabilitating former combatants. The latest releases on 26th October 2011 bring the total of ex-combatants rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society to nearly 10,000 from the initial total of 11,600. The Rehabilitation program had a six pillar approach as below and all programs conducted were based on these pillars.

1. Religious, Spiritual and Cultural Rehabilitation

2. Vocational Rehabilitation

3. Educational Rehabilitation

4. Family and Community Rehabilitation

5. Health, Psychosocial and Creative Therapy Rehabilitation

6. Sports and Extracurricular Rehabilitation

Performance by ex combatants

By Dr Safras

Jaffna: University Graduate Employment & Education

In post war Sri Lanka, its always good to find stories of ‘struggling success’ in the middle of a very ‘organic’ reconciliation process. When this involves two conflict related issues in Sri Lanka, access to education and youth unemployment it becomes a critical story in Sri Lanka’s post war context. Something that must be addressed if we are to defeat the demons of our past.

Mr. N. Thamilalagan returned back to Sri Lanka approximately two years ago. He then became involved with the Ministry of Science and Technology, aiding villages based on the level of poverty in their GN divisions to have access to new technology. About 1 year ago he began the process of setting up the “Cambridge Management College” in Jaffna, Northern Province, Sri Lanka with two aims. Firstly, he wanted to give youth who just finished their A levels or O levels access to knowledge that will help them in a practical manner in the future. Hence, he designed a program which was centered around teaching Jaffna youth; English, Sinhala, IT, Management and Personality Skill Development. In addition to this he wanted to give local university graduates a opportunity to find employment in the field of education and a chance to “get a first foot into” the field of education at the local level.

It has taken him almost 1 year to do this with 6 months being totally dedicated to establish and equip the Cambridge Management College. It has recently started teaching 20 students broken into 2 batches, employing 9 lecturers to teach and manage the courses. It has begun courses in French, German and English recently. The Cambridge Management College is located in # 23, Katecheri Nallur Road, Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Its website will be up and running soon (www.cmcjaffna.edu.lk) for you to obtain more details about it.

Mr. Thamilalaghan and a majority of people I spoke to say that a large number of university graduates find’s it difficult for them to find employment in Jaffna. They feel that it’s hard for them to find adequate employment because they are only being taught ‘theoretical knowledge’ in university. They are not taught ‘practical skills’ such as entrepreneurship, the usage of Information Technology and English. Having such subjects would give them an ‘edge’ in finding employment. In addition to this they felt that recruitment of university graduates into government jobs or private jobs is highly politicized and, at times based on caste affiliation. ‘Patronage’ plays a large role within a distorted political and caste based employment system. Some interviewees stated that “people in government offices always recruit from their own area such as Induvil and Kottakovil, it’s about political and personal influence”.
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Recommendation

Empowering Community based Teacher’s: Empowering Communities through Advocacy & Activism for Education Rights
1. There are approximately 6000 unemployed graduates in Jaffna (according to the Jaffna Student Union President). Have a pilot program in which you recruit 100 teachers (2 teachers from one village. Pay them about RS 5000 rupees each for 12 months. Start with 50 Villages.

2. By training unemployed graduates in relation to Education Rights and empowering them to facilitate education services at the community level the following overall outcomes can be achieved: (1) graduates will find a basic first employment opportunity and (2) communities at the grass roots level will have access to education services and (3) communities will have access to education rights advocacy and activism.

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By Kanishka Ratnapriya & N. Thamilalagan

Improving Wellbeing of Children of Post-War Sri Lanka through Psychosocial Activities

Having recognized the dire need to address the mental health of children who have been subjected to trauma due to the conflict, many psychosocial activities were undertaken to provide relief to the children in welfare villages. In conjunction with the Ministry of Healthcare & Nutrition and Health Coordinating Office at Menik Farm, Cheddikulam the following activities have taken place at the IDP welfare villages since August 2009 to 2010:

  • Setting up of 2 Psychosocial Centres in Zone 4 and 0 fully equipped with arts and craft materials, library,TV/ DVD, musical instruments, sports equipment & computers to provide the children an environment to play, recreate, interact and learn.
  • “Art Camps” using Art as a form of therapy to overcome trauma.  Due to this activity over 3000 children gradually improved their mental state and wellbeing.

Art camps to express their feelings....

  • Kite Competitions.

Children with the kites they have made

  • Hand craft competitions.
  • Career Counseling.
  • 100 children from the IDP camps were brought on an excursion to Colombo. After visiting famous sites they held an exhibition of their drawings at Colombo Hilton. The funds raised from the sale of arts were donated to the children to further their education. The children also had an evening of music and dance performance
    at the Colombo Hilton on the 13th December 2010.
  • In April 2010 50 such children were taken to Nuwara Eliya (Hill country) to visit tea factories, horse races, botanical gardens and the Highland Milk Factory.

These activities have provided the children opportunities to give expression to their unspoken fears and troubles, forget their traumatic experiences, relax and recreate in a non-threatening environment. It has also helped them explore their talents; build self confidence, self esteem bringing hope for a better today. The tangible difference of the children who regularly attended the psychosocial centres was very clear. With an increased positive attitude which transformed them to confident young children after several days, they boldly came forward to display their talents and express themselves.

The established psychosocial centres would carry out the following activities:

  • Library facilities

Reading (Libraries have been provided consisting of Tamil and English books)

  • Music Instruments

Child playing a drum

  • Recreational activities such as board games & handy crafts.

Board games & Handy crafts

  • Recreational activities such watching TV and movies.

Communal activities such as watching TV

  • Sports activities (specifically Volleyball, football, Badminton & Cricket)

The centre are open from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm everyday providing an oasis for children to enjoy and recreate in a carefree atmosphere. During school hours, the centre is open to children for use during their “free-periods’ in a systematic manner, enabling equal opportunity for all age groups. After school hours and on weekends, a typical programme would consist of a fixed time-table for certain activities such as singing, dancing, drama, and art and craft lessons.
The first psychosocial centre at Mallavi with a population of 7500 in the AGA Division of Thunukkai, District of Mullaitivu in the Northern Province, was declared open at the Mallavi Central College on 31st January 2010. The school currently has 1000 children from grade 1-13 (age group 5-18) registered. The Centre was sponsored by True Volunteer Foundation, headquartered in UK. The school was renovated and restored with skilled labour provided courtesy of the Sri Lankan Army. Aptly named as “Mahilchi Illam” (Happiness Centre), the centre is fully equipped with a library of books in English and Tamil for all age groups, arts and craft materials, play items, games, musical instruments, TV and DVD sets. There is also an extensive library of educational movies suitable for children, sports equipments and other material. The Computer Room is currently provided with 2 computers for teaching basic computing and will be later enhanced with more computers and internet connection.

Computer Room

In the post-resettlement phase, 8 Happiness Centres have been established in the districts of Vavuniya, Killinochchi, Mannar & Mullaitivu with the funding from various NGOs such as Action & Care Trust, Medical Aid To Sri Lanka etc and other donors /well-wishers.

It is proposed to continue the establishment of such psychosocial centres in schools in the North & Eastern Provinces, due to the curative effects of simply experiencing the freedom and joy of just being “kids” in a non-threatening environment, which helps them to forget their sad and traumatic past. Few more such centres are proposed to be set up in Mullaitivu shortly.

In addition to the psychosocial centres, in July 2011 a group of volunteers from IBM Sri  Lanka carried out Career Guidance Programmes counseling to over 800 students in 16 schools in Mallavi, Pandiyankulam and Poonerynn. IBM volunteers did presentations & one-on-one interactive sessions to the students on career options in the marketplace on careers in IT – Software engineering, ICT in general, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), travel & tourism/hospitality industry, apparel industry & marketing. Considering the lack of exposure of students to the new trends in marketplace, these sessions were intended to open their minds and broaden their vision and goals in life, beyond the traditional professions and careers.

Out of these students 15 who have suffered personal injury or lost parent/s in the conflict have been adopted/ sponsored with monthly payments for education by Sinhalese living in Colombo and abroad. They keep in touch with the kids and act as mentors on a personal level. The attitudinal change in the Tamil students towards the Sinhala race after having experienced their generous human nature is impressive. The realization, that the Sinhalese are not the “demons” the terrorists’ portrayed them to be, has helped the Tamil youth to reach out and befriend the Sinhalese families and build mutual trust and understanding, leading to reconciliation amongst the communities.

In addition to the above they have the following upcoming events planned to implement.

  • Workshops on photography, art, graphic design and music composition by a team of American volunteer artists who will be in Sri Lanka in December 2011. This would be followed by exhibitions in the local communities as well as in Colombo & New York.
  • Cultural exchanges and ‘Brother/Sister’ adoption programs to connect north & south schools to build partnership and foster mentoring relationships.

(Information obtained from Manori Unambuwe (Marketing Leader IBM Sri Lanka), the proposer & coordinator of this project)

By Pushpi Weerakoon

Business Information for Reconciliation

The beauty and the curse of the term reconciliation lie in its ability to be interpreted widely by its various users. For some Sri Lankans such as myself, it means the maintaining of an environment without violent conflict or to ‘manage peace’. In this regard, equitable economic development into the peripheries and the role of business in such development is seen as increasingly important. Development efforts and investments in the post-war, especially North and East of Sri Lanka,shouldaddress the specific needs of the region in a sustainable manner and create regional ownership as opposed to being implemented in an ad hoc manner; only then will it result in good ‘management of peace’ within these areas.

The past 30 months have seen such numerous economic development interventions of varying scales in the post-war regions by actors ranging from Government, international organisations, NGOs, local private sector and foreign including Diaspora investors. Steady progress is being made but my experience in the region have brought to light that this process needs to be better facilitated and that there is a strong and urgent need for an updated, accessible and needs-driven information source to be established in order to facilitate responsible investments and development efforts. Information is power and the lack of it leads to misunderstanding and insecurity – past experience has shown us Sri Lankans how intense the repercussions can be.

An interesting local initiative in this regard is the Regional Enterprise Development Initiative (REDI) maintained by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. REDIis a web-based information hub for business interaction and information sharing accessible in all three languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English. It allows business people, who represent SMEs in the regions, to share information about their products and regional business environments, as well as to connect and network with other business partners. On the flip side, it allows external business interest groupsthat are interested in investing and partnering in the regions, as well as supporting other business support initiatives access to necessary regional information and contacts. In this way, local investors and Urban based companies’ can also link up with regional SMEs for trade and investment. Initiatives such as REDIare only as effective as its users and a major challenge to such online initiatives is the lack of Internet access and usage in the regions and also the lack of advertisement of such initiatives to its stakeholders. Greater partnerships with regional Chambers of Commerce to overcome such difficulties is highly recommended.

Let me end by quoting Benjamin Franklin, ‘For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise’.

By Selyna. D. Peiris

Youngsters from Velvettithurai visit Parliament

A group of young persons from Velvettithurai visited Parliament on October 18 during a visit to the South arranged by the Rotary Club of Colombo Mid-Town. The programme was arranged by Pushpi Weerakoon, of the Reconciliation Office, and the group was hosted to lunch by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP along with several other Members of Parliament.

Youngsters from Velvettithurai visit Parliament

Youngsters from Velvettithurai visit Parliament

The group of youngsters from Velvettithurai on the top floor of Parliament with MP Rajiva Wijesinha, before they went into the Chamber.

Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa met the students as they came in, and talked about the need of students in the North as well as the South for better training for jobs.

Others who spoke to the students at lunch were Kanaka Herath, former Wayamba Chief Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Buddhika Pathirana, Maavi Senathiraja and Mr Saravanaparvan.

The group then went into the Chamber to listen to a debate. Before the visit, they had held a workshop at the Reconciliation Office, with presentations on Peace Building, It and Communications, Business Development and Rehabilitation. In addition to Shanthi and Malkanthi Hettiarachchi and Pushpi Weerakoon, the arrangements were handled by Prof Rajendran of the Universities of Jaffna and Singapore who has contributed actively to the visit and the interactions with counterparts in the South. The group has visited Kandy and Nuwara Eliya too, and will go to Sigiriya and Anuradhapura on their way back.

Why social reconciliation through cultural exchanges is important, and more is better

Two years after the war the importance of social reconciliation among different communities is more important than ever. Reconciliation, as John Paul Lederach puts it, is ‘the restoring and healing of torn-apart relationships’, For some of us in cosmopolitan cities such as Colombo, Galle and Kandy, the interaction between individuals from different communities is a daily occurrence. But a large portion of Sri Lankans do not, in an entire life-time, interact with individuals from different communities. The lack of such intermingling of communities would be an obstacle to reconciliation and a meaningful peace after a 30 year war. In the recent past a few organizations have brought individuals from north to south so that there would be some form of cultural exchange between the two communities. One such organization is Sri Lanka Unites (SLU). The SLU mission is ‘To unite the youth of all ethnic and religious groups across Sri Lanka, in a movement which provides hope and promotes reconciliation, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations’. SLU has tried to attain this goal primarily through bringing young school goers from across the island together for a retreat aimed at developing better understanding between all communities and developing leadership skills. Institutes such as the International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES), too have played a role in bringing people together. During August 18-21 this year in what was termed an Exposure Visit Tamil youth from Manthai West in Mannar and Nedunkerni in Vavniya came to meet Sinhalese villagers in the Kurunagala district. The idea was to immerse both communities in a cultural exchange to see pastr differences and glimpse similarities the mingling of the communities led to the development of bondsbetween them. It played a major role in destroying some of the major negative stereotypes shaped by the war. While working with SLU, I would regularly hear accounts from Sinhalese and Tamil students of being given incredibly negative portrayal of the ‘other’ by their families and friends. These views when not countered through better information and actual meetings can solidify. However, after even brief encounters with their peers during the conference, these negative stereotypes are destroyed.


However, much more needs to be done. As it stands now, individuals are brought from north to south for cultural and educational programs, but we rarely hear of programmes taking people the other way. And there has rarely been meaningful follow up programmes to build on the good work that is being done. Cultural exchanges have to be done more coherently, with traffic moving both ways and more meaningful follow-up strategy has to be put in place for the advances made during brief visits to solidify and grow. Reconciliation will not only be important for future peace, but for our own future strength as a nation.


Anyone interested in contributing to further such exchanges should get in touch with Lahiru at   pathmalal@gmail.com or Pushpi at pushpiweerakoon@yahoo.co.uk. The  Reconciliation Office is not in a position to implement projects but its Youth Forum will help to find active Civil Society Partners to assist with further activity.

By Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal.

Moving Forward – Entrepreneurship for former combatants

The Trainees with their certificates

The Trainees with their certificates

The second workshop on entrepreneurial skills for former combatants concluded in Vavuniya on October 5th. Arranged by the Bureau of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, with support from Prof Rajiva Wijesinha’s decentralized budget, the programme was conducted by Business Consultancy Services which had conducted the previous workshop with funding from Prof Wijesinha’s 2010 decentralized budget.

Thirty youngsters participated actively, and seemed to absorb much of what was taught, as seen in the business plans they produced in the final session. They had been divided into five groups, all of which described production and marketing strategies for consumer items. 5 Star Shop sold shirts, while the Royal Group concentrated on sarongs. Styles had slippers and Daittannik school bags (with caps thrown in free with the larger bags), with New Star dealing in bats.

More than 20 of the trainees expressed a preference to work in the private sector, though they also noted that education and training also required private sector involvement. At the conclusion of the presentations Prof Wijesinha gave a brief English lesson, using the primary level textbooks that were used for training conducted in the Ratnapura District with another section of his decentralized budget.

The programme was facilitated by the Vavuniya Government Agent Mrs Charles, who is now in the process of setting up micro-credit facilities with input from Prof Wijesinha’s decentralized budget funds. It is hoped that this will be through a local bank that will encourage former combatants in business initiatives.

An English lesson – More Fun with Sounds

An English lesson – More Fun with Sounds

Styles slippers

Styles slippers

Daittanik selling school bags

Daittanik selling school bags

By Pushpi Weerakoon

Scholarships for deprived youngsters to encourage Learning and Leading

LEARN AND LEAD

On an initiative of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat, the Business for Peace Alliance of the Ceylon Chamber of commerce commenced in 2007 a scholarship programme entitled ‘Learn & Lead’. The purpose was to  secure a good education for gifted children from difficult areas whose future schooling was uncertain. The scholarship was also intended to help young people from conflict affected areas in Sri Lanka to realize their leadership potential.

The programme grew out of a vision to decentralize the next generation of leadership from the capital to less-affluent regions. Its goal was to nurture leadership abilities in conflict-affected and poverty stricken areas that were emerging from a generation of conflict. Capable but under-privileged students from the conflict affected areas of the country were selected and provided with funds and assistance to study in leading schools in the capital.

L&L scholars at the Colombo Zoo with Program Manager Pushpi Weerakoon

L&L scholars at the Colombo Zoo with Program Manager Pushpi Weerakoon

The programme provided full scholarships to gifted pupils to study in an environment where they could network, build confidence, and develop their full leadership potential. Understanding the value of the program, schools such as St Thomas College Mt Lavinia, Ladies College, Methodist College, Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya, St Benedicts College Kotehena and Singapore Informatics offered places to the L&L scholars.  In addition to schooling, the project manager Pushpi Weerakoon put in place a number of initiatives to build the leadership capacity of scholars. This included peace-building and exchange programmes with students at other schools to foster a greater appreciation of the disparity of opportunity which exists in different parts of the island, and to encourage interaction between people from different ethnicities and backgrounds.

L&L scholars with their new classmates & Teachers from Colombo schools with the Secretary General of SCOPP Prof Rajiva Wijesingha, Program Manager Pushpi Weerakoon & Chairman of BPA Manique Mendis

L&L scholars with their new classmates & Teachers from Colombo schools with the Secretary General of SCOPP Prof Rajiva Wijesingha, Program Manager Pushpi Weerakoon & Chairman of BPA Manique Mendis

To build the profile of the programme, a Steering Committeewas established that included the former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Dr Jayantha Dhanapala, the Director of the National Child Protection Authority Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne and Mr Mahen Dayananda the President of the Regional Chambers of Commerce, in addition to the the Secretary General of SCOPP and Manique Mendis of BPA. Pushpi was the first point of contact for the scholars, and administered to their wider needs. Some had grown up with conflict, and were uncertain of who they could trust. They came from rural backgrounds with parents who tilled the land, and lived with large families in makeshift houses smaller than some garages in the homes of urban students who were now their classmates.

Coming to an urban area, and mixing with often privileged children, was extremely intimidating for them. The leadership challenge was to build trust and provide comprehensive pastoral support. As the scholar’s confidence grew, Pushpi established a network of ‘guardians’ who provided much of the function of a parent whilst the children studied away from their homes.  Having received successful results from the A/L exams in 2010 from the Maths, Science, Arts and the Commerce stream the 1st batch of scholars are now attending vocational training courses, awaiting university entrance and some have also set up their own entrepreneurial ventures.

The Rotary Club of Colombo Mid Town has now adopted the L&L scholarship and is looking forward to nurturing a 2nd batch of scholars to lead the reconciliation & development process and sustain the hard won peace achieved in Sri Lanka.

Anyone interested in contributing to the programme should get in touch with Pushpi at: pushpiweerakoon@yahoo.co.uk

By Pushpi Weerakoon

Challenges to reconciliation, the Sri Lankan experience

Lessons learnt: reconciliation mechanism applied in Sri Lanka, an overview and current challenges
Presentation By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Advisor on Reconciliation to HE the President to the Association of Sri Lankan Lawyers In The UK on October 11th 2011


When the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was established, I thought its most important function would be with regard to the future. Through a study of what had happened in the past, it would report on how best all the people of Sri Lanka could live together amicably, and productively, instead of engaging in the rivalries that had dogged us previously.

It seemed important therefore to look at the grievances on all sides, but in particular those of the Tamils who had sought solutions for their problems through political negotiations, before their cause was taken over by violence and terrorism. It seemed clear to me that changes in language and educational policy, plus a more inclusive administrative system that empowered people in the regions, were essential. In addition there was great need to assuage the worries of those who had suffered most in the conflict, namely the Tamils of the Wanni who had lost out even on the little development there had been in Sri Lanka in the preceding period, and who had suffered appallingly when forced to become hostages of the Tigers in the first five months of 2009.

Many of those who appeared before the Commission spoke however of what had gone wrong in recent years when political negotiations failed. While that is a subject of great interest for historical reasons, it does not contribute much to reconciliation, for clearly we are talking of intransigence on the part of political players who had disproportionate influence at different stages. In the most recent phase, which took up most attention, we were dealing with a terrorist group that repeatedly withdrew from negotiations, even with interlocutors prepared to grant them more than others had ever requested.

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