Thirty-two priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Lewella Retreat House in Kandy Sri Lanka from the 08th to the 11th July 2013, to reflect on the present day realities, human rights violations in particular from a Christian perspective. The participants were from different dioceses and religious congregations in the country. Bishop Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy also graced the occasion and shared with the group his own concerns in the matter of the Rule of Law in the country. He also took the opportunity to stress on the need to have more and more persons committed to upholding the Rule of Law and the dignity of all persons without any distinction. The participants expressed their appreciated of the stand taken by the Bishops on the matter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The second group visited the tea plantation workers in Mooloya Estate in Hewaheta. The comments made by the participants, revealed the depth of denial of rights to tea plantation workers despite their major contribution to the economy of the country. Though promises have been made by the successive governments to address land, housing, education and health rights, they all remained elusive. It was suggested that the Church commits itself for advocacy work given the fact that tea plantations workers are found in five dioceses in the country. It was also mentioned that the numerous trade unions found in the plantations in addition to rendering lip service to the workers, often obstruct any advocacy work done by outsiders including the churches. In Wattegama Church, the third group met a group of the relatives and parents of the disappeared. They all had horrific stories to narrate. Brief narration of the dreadful knock on the doors, forceful entry, grabbing of the victims followed by abductions while the helpless family members left behind for unending tears and an elusive hope, appeared to have evoked similar sentiments among our own participants from the north and the east.
What however surprised everyone was the vigor with which the lives of these relatives are characterized. They all articulated nicely the courage with which they are facing life now following the sessions of healing and counseling. Besides, the small self-help projects initiated with the intervention of Fr. Nandana and his team has further buttressed that sense of confidence and the need to go on living for themselves and their family members. They were then explained the situation prevailing in the north and east which inhibits any form of sharing, healing or even conducting memorial services to the dead. A need to work together to alleviate each other’s suffering and struggling together for justice appeared to be a feeling common to all.
The last sessions were devoted to discussions on what we all could do both as individuals and a group. The workshop ended with the resolution for a meaningful prayer to be adopted both to seek divine intervention to safeguard the dignity of all persons and to enlighten the people of the pressing justice issues. Dr. Shirley Fernando, Dr. Philip Setunga & Fr. Nandana Manatunga facilitated the workshop while Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, Fr. Ananda Fernando, Fr. Nihal Abeysinghe & Sr. Vijaya Joseph made presentations on issues that were discussed during the plenary.
The workshop came to an end with the dates for the next meeting being fixed for 03rd to 06th February 2014 in Madhu.
"A glimpse of hope at the sunset of life"
When the embryo forms in the womb there is a new hope in the universe of the arrival of a new life. With its first cry the Baby is born into the world. The infant grows into childhood, develops into adolescence and then slowly reaches adulthood. The body grows into its full form and slowly with adulthood the body ceases its growth process. It is marvelous and fascinating fact that although the growth of the body comes to a halt, it is possible for the mind, heart and the spirit to be fully alive. The grandeur of adulthood is its life force of the mind, heart and spirit. It has the potential to remain “Ever Green” until a man or a woman departs from the world he or she was born into. And this is not with a cry of wailing but with a glimpse of hope.
Most of the family members of the disappeared are at the stage of adulthood and late adulthood. They lost their loved ones during the JVP insurrection in late 80’s and early 90’s. The best part of their life was spent in tears, full of uncertainty about the ambiguous loss of their loved ones. They went through a memorial burial service of funeral rite s last year in 2011 , organized by the Human Rights office and now they are at the threshold of searching for a glimpse of hope for the rest of their life.
To search and to unfold the potential of being fully alive with a meaning in life, the family members of the disappeared entered into a three day workshop from the 18th to the 21st of November 2012. The workshop was held at Lewella Fatima Retreat House and around 40 members took part in a soul searching process in order to have a glimpse of hope at the sunset of their lives.
At the beginning of the workshop guidance was given to place themselves at the present moment “The Now” of their life with the aid of visual presentations of their journey of life through pain and suffering and their process of healing coinciding with the journey.
Then they were directed towards “Forgiveness”. To forgive their perpetrators who were responsible for the disappearance of their loved ones. The sense of forgiveness and the good will of pardon helped the group members “To forgive and be forgiven”. The rest of days were geared towards inputs and hope building activities to be fully alive in mind, heart and spirit.
The group was very enthusiastic in participating in the soul s searching reflections and creative in producing art in their groups. Their sharing was very open and enriching. According to their evaluation of the process of the workshop all the participants had drawn maximum benefit from the workshop.
They enjoyed the creative talent show. They re-created joy happiness and became messengers of joy to one another.
The culmination of the workshop was the address of the director of the Human Rights Office, Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga. In his special address to the gathering, he encouraged them further to continue their search for hope and appreciated the good will in their search.
Dawning of a New Horizon
When a seed is planted it sprouts into a plant and slowly spreads its branches growing into a tree. It shelters all animals, birds and humans regardless of the species. As part of their process of healing, the survivor group of the Human Rights Office decided to go beyond themselves to reach out to the war-torn areas in the North.
The exposure at Nedunkerney in Vauvniya District was an indelible experience to our survivor group. The people they visited had so much to share, especially about their traumatic experiences. But the language difference set a barrier in communicating with the people. After the language problems at Nedunkeney the suggestion of the survivors was to train a committed Tamil speaking group to listen to the people to ease their pain and suffering.
The suggestion was presented at the Human Rights Workshop in September 2012 at Galaha Retreat House. The priests of the Mannar diocese gave a hearing, took up the challenge and cooperated fully. Thereby 15 Youth of Mannar and Vauvniya were sent to Lewella Fatima Retreat House Kandy to be trained as “Befrienders”.
The workshop on “Befrienders” was conducted by a psychological counselor and a therapist from Mannar. The expertise she had gathered in the midst of the war, working with the war survivors is invaluable and this fact greatly enriched the workshop.
It will be a 15 day workshop consisting of three parts. The first part of the workshop was held in Kandy - Lewella Fatima Retreat House from the 3rd to the 8th of November 2012. The other two parts will be continued in the year 2013. The workshop consisted of input sessions, group work, personal reflection, games and relaxation exercises.
The participants were open in their sharing and were bold enough to go through a process of inner healing. Saying “Good Bye” to the unfinished business was a very emotional experience where the participants grieved over their losses. A sense of relief and a general tone of joy prevailed as they achieved the much desired closure.
With the theme “Equal in Dignity of all Persons" 33 priests and religious from north and south of Sri Lanka gathered for a workshop from the 30th July to the 02ndAugust 2012 at Santhana Retreat House in Galaha Kandy Sri Lanka. Mr. Philip Setunga facilitated the workshop that was organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy. The participants from different parts of the country were with experience working with detainees, prisoners and Human Rights activists defending and safeguarding the marginalized and those affected by the civil war.
The group divided itself into two for the exposure that was had on the 31st July. Visiting the Torture victims /persons detained under the PTA around Balagolla and Teldeniya Area. Visiting the worker at Asgiriya estate in Matale district.
All participants introduced themselves with the work they were engaged in, especially the recent experiences that they had in protecting the Rights of different communities. There was a long discussion about the situation of the people of Mullikulam and further the resolutions of the last workshop held in Madhu were also reviewed.
It was the occasion, as expressed by some of the participants, for each one to express freely and in a constructive manner the realities lived, challenges faced, reactions emitted and hopes held out as members of the believing community. All the sharing is reflected in the resolutions adopted at the end of the meeting.
The next workshop scheduled from the 04th to the 07th February 2013 in Madhu.
The second training program on Testimonial therapy was held at Galaha Retreat House from the 17th to the 23rd of July 2011 organized by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – Hong Kong, Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) – Denmark and Human Rights Office Kandy the local organizer.
The training workshop was facilitated by Inger Agger of RCT Denmark along with Shyamali Puvimanasinghe as the co- facilitator. There were 20 participants for the training workshop and most of them were new to the testimony therapy except those from H.R.O and Jansansadaya.
A ceremonial opening was done on the 17th July by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, by lighting the traditional oil lamp and addressing the gathering, explaining the purpose of the training workshop. There were several inputs, group discussions and role plays on the procedure of the testimony therapy and Mr. Baseer from AHRC added a new vitality to the program.
Visuals on Testimonial therapy ceremonies of Kandy, Janasadaya and Cambodia were screened to the participants and they were a rich experience to the participants.
They were so much insightful, the participants were able to role play a ceremony before the closing of the program. It is also remarkable that there were few graduates taking part in the programs and on the whole group was in a better standard to master the knowledge of the therapeutic process and therapy as a whole.
The first training program on Testimony therapy was conducted by Ms. Inger Agger in 2008 at Beruwela and since then several victims of rape, Torture and persons in detention have gone through the process of healing with the Testimonial therapy in Sri Lanka.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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