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.
- Kite Competitions.
- 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
- Music Instruments
- Recreational activities such as board games & handy crafts.
- Recreational activities such watching TV and movies.
- 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.
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