The Story of Poompuhar Govt Tamil Mixed School, Jaffna

The Poompuhar GTMS was displaced in 1995  during the height of the war.  The students and teachers  had to continue the school in a temporary place within Jaffna for many year. During the peace talks, the school returned to Ariyalai East in 2002. However, in 2006 the school was displaced as all the villagers went to Vanni as the war escalated. During displacement Save the Children  supported the children and teachers to continue education by providing temporary learning spaces and  education material.

School in ruines

Following the end of the war in 2009, the people of this village were resettled in  their own location in 2011. By this time the school  which has classes  up to  grade 10, was severely damaged  due to the war.  The main building had no roof and the principal had no choice but to conduct classes in an abandoned house and under trees.  There was hardly any facility for the school to function. During rain teachers had to abandon their classes and get their children to safety.  The Government made a request to Save the Children to renovate and rebuild the school. With 4.1 million rupees of funding from the Ministry of foreign Affairs Norway in October 2011. Save the Children added a computer room and a library to the school and provided furniture, library books, sports goods and musical instruments  to the school. All the children received shoes school bags and stationery.

New school

On 20th June 2012, the school was handed over to the children at a simple ceremony. The school only had four teachers. But now the Zonal Education Authorities in Nallur have promised to give them extra teachers especially for aesthetics.  One  mother in the village has volunteered to teach Sinhala to the children whose mother tongue is Tamil.  Two more former students also provide their time and skills as volunteer teachers. Already the number of students has gone up to 50 and the children have a permanent place to call ‘ our school’ and indeed it is a new beginning for them.

Opening ceremony

School children playing among the ruines

By: Menaca Calyaneratne-Director Member Service and Advocacy-Save the Children

Training Media Students on Child Protection in Jaffna

Recently,Save the children held discussions with Media Resources and Training Centre(MRTC) affiliated to the University of Jaffna about the current situation of child abuse in Jaffna . Mr. Devanand, the Director of MRTC felt that it will be of paramount importance and relevance to the students of media to have knowledge on child rights and child protection because as they complete their diploma and become the eyes, ears and the voice of society, they can play a major role in both preventing and reporting on child abuse in the district.

Media Training in Jaffna

The training which was held during the final week in July included;  an introduction to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; reporting to the UN CRC Committee by the State; types of  child abuse; child protection structures; media’s role in reporting on children’s issues and interviewing children. The training was followed by group assignments where all 50 students in small groups, visited villages  and found stories about children’s issues and reported them on a medium of their choice. This was done as a competition among the teams to select the best three in terms of the presentation of content.   During the visits, the students identified many child rights violations. one group was instrumental in re- enrolling a 14 year old boy who had dropped out of school due to parental separation.

The winners of the competition identified a village in Thellipalai division which did not have a preschool for the last 24 years.  The team   carried out an investigation and found out that the Grama Sevaka had occupied the building in which the preschool was functioning previously. The teams’ efforts started the process to reopen the preschool ensuring the right to education for all the children in the village. The team which was placed second, explored the structures and services available for psychosocial support for children while the team which won third place explored the legal aspects of child abuse.

All the students received  certificates of participation while the winning teams received trophies and certificates. Save the Children also negotiated with Yarl FM ( the Jaffna channel of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) to provide opportunities for these students to become relief announcers.

Ms Calyaneratne awarding certificates to the participants

By: Menaca Calyaneratne-Director Member Service and Advocacy-Save the Children



The establishment of the Peoples Council in Wattegedera signals hope for the previously marginalized and unheard sections of its community. More importantly, it provides a potential model for replication in other parts of the country where reconciliation ought to become truly democratic.

 The residue of the three decade conflict is manifest in the fractured communities where suspicion, distrust, fear and accusation are rife. Following the conclusion of the war, the need has arisen for regaining trust and confidence whilst renegotiating values of coexistence between and within communities. It is in this context that the Peoples Council in Wattegedara was established, in a bid to rebuild non – violent societies empowered with self – reliance.


The ability to have a voice through a representative village institution coupled with the choice to plan and implement their own village programmes is what has come through as the persistent plea from the resettlement villages. The virtue of coexistence rooted at the grassroots level through Peoples Councils will make it easier to transform perceived unjust social relationships, such as bias towards one community or the other, to more just ones. Premised upon this plea and virtue, the Peoples Council in Wattegedara was set up.

Potentially, Sri Lanka can have over 14, 000 self – reliant Peoples Councils. The case of how Wattegedara, an agricultural village 80 km away from Colombo in the Kurunegala District, established a Peoples Council illustrates a potential model for structuring such Councils island – wide.


People Council at work


Wattegedara has a population of approximately 4000 people with an estimated 860 registered voters. People of the village conducted an election for identifying suitable representatives based on their interests such as Heritage, Food, Production, Women and Youth, and Services catering for Education, Health and other utility needs. Interested sector candidates had personally met the voters, who then had the chance of evaluating the candidates as to their suitability to contribute to the respective interest. On the day of the elections, the registered voters gathered at a central location, cast their ballots and at the close of polls, designated a respected officer in the village to count and declare the winners of each sector to constitute the nine member Peoples Council. The villagers said that the elected representatives would remain under close supervision, and any of the elected who failed to deliver on the tasks given by voters under the respective sector would be recalled and the position transferred to another.

The established Peoples Council therefore comprised nine members: five members being from each sector, namely, Heritage including senior citizens and protectors of culture and environment of the village; Women; Food Producers including farmers and fishermen; Youth; and Service Providers including teachers, physicians, traders and technicians. Two members were identified in proportion to the number of voters from each sector. Additionally, members were nominated by the seven elected members from religious leaders in the village and a village share holder joint venture company that provided services in marketing and management.

The People of Wattegedera


Concurrent village development is essential for the reconciliation process and to ensure that an inclusive approach is adopted towards nation building. Accordingly, for such Peoples Councils to remain sustainable there needs to be a direct allocation of funds from the State to villages across the country, roughly estimated at LKR 3 million annually as a basic cost. The Council members would receive no endowments and will serve in a voluntary capacity, as is the case with Trustees of places of worship in the country. Further, the Peoples Council would be responsible for policies and implementation of projects affecting the village in the sectors identified. The main objective, therefore, of the Peoples Council is to guide the village in the path of self – reliance and make it functional as much as it can without outside assistance.

Considering the benefits to the people as a result of establishing the Peoples Council at Wattegedera is useful when proposing the model for replication in other parts of the country.


The elected Peoples Council, although without no legal basis, functions as the voice of the village. Regular consultation meetings of the Council are held and each of the candidates holds regular meetings with the sector interest groups which also include those candidates who were not elected. Sector plans and village plans made out of the coordinated effort are hence facilitated through such consultations ensuring that gaps are not created. Any activity outside the plan is generally discouraged.

Religious leaders



The Peoples Council of the village will be the Electoral College for the Pradeshiya Sabha and the District Council. This system ensures that it is those who are knowledgeable that will represent the public in both these Councils. The constant discussion in the village on issues can be communicated to Members of Parliament and the Cabinet so that both Parliament and the Government will have an authentic source of information as to the peoples’ opinion on issues of national and public concern.

The Villagers waiting for Election Results


The virtue of this system is that when elections are held issues of both the village and the nation can be discussed in small cohesive groups devoid of power politics, wheeler dealing and violence. The system is inexpensive and the wastage of our current system and the erosion it brings with it will be avoided. The culture that will emerge is that the vote will be a commitment by the voter to serve his sector because he has an interest in it and about which he has knowledge. Largely because the village is a compact unit, problems like drugs, alcoholism, use of tobacco and other social illnesses can be identified and dealt with.

Wattegedera villagers work together


The village acquired a computer with the help of an agency, which enabled development of a resource database. This village envisages using the database for assessing land capability and developing a long term management plan. The Council is also using the database to plan career guidance for the youth, targeting employment opportunities in support of the village development and outside the village.



Public utility faults that remained unattended for an extended period of time were       finally addressed. The establishment of the Peoples Council reversed the situation where villagers had previously been at the mercy of village development and technology extension officers for receiving assistance in the guise of favours. Formation of the Peoples Council has provided some power to the Council members where the officers are now aware that they are under the watchful eyes of the people. Further, there seems to be a visible change in the attitude of the government officers towards the public, and awareness that the public is closely watching them is leading to greater efficiency and accountability.


Farmers as individuals are generally considered credit unworthy by the banking system in the country. Lack of collateral makes it more difficult to access credit. After the formulation of the Peoples Council there has been noted an increasing tendency for group activity by which peer – pressure and collective responsibility are having a positive impact on loan payments. In such an environment, the village is likely to gain the confidence of the financial institutions as credit – worthy for financial support.


Since the formation of the Peoples Council, the people of Wattegedara have come to constituting a trade – based interest group and company called Swayang Wattegedara Pvt Limited to protect each other. The Company has taken over the function of purchasing, value additions and marketing of whatever is produced in the village. The Company has introduced a standardization method for product quality and this has attracted the interest of the commercial sector. As group discipline is important to ensure product supply, contracts are honoured, and the village is likely to attract investment from the commercial sector. Potentially, every person in the village can be a share – holder in the company and benefit from the accruing dividends.


Following the establishment of the Peoples Council, the people of the village feel that there is better cohesion of purpose of village development activities. There is more care for public property, and people are more vigilant of any detraction from village norms. This has provided the village a greater sense of security through a system of collective surveillance.


Reconciliation, being the need of the hour, can be facilitated and fast – tracked by helping people to achieve self – reliance and resorting to sustainable ventures. This requires effective policy instruments to ensure it is implemented at the level of every village.

Further, Peoples Councils seem to offer a practical alternative to meet peoples’ varying aspirations for self – reliance and good governance through accountability and effective use of resources. For the spirit of reconciliation to work, everyone, particularly those directly affected by the war must be involved in securing livelihoods of choice within their own localities.

Therefore, every village, similarly working towards achieving self – reliance and capable of managing its affairs, inter – locked with neighbouring villages, could be the natural building blocks for national reconciliation.

By Salma Yusuf –

A shorter version appeared in the Daily Mirror of 13 August 2012.

The Path to Reconciliation through Sports and Play

Three years after a brutal war that ended the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the GoSL, there is enough evidence to see that Sri Lanka as a nation has to do a lot more to archive lasting reconciliation between different Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. While the government has spent considerable energies and finances developing the infrastructure in the war torn north, many believe that not enough is done in the more subtler forms of reconciliation initiatives; nor has the current regime truly embarked on any devolution of power through the 13th amendment to the provinces which too is seen as integral part in building a lasting peace. Perhaps one of the major reasons for slow pace in reconciliation is the deep mistrust that is present between the many communities. We feel one of the key areas that needs to be addressed is the building of trust between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. Once a certain degree of trust is build between each community, it will unarguably be easier to move on bigger issues in relation to building a cohesive and forward looking society.
The International Center for Ethnic Studies (ICES), hosted a workshop on 23rd July 2012 that was conducted by the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD) and Future Peace (FP) on the experiences and findings generated by the project termed “Sport and Play for Interethnic Dialogue among Children and Youth” that was jointly implemented from 2009 – 2012 which sought to promote interethnic dialogue and enhance understanding among children and youth from diverse backgrounds.
The pilot project has been implemented in 8 selected villages (4 Sinhalese, 4 Tamil) in the Monaragala district, which has been considered as an area that has been indirectly affected by the conflict; and thus regarded as most appropriate to pursue the SAD’s objective of testing the approach of sport and play for bottom-up conflict transformation.
Following are the project objectives:
1. Build trust and understanding among children and parents from different ethnic / religious groups in the selected villages.
2. Increase self-esteem in children / youth and support them in the process of social inclusion (ethnic, gender).
3. Strengthen the participants’ capacities to deal with disputes/conflicts in a non-violent manner.
4. Promote and develop social values and skills among participants such as respect for ethnic, religious and gender diversity and ‘the other’s culture
5. Contribute to the evaluation of the use of sport as an instrument in conflict transformation to provide evidence and share experiences with other relevant actors.

Youths been mentored

After the end of the program it was seen that stable friendships between the regularly participating Sinhalese and Tamil children and youth, who have been living next to each other but have never before played together or have spoken to each other, have been established; the participants also seemed to have learned to deal with disputes and conflicts non-violently. Basic relationships have developed among their parents. . The results of the past three years have revealed that sport and play has served as an ideal tool to promote dialogue among children and youth as well as a good entry point to involve the community – if planned and implemented in a certain way. The results of the program were presented to the audience and will later be published by SAD.

It was also apparent that the ‘coaches’ of the program have seen a radical transformation on their outlook to race relations. While the use of sport and play is not a novel concept in building trust among communalities in Sri Lanka; Groups such as Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) have incorporated some of these aspects to their programs. However, this was the first instance that we are aware of that a program was conducted on a long term basis on a sample population so that changes can be gauged and measured in a structured manner in order to assess the effectiveness of the tool sport and play.
Both SAD and FP have advocated for the approach of sports and play to be incorporated into the public school system in Sri Lanka. While there were representatives of the National Institute of Education present at the workshop that was supportive of the imitative they stated that this process will take time. We urge the government to take speedy action so that programs such as these, which have now been tried and tested, be implemented as soon as possible. While the financial costs of such programs are minimal the results can be simply phenomenal. Furthermore, implementing sports and play for fostering interethnic dialogue goes beyond the ‘ethnic’ dimension, and the tools and lessons learnt from these programs will foster good nature and understanding among individuals regardless of the ethnicity, class or gender.
By Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal & Ruveni Wijesekera


Health and Psychosocial Aspects of the De-radicalization of Ex-Combatants

Rehabilitation of terrorists took place in a unique model of 6 +1 ( six plus one) which included Religious and Spiritual,Vocational, Educational, Health and psychosocial and family rehabilitation programs. The medical and psychosocial rehabilitation interventions were mobilized separately under the theme of ‘Health as Bridge for Peace’. The interventions were based on the two presumptions, namely, that war is a ‘disease’ and hence need to be both prevented and cured; and secondly, that genuine concern for an individual’s health, in this case, the ex – combatant, also helped build attachment to the community and society which was denied. The definition of health by WHO (World Health Organization) is ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Therefore, to ascertain an individual is healthy it is not only his/her physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s a must that the individual maintain a good relationship with community to promote social integration and inclusion. Health as whole helps to counter the terrorist ideology of destroying the social fabric and other human relations natural to growth and progressive conduct of communities.

The healthcare services were provided for Terrorist/Ex-combatants (here after known as ‘Beneficiaries) from treating the common cold up to the provision of artificial limbs for amputees. Primary healthcare centers (PHC’s) were established at each rehabilitation center equipped with necessary medication which can be dispensed at PHC setting. The medical officers from Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) visited the PHC’s on regular basis. The beneficiaries who had experienced in healthcare were empowered to work at these centers with the supervision of visiting medical officer. Initially health screening was performed to identify the medical needs of beneficiaries and those who require specialized care were  referred to tertiary care facilities. Further, public health/preventive healthcare services were promoted among the beneficiaries with provision of health education booklet.

Many workshops and programs were conducted under the psychosocial rehabilitation pillar within the general health provision. The ultimate aim of psychosocial rehabilitation is to promote smooth reintegration of beneficiaries back into society by cultivating tolerance, moderation and co-existence among  them which can prevent future conflicts. Soon after the rehabilitation work became operational at the centers, the center administrators were provided with appropriate training both to be aware of the importance and be able to handle  psychosocial rehabilitation and the psychosocial first aid.

In very simple terms the ‘Radicalization’ is transformation of a person which occurs within, in his/her thinking and behavior. Therefore, psychosocial rehabilitation helps an individual in more than one way to adjust to his/her natural environment. What one will expect from his/her life family and society; a sense /meaning to life, Belonging, Acceptance, Purpose, Value, Being special, Having power, Dignity and Respect. Therefore, it’s important to address the above through the various programs such as Emotional Intelligence and strengthening of life skills, pre-reintegration mentorship program and the entire 6+1 model. At a glance the psychosocial rehabilitation may be perceived as only one aspect of rehabilitation but it is the collective effort of the entire 6+1 model. Though it was a center based rehabilitation many programs were conducted to promote community engagement, beneficiaries visited other part of the country to meet people from different ethnicities. This will not only help to promote unity in diversity but to understand the importance of diversity to co-exist.

Psychosocial approaches need to be defined as psyche + social, psyche is the person’s mind or the heart. The rehabilitation of ex-combatants is all about changing hearts and minds to embrace a shared future. Therefore, the center based rehabilitation programs will help the beneficiaries to renounce their terrorist ideology and alongside reintegration what remains crucial is the  community acceptance. Therefore, awareness raising programs for religious and community leaders were conducted in different parts of the country with the involvement of mass media to educate the public on the rehabilitation programs and importance of community acceptance of ex-combatants to become active agents of development so that they are absorbed into the  socioeconomic growth of the community.

An Art exhibition was held for ex-combatants under the theme of ‘’Reflections of Transformation through Art’’. The paintings were presented by beneficiaries depicted a very material to assess and evaluate the impact of rehabilitation program.

Painting by a ex-combatant resembling the birth (1) , growing up (2), schooling (3) , conscripted by terrorist (4)  and rehabilitation center thinking of his future (5).

Giving up arms entering the rehabilitation program undergoing spiritual, vocational and extracurricular activities and looking forward a better future.

Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims we all have the same blood we all are the children of mother Lanka.

The beauty of the Sri Lankan model of rehabilitation is that it was planned, coordinated and implemented by Sri Lanka Army and they did the best with limited resources but with determination and courage in order to give the beneficiaries a life that is worth living.  It was heartening to watch rehabilitation in action under the same roof: two enemies who held weapons against each other.

Dr Safras addressing the 2012 Defence Seminar


By: Dr ASA Safras


I discussed recently three of the four problems with regard to women raised in the last round of meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings. The fourth I thought had to be looked at separately, because it seemed extremely serious. This was an issue raised by one of the Women Development Officers, about a complaint made to her by a man whose wife had been offered an overseas job by an employment agency.

It seemed that she had been taken to Colombo, after which he had lost contact with her.
However he had heard that she was being kept there, the implication being that this was for prostitution.
Similar stories abound, such as of girls from the estate sector being brought to Colombo and moved from one house to another, and then being lost sight of. This however was the first time I had been told such a story from ground level as it were, and I have asked for further details.
The Minister of Foreign Employment, to whom I mentioned the matter, has promised to look into the matter carefully if details are supplied.

Sexual problems
I suspect such problems existed previously, but they seem to have increased in frequency since the conclusion of the conflict.
Apart from there being more places full of women in need of employment being opened up for exploitation, Colombo is seen as more secure now, so tourism of all sorts is thriving.
I hasten to add that I do not subscribe to the view that sexual problems spring entirely from the wickedness of foreigners, since we know perfectly well that Sri Lankans are as capable as anyone else of taking advantage of the vulnerable. But with a host of potential wealthy customers also available, the temptation to build up businesses through exploiting our unfortunate national passion for foreign employment has increased substantially.
I will look later at the whole question of prostitution, about which our laws continue to be coy so that it is the helpless who are remanded or prosecuted. My focus here is the exploitation of those seeking other work who end up being trafficked for immoral purposes – with some, it should be noted, being used for sex as well as the employment they expected, when domestic labour takes on additional meaning, both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Dealing with this is difficult, but I have no doubt that the introduction, and enforcement, of systematic registration and information sharing will help. In drafting the Human Rights Action Plan we suggested that all workers going to other countries should be registered there on arrival with our embassies, with a mandatory requirement to contact them at intervals.
We were told that this might be difficult, given the need for the cooperation of those countries, but I do not see why the onus should not be placed on the employment agencies within Sri Lanka who have prepared the contracts.
Checking could be done by better liaison between our emigration desks at the airport, after collation of schedules of those proceeding abroad for employment, and our missions abroad.

Untoward situations
It is possible that some names may slip through the net, but the agencies should be made responsible for such lapses.
In addition, they should be required to ensure that those they send are given training to be able to deal with untoward situations. I know that the ministry has made considerable advances in this field, with much better training now for migrant workers, but this should be made mandatory, with the obligation to ensure this vested in the agencies.

Protection committees
Such systems could be developed also with regard to the transport of labour within the country. Before the recent complaint in Vavuniya, I was told in Mannar of women arriving there at night, to a bus station that had an infamous reputation.
Some of these it seemed had assumed they were being sent into domestic employment, but they found themselves being dragooned into prostitution.
Deprived of the possibility of communicating with their families, they ended up having to accept the situation into which they were thrust.
Registration at local level of those going away for employment should also therefore be arranged, with those arranging positions made responsible for ensuring continuing communication.
I do not think this should be made mandatory, since that would be unwarranted interference in general freedom of mobility, but the Protection Committees we have suggested in each Grama Niladhari Division could advise all those thinking of domestic employment, either within Sri Lanka or abroad, of precautions to ensure that lines of communication are kept open.
Counselling could also be arranged as to how to deal with problems that might arise.
The Protection Committees could also help to keep an eye on the families of those going away for work, and also help with readjustment when migrant workers return.

I am aware that the ministry has arranged for an excellent facility near the airport to support those coming back, but often problems emerge only later, and it would be useful if a monitoring mechanism was in place locally to check if psycho-social or other counselling were needed subsequent to return. This cannot be arranged through a central agency, which is why local support groups are vital.

Increasingly, listening to the problems raised at our Reconciliation Committee meetings, I am convinced of the need to promote local structures and responsibilities, with central or provincial governments providing the services that are identified as necessary, whether through the Police or through social interventions. The evils of trafficking are best dealt with through constant vigilance, which requires a system of personal connections and clear responsibilities.

While legal provision should be made to hold those arranging employment responsible for safety, community support to monitor this will be invaluable.

By: Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

The simple problems that impede Reconciliation

Medical Facilities
Recent meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings have confirmed the perception that the main concerns of the people are practical, rather than the political issues that are so constantly raised in Colombo. Roads and transport difficulties were raised regularly, and also inadequate facilities at rural hospitals. With regard to these last, the paucity of doctors willing to serve in distant places was something that could be explained, and it did not cause much resentment. I should also note that deficiencies in this regard are offset by the dedication of the doctors in place, many of whom work long hours and take little leave.
More galling was the delay in repairing or providing equipment, as at Cheddikulam, an impressive new building where the machine for testing blood sugar has been broken for six months. One complaint was that they were advised to go to a private agency in Mankulam, where it turned out that the Cheddikulam technical staff worked. The doctor from Cheddikulam valiantly defended the staff on the grounds that there was nothing wrong with them working elsewhere in their free time, and she is of course perfectly correct, the problem lying in the faulty machine, not its operators. But it is still insensitive of the Ministry not to have responded swiftly, given how strongly such needs are felt. And this is the sadder, because of the generally excellent work of the Ministry which has succeeded in reducing malnutrition and infant mortality so swiftly over the last few years.
Irrigation and Roads
Another problem raised constantly in Mannar was with regard to irrigation works. While progress had been comparatively swift in this regard, as with roads and electricity, obviously at a period of drought it is the omissions that stay uppermost in people’s minds. It may be useful therefore to ensure, not only development of a coherent master plan – which I am sure has been done – but also mechanisms to explain to the people what the schedule is, and the reasons.
This applies also with regard to roads, where there is understanding certainly of the manner in which government has moved so swiftly now with regard to the main roads east of the A9, to parallel the earlier excellent link to Mannar, with the superb Japanese bridge and the long causeway. However what programmes are planned with regard to minor roads could be explained, with reasons for priorities. The fact that there has been progress, as with electrification, is obvious, and a better communication strategy, in which local officials are involved, would help to get rid of residual worries.
Where much more effort is needed is with regard to transport. In some places the complaint was that there were far too few CTB buses, in others that there were none. Coordination to ensure that students and public servants get to school and work on time seems non-existent. Drivers and conductors, it seems, live in the towns and are not concerned with rural needs.
The Ministry of Transport has not responded to my queries (the Governor, I should note, has done what he can to help, by getting some buses to transport teachers) but I do not blame them, given both the limited resources of the CTB and the impossibility of such a centralized institution dealing satisfactorily with multiple local problems. The continuing deprivation of rural populations convinces me that this is something that should be decentralized to a much greater extent, with mechanisms to allow Divisional Secretariat level management of a fleet of buses for local transport. If we could rationalize areas of responsibility – where there is inadequate coordination at present, the responsibilities say of depots and police and educational divisions not being geographically congruent – planning would be easier and more helpful to the populations concerned.
Security Issues
Surprisingly, no security issues were raised in the four meetings held this month, in three Districts. The difficulties faced by vulnerable women in one area in Cheddikulam, which had been mentioned at the last meeting, had been settled, and in general I found excellent cooperation between the police and local communities. The recent instructions of the IGP, that a couple of police personnel should be allocated to each Grama Niladhari Division, for close coordination with officials, seems to have paid off. It was good to note that officials and police were on first name terms, though greater cooperation is of course always possible. One area in which this could be fruitful was in conversation classes for Sinhala and Tamil, which could be conducted at schools, police personnel teaching Sinhala and themselves in turn learning Tamil on alternate days.
I ended up raising security issues myself, and in particular with regard to vulnerable women, with greater attention to the issues which had been highlighted by recent discussions in Colombo. I refer to the book launch by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, and then the Oxfam seminar on Domestic Violence – though at one meeting it was noted, as the Act itself suggests, that such violence could be against men as well.
The major problem was alcoholism, and one woman even suggested that alcohol be banned. Significantly, it was a priest who noted that this would only drive the trade underground. Another priest, who has done much good work about the phenomenon in Mannar, noted the need for continuing awareness programmes, which require partnerships between the health and education authorities, the police and also community groups. The same, it was noted, went for awareness programmes with regard to sexuality and Aids, and also drugs. That there needed to be constant vigilance about these was stressed, with reference to the number of unwanted pregnancies that led to manifold social problems.
Land Issues and Resettlement
I have left out here issues with regard to resettlement and land, which were less troublesome than I had anticipated, but which can certainly do with swift solutions. These should however be discussed at greater length in another article.
By: Prof R. Wijesinha

Explaining the philosophy of Resettlement and Economic Development

One of the greatest barriers to Reconciliation, I fear, is the difficulties government has to make its position clear. This springs in part from the systemic failure that will soon overwhelm us if remedial action is not taken swiftly. As it is, I believe we continue to survive only because of the enormous energy of a few, and the general decency of many of our administrators, whom the system however tends to suppress, with no efforts to institutionalize procedures and reporting mechanisms.
Symptomatic of this is the confusion about the guidelines that are issued to Grama Niladharis, the lowest rung of the ladder in the public service, but arguably the most important, for they are the interface between government and the public. Strengthening their administrative capacity would go far towards overcoming many problems government now faces, with more senior decision makers plagued by problems that could so easily – and with much less inconvenience to all concerned, including travel time and money – have been resolved lower down.
When I first realized the wide differences between Grama Niladharis in terms not just of efficiency, but also with regard to understanding of their roles, I asked what instructions were given to them when they were appointed. I was presented then with a Diary, which had in its initial pages a list of responsibilities which seemed to me a regurgitation of what they had been expected to do in the times of the colonial administration. I trust I am wrong, and that amendments have been made over the years, but in general it is clear that a thorough overhaul is essential, not just tinkering. In particular, the ethos should be one of local consultation, with mandatory provisions for this – on the lines of the advisory bodies envisaged in the original Mahinda Chintanaya – rather than the top-down approach that was appropriate for a colonial power co-opting local agents whose responsibilities were to the governors, not the governed.
Some efforts at clarification, if not reform, were made under a recent UNDP project, which was supposedly implemented through the Ministries of Public Administration and of National Languages.
This has resulted in a Handbook, which suggests modes of operation and responsibilities, and provides guidelines with regard to the various responsibilities conferred through the document in the Diary.
However I found this document is not well known in the North. I was fortunate enough to see a copy only after I began Reconciliation work in the East, but further inquiries elsewhere drew a blank. I had earlier gathered that, in the familiarization sessions conducted by the Ministry for new Grama Niladharis, there were no written instructions given save for the Diary. Though I may not have understood the whole story, I fear that others in authority are equally unfamiliar with the Handbook.
Leaving aside this omission – and I remember telling UNDP many years ago that they really had to do better on their Good Governance programme to ensure sustainable results – I have also been disappointed at the relative lack of understanding amongst Grama Niladharis about the role of government, and in particular the strategies adopted for the Resettlement programme. In many places the complaint is that Government has not provided the displaced with permanent housing. This shows a fundamental ignorance of the principle that Government adopted, namely that it would provide basic shelter for all when they went back, but that building up houses was not the responsibility of Government. While there have been several initiatives to provide housing, for instance by the army and some NGOs and the Indian government, these are intended for the worst off and the most vulnerable.
With regard to the rest, Government ploughed in massive resources to expedite productive employment. The tremendous achievements with regard to infrastructure, for which an expensive demining programme had first to be implemented, were designed to promote livelihoods, in particular agriculture and fishing. This has succeeded, and should lead to beneficiaries improving their own situations, without waiting for handouts. Unfortunately this philosophy has not been explained so, in characteristic Sri Lankan mode, individuals see others getting benefits and expect that they too should receive them as a right.
Instead of coping with endless complaints about not having got houses, Government should instead encourage the resettled to request better training for more productive livelihoods. In some places I have had suggestions that there should be more targeted vocational training, and the development of skills in marketing and value addition for harvests from land and sea, but there could be much more focus on this to accompany the basic productivity that has been achieved. Similarly, villages should be encouraged to put forward proposals for better irrigation and storage facilities, to parallel what seem coordinated efforts in this regard in the East.
True, the Eastern Province Government, and the massive input by Central Government, operated in a less contentious time and place to establish the foundations of what now seems astonishing prosperity, compared with what I remember from a few years back. But similar achievements are possible in the North, if Government uses all administrative tools at its disposal to make clear its plans and involve the people in putting forward proposals and working within that framework. For this purpose active consultation in a structured manner would be invaluable, and this should be done at Grama Niladhari Level. A couple of months back I sent some suggestions for the type of meetings that should be held regularly. Though of course these can be fine tuned, I believe we are wasting an excellent resource if we do not entrench consultations on the following lines in all Grama Niladhari Divisions, with obligations to report problems and advance suggestions to the next level up, the Divisional Secretariat.
Suggestions for mandatory Meetings on a weekly basis in Grama Niladhari Divisions
a) Livelihood and Development: This should involve Rural Development Societies and Women’s Rural Development Societies as well as youth groups. Rural Development Officers should attend and representatives from the Ministry of Economic Development should be invited along with Agriculture Extension Officers and others working in relevant areas. Aid organizations contributing to livelihood development should be invited, in particular representatives of the UN Development Agencies and IOM.
Issues discussed should include infrastructural development, technical support, training needs and micro-credit provision. Government officials should make clear what has been provided and future plans whilst encouraging prioritization of requests. The focus should be on ensuring that support is directed towards ensuring the economic empowerment of the population rather then perpetuating dependency.

b) Protection: This should involve Women’s Societies and the police, with the particular involvement of Women’s and Children’s Desks (which should be established in at least every DS Division). Officials involved in social services should be invited, and the DS should assign at least one such official (from Health, Probation, Women and Children’s Ministry and Organizations, Social Services, Counselling) to each GN Division. Schools should be represented and should provide schedules of drop outs and possible problem cases. Religious personnel should be asked to participate and contribute to support groups actively. Aid organizations contributing to protection should be invited and should share the impact of their work with government so as to fine tune and develop it. UNICEF and UNFPA should be invited on occasion.
Issues discussed should include the provision of adequate awareness raising programmes, at schools and elsewhere, with particular attention to alcohol, drugs and sexual issues. The creation of support groups, for counseling as well as protection, should be considered, with the meeting taking cognizance of those in vulnerable situations. The meetings should lead to closer cooperation with the police, leading to swift redress in cases of criminal activity, but also advice and warning when dangers are anticipated. Particular attention should be paid to former combatants to promote their active integration into community life.

c) Social and Cultural Activities: This should involve Education as well as Cultural officials. Youth and Sports Groups and the police and Civil Affairs officers from the army may also be invited.
Issues discussed should include the provision of extra-curricular activities in schools and ensuring that education is comprehensive and not confined just to academic learning. Sports and cultural activities should be provided in all schools along with societies contributing to socialization such as Boy Scouts and Girl guides, Cadeting, St John’s Ambulance Brigades and Interact and other similar clubs. The GN Division should also promote voluntary language development classes, with the police and the forces contributing to Sinhala conversation classes whilst also learning conversational Tamil themselves. It should also promote entertainment including regular performances at Divisional Cultural Centres (using school buildings where separate Centres are not available), the development of Public Libraries, and regular film shores, with organizational input from students.

By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha