“Be the change you want to be in society” - Mahathma Gandhi, was quoted by Rev. Fr. Mervyn Fernando director of Subodhi Institute at the opening message of the workshop, ‘Dignity of Being Human - Dignity of Being a Woman’.. The workshop was organized by the Human Rights office Kandy at Santhana Retreat House, Galaha from the 06th to the 09th of November, 2013 for an in depth encounter with widows of Mulankavil Kilinochchi and the widow survivors of Kandy after the outreach program to Mulankavil in April 2013. The inauguration of the workshop took place on the 06th November at 6.30 p.m. with an introduction made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office to the workshop and welcoming the resource persons and the participants from the north who were accompanied by Fr. Ananda Kumar and Sr. Ivon HF from Mulankavil.
Mrs. Getsy Shammugam resource person of the programs in the resettled villages of Kilinochchi, Mulative and Batticoloa, conducted the healing sessions for the Tamil group while Rev. Fr. Mervyn Fernando worked with the Sinhala group on a process recovery and rehabilitation.
At The in-depth sharing session with the women headed family members revealed that they live daily humiliation and social rejection. Having lost their husbands to the 30 year conflict, these war widows have become the breadwinners of their families. However, with many a limitations enforced by culture, constraints and gender inequalities as widows, these women are faced with struggles and a great deal of difficulties in supporting their families and themselves.
A major problem that concerns the economic survival difficult is of been low-paid and temporary jobs. The types of work available to them hardly ever matched their skills. They were never made permanent in their employment, and were therefore deprived of employee benefits. On quitting these temporary sources of income, they were often empty-handed carrying with them the same feeling of financial insecurity that has been the lot of nearly all war widows.
They revealed their long history going back to as far as 300 years. Their grand ancestors were from Negombo and around 1970 have migrated to Katchchathive Island for fishing industry and have been settled down in the island and had worked under the Mudalalies. After the war with the good idea of rescuing the them from the so called slavery bondage they were brought to Mulankavil Iranamathnagar originally a land belonged to a priest who gave it as a donation to the refugees to settle down. Therefore it is now named as Iranamathanagar – meaning “God devoted land” by the priest. Without realizing their own dignity to live as free human beings they Still yearn to go back to the same life conditions in the island.
The marginalization of Tamil widows is a real social stigma. These women are often alone and insecure, and are treated as a symbol of bad luck in their own circles. Widows of war are certainly among the most vulnerable groups of society.
The group given the opportunity to visit Mulloya tea estate in Hewahetta for an exposure with the Tamil estate population. It was an eye opener to see the livelihood and the struggle people go through with their living conditions.
At the culmination of the three day workshop the whole group played, danced, and enjoyed together. It was a hard experience to wish them Good Bye. They left Kandy with the hope of meeting again.
‘Yes the world is complicated, and the challenges we face are enormous. But we mustn’t just throw up our hands in despair: all the ingenuity and determination we can master will be needed. We have to believe that we can make the world a better place, and act to make it one…’ New scientist, 22/29 December 2012.
Healing begins with a choice
“A man dying of thirst is walking along a dusty road and he eventually comes to a crossroads. Miraculously, he notices on the road a few drops of water left by a water buffalo that had just passed by. Seeing the drops of water, he falls to his knees and puts his lips to the earth in order to suck up drops. After finishing this act, he tries to determine where the water buffalo came from. Not knowing, he chooses one of the forks in the road to follow” (from a meditation offered by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.)
The moment the thirsty man saw the reality clearly, tasted water, tried to follow the water buffalo. Certainly those few drops did not quench his thirst, but they represented the hope a life giving source is ahead. Like manner, our survivor group of families of the disappeared participated in a workshop designed for their present state of their journey towards a life-giving source up ahead. The workshop was at the Fatima Retreat House Lewella on the 04th and the 05th October 2013.
The first part of the program consisted of learning through activities and games how to “Be happy and Let go of the past”. The group enjoyed, and rays of hope dawning on them to imagine and desire the very things in life that were cherished and destroyed.
In the second part of the workshop the survivor group took part in the outreach program to Mannar and Kilinochchi Districts shared their experiences, insights with the group. The two resettlement villages visited by the survivor group are Thevanpitti in Mannar and Mulankavil in Kilinochchi districts.
The two reflections on two villages touched the group in such a manner and even some of the senior citizens were willing to contribute their best to the outreach programs next time. Accordingly as Buddha says “Altruistic action or even a thought gives more merit than holding religious ceremonies”. Survivors of extreme violence such as families of the disappeared must decide which reality to live in- their old broken world or a new one. This choice to go on is needed to begin, as well as continue, the process of healing. Healing cannot function and complete its rehabilitation unless there is a continual enhancement of recovery. Our survivor group of the families of the disappeared meet regularly and they experience the emotional sharing of “I find in you my pain and joy and you find in me your pain and joy” not only with one another but also with the wider community.