The widows of Kilinochchi district, who lost their husbands during the war and have being internally displaced, have not had an opportunity to find closure after their husbands’ disappearance. To this end, a three day workshop on “Healing through Remembering” was held with 40 women-headed widows of Valaippadu and Parappankandal in Kilinochchi district in the North of Sri Lanka.
The workshop was held at Fatima Retreat House Lewella from the 15th to 18th September 2014. The premise of the theme is that remembering is an important part of social and psychological healing in the context of war and conflict. It recognizes that as individuals and communities, we are and live out our histories. In other words, what we remember is what we are. Our challenge was not about the need to remember but rather how to find creative ways of remembering that enable us as two ethnic groups to go forward as a one nation.
One of the creative ways of healing which we adopted was making a memory book that collects good, positive and lasting memories of incidents, words or gestures that keep memories alive. In a relaxed mood and safe space, the women worked individually in the group. They were tasked to select the most meaningful and appropriate photos, verses, and memorabilia which would capture their memories of their loved ones. The second task was to arrange the artifacts creatively. The women were then asked to write poems and stories that would portray the close and intimate relationship they had with their lost ones.
Loosing someone you love or care deeply about is painful. But the grief of these widows may potentially be complicated by the circumstances surrounding the loss of their husbands. Their grief is being stuck in a state of mourning. During the war in the process of being internally displaced, losing everything they had and to find that that their loved ones are lost or disappeared while attempting to save the lives of their children is more intense and deeply painful. The workshop enabled them ‘tell and retell their stories. They were given support to grief and mourn.
The funeral-like setting within a prayerful atmosphere gave the widows an opportunity to say “good bye” to their loved ones. It was a heart-breaking moment to break the emotional attachments and letting go of their loved ones. The letting go of the emotional attachments was carried away with the fire and the smoke that went up to heaven.
Widowed persons feels isolated, usually believing no one really understands how he or she feels and she is reluctant to move with people. In the process it was the time to restore the dignity of widows to reinforce a sense of wholeness and purpose in life to move in the society. As a sign of their new life movement in society. They made necklaces with multicolored beads, and wearing them they danced and celebrated their dignity.
The ceremonial handing over of the memory book by one another with a blessing and a hope of the future gave birth to a new relationship with her lost ones and a new spirit to the participants. Ultimately they realized that “One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
By the end of three days, the whole group became intimate friends. They sang and danced together. It was a rich experience for both Sinhalese and Tamil widows where they experienced that they could live together despite their ethnic differences. “A widow is a fascinating being with the flavor of maturity, the spice of experience, the piquancy of novelty, the tang of practiced coquetry, and the halo of one man's approval.”
Human Rights Office is in the process of Supporting Trauma for the parental survivor groups from 2004 through counseling, workshops on healing, celebration of memories in different ways.
Taking another step forward, moving towards Trauma Support to the off springs of the survivor families, for the first time we successfully conducted a workshop from the 11th- 13th August 2014 at the National Seminary Philosophate Ampitiya Kandy for the children of the trauma victims
“I was the best student in grade 5, but after my father was tortured I failed in my grade 05 scholarship examinations”
“Now I am more anxious than before and I find to handle difficult situations”
“After my father was tortured I am afraid to go along, even to go the school my mother accompanies me”
“My relationship with others is disturbed. I find difficult to face them and tend to avoid those whom I knew before the traumatic incident of my father”
“When I meet those who killed my father I get an uncontrollable impulse to harm them and kill them”
Children living with traumatized parents are influenced by the continuous trauma symptoms that the parents display at home. The emotional instability that comes with the symptoms becomes embedded in the children. Trauma is passed from parents to their children (Trans-Generational Transmission of Trauma) and children start displaying the symptoms as well e.g. anxiety, difficulty in concentration, emotional numbness, anger, impulsive attempts to take revenge etc.
The workshop was planned in detail to meet the psychological needs of the children of the survivor families and support trauma. The trauma stories told and retold and reassessed, and the in depth pain of the trauma was dealt with Art therapy, trauma healing exercises and group sharing.
The Art Therapy sessions touching the pre- trauma scenario and slowly moved to trauma story and the post trauma situation covering the whole life span of children. At in between sessions for the first time the children freely expressed their pain and the struggle that they go through with the parents who were tortured and suffer with trauma. Trauma healing exercises were introduced to release the pain and bring them to a relaxed mood.
There were 35 children and 05 parents who accompanied them. There were children of parents who were disappeared, fathers imprisoned and some tortured by the law-enforcing agencies during their period of detention and now being released. Often the parents refrained in speaking about the Torture they underwent and therefore the children experienced the trauma the parents go through.
Within a very short time, the children organized a very colorful programme for the final night of their recreation with dances, drama, songs and music. The performance of a child with special needs was also highlighted in the recreation. The audience was stuck with emotions when the children explained the reasons for being present for the workshop and expressed their joy of being together with sentiments of appreciation to the facilitators and organizers.
The research of trans-generational transmission of trauma began with the study of children of holocaust survivors and recent researches suggest it can also be transferred genetically and not solely due to learn or psychological implications.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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