Taking into consideration the need for a “listening presence” among the people affected by the war, a group of young ladies were selected by Fr. Jeyabalan and Fr. Nerhu to be trained as ‘BeFrienders’. The Human Rights Office Kandy with the assistance of Sr. Christabel a psychological Counselor and a therapist from Mannar, trained the group in three sessions.
The first part of the workshop was held in Kandy at the Lewella Fatima Retreat House from the 03rd to the 08th of November 2012 and the second session from the 08th to 14th February 2013. The final part of the workshop was in Mannar Keeri Gnonothayam from April 19th to 23rd 2013. The award ceremony was held after the completion of the 03 workshops.
For nearly three decades Sri Lanka has been scarred by a bitter civil war driven by ethnic tension. Much of the Mannar district was under the control of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for many years. The Mannar district was affected the most by the civil war in the North.
BeFriender training originated in the 1980s to provide skilled pastoral care and the importance of the BeFriender Ministry is that BeFrienders themselves are on a journey of developing and growing each day. BeFrienders are a “listening presence.” And there is a healing power in telling one’s story. BeFrienders know the value of active listening which is a critical component of training. BeFrienders listen with compassion and they understand the importance of hearing another’s story from another perspective. Respect and empathy allow them to listen and respond without judgment. BeFrienders are caring and not curing.
BeFriender Training begin with Physical exercises, Relaxation and Meditation. Life giving sources of the workshop were Input sessions, group Sharing, group activities and art therapy. One hour of games in the afternoon was not only for relaxation and socialization but also a means of value education and personality formation. At the final part of the workshop co-counseling and counseling practicum were facilitated with a group of children. BeFrienders were also trained in facilitating group counseling.
Towards the end of the workshop with the process of their inner healing Befrienders showed signs of steady personality improvements. The session on “Saying Good Bye to their unfinished business” brought a great relief to the many losses of their life. A sense of relief and a general tone of joy prevailed as they achieved the much desired closure at the end of the award ceremony on the last day of the workshop.
The awarding of the certificates was a landmark in the lives of the BeFrienders certifying that they are qualified to be in the BeFriender service in society. The Director of the Human Rights Office Fr. Nandana Manatunga, Fr. Jeyabaln and Fr. Nerhu and the superior of the Oblate House, parents of the awardees were present for the celebration that was organized by Befrienders.
The 09th Justice and Peace Workers (JPW) network meeting was held in Fatima Retreat house in Lewella, Kandy Sri Lanka from 03rd – 09th September 2013 organized by the ACPP in Hong Kong in collaboration with the Human Rights office in Kandy Sri Lanka. It included an exposure program in the war affected and highly militarized Northern Province. The meeting was attended by 32 participants from 16 countries in Asia & Pacific.
The theme for the meeting was : “Church and Human Rights: Building Solidarity with the “Joys and Hopes, the Grief and Anguish” of Asian Peoples”.
With the constant reminder of Pope Francis, of the need for social justice, we were convinced that the JPW network meeting could help to strengthen the participants and our network for Justice and Peace at this time of both uncertainty and optimism in the Church. The meeting gave an opportunity for workers of Justice and Peace in the Asia-Pacific region to come together, discuss, share, reflect and come up with a plan for more collaboration and solidarity at the regional level to work and promote Justice and Peace.
The meeting was ceremonially inaugurated by Bishop Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy and the Chairman of the Commission for Justice, Peace & Human Development of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka. In his inaugural address, the Bishop quoting the text of Exodus, recalled that God head the cries of the people and appointed Moses to deliver the people. The Bishop also said that in the face of discrimination we ought to question the oppressive structures.
Mr. Rukshan Fernando made an introduction to the SriLankan Human Rights situation, which was further elaborated by a visual presentation made by the Human Rights office.
Participants met with families of those who had disappeared in Mannar, families of political prisoners in Vavuniya, the displaced community in Mullikulam and also visited war affected people in Mullativu, where the bloodiest last phase of the war took place.
Before these interactions, the Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph addressed the participants and explained the plight of the people more than four years after the end of the war. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, a leading human rights defender from the Northern province elaborated the sufferings of the people due to militarization and briefed the participants about the significance of the exposure in the light of the recent visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Back in Kandy, participants had a sharing with human rights defenders around Kandy, who are very involved in supporting victims of violations and their families. The participants celebrated Eucharist with the locals at the Padiwatte church, followed by a cultural programme and community meal.
Rev. Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando gave inputs on the Vatican II and the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church and participants from 16 countries made presentation on issues that they grapple with as Justice & Peace workers back in their own countries.
After intense discussions, the JPW network the participants agreed to focus on two issues of Militarization & Migration-Human Trafficking as regional priorities. At the same time, participants also agreed to extend solidarity and support to each other in their struggles.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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