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.
A group of six secondary survivors, three Sinhalese and three Tamils found their way out to Valaipadu a village of 3 1/2 k.m. in the Kilinochchi District for Trauma Support: a relationship for connection and mutual understanding with the women headed families’ (widows ) of the village. Valaipadu is a fishing village. Its name derived from “fishing in a big scale by laying nets”. There are 300 catholic families in the village. In the resettlement process the villagers are back in their original village. As far as the historical evidence shows there had been 15 families originally occupied, having their livelihood based on fishing.
The survivor group had a prior training in forming relationships of empathy, sharing their strengths, listening actively to their stories for trauma support, thereby promote healing and growth by building relationships among a two ethnic communities of equals.
In listening to their trauma stories, some of the women were unable to move beyond endless repetitions, Recounting details of what happened to them and reliving the feelings they experienced during traumatic events. From 1993 with the war for over 25 years, the war caused significant hardships for the population, environment and the economy of the people. They had gone from place to place as the different phases of the war broke out. They have lost many of their family members when they were moving from one place to another. The fact that the women headed families find difficult to cope up is that many of their husbands have been killed when they went to find some food for their children.
A young woman of 23 years still in tears
when she relates the story
Of many losses she faced during the
different phases of war.
She found by the end of the war in 2005
She has lost her father, mother, husband,
And now she is the bread winner of her son
And all the siblings of the family
There is other “Women empowerment” stories that revels the miraculous power of the coping mechanism of the women.
It is very encouraging to see almost all the children of the village going to the school. The principal and some of the staff members come from Jaffna. People are encouraged by the closeness of the staff to their lives with their visit to the families and having a close contact with the problems of the children.
Spirituality is most likely an important element for their recovery. They gather together around the church for connection and mutual support. For Women headed families connection and support of the church keep them on the move.
“The most common way people give up their power is by
thinking they do not have any”
The Human Rights Office Kandy uses the Ceremonial Delivery of Testimonies as a therapeutic tool with the torture survivors and their family members with its initiation to Sri Lanka from 2008. The use of the therapeutic tool is adapted to our culture, validated with the positive and clinical outcome confirms the reliability of the instrument. Testimony Therapy is based on the lived experience of the testimony of former political prisoners in Chile. It has been developed and used in treatment of traumatized victims of war and other organized violence in different countries for a variety of traumatized population.
It was a significant event for a big number of audiences to witness the Testimony Therapy of Shiva Kumar and his family members on 26th June 2014, the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Shiva Kumar Family was welcomed to the ceremony by our survivor families’ torture.
In the treatment protocol the priority goes to the traumatizing experiences and events of the stories of the victims. The stories of the testimony were presented in a creative manner making use of visual presentations. The audience and the Shiva Kumar family found that it was more meaningful, and touching to present the testimonies in visual forms.
Presenting the trauma stories with encouragement made much of a difference when a young survivor of torture encouraged the Shiva Kumar family with his own life experiences. He brought out clearly what it means to be tortured, and to go through the continuous trauma in day to day life. Further he said life after trauma is like a rebirth.
Rev. Fr. Nandana encouraged the family giving assurance of his support in their struggle to recover from trauma, and assisted them to rethink some of their expectations and ideals in terms of the reality of the rule of law in our country.
The audience greeted the family wishing them strength and courage and hope for a better future.
The survivors of Torture, Rape, families of the disappeared and the families of the prisoners celebrated the Sinhala & Hindu New Year at the Fatima Retreat house premises recently. There were more than 300 participants for this annual event.
The HRO staff team worked very hard on the previous day and in the morning to ensure the smooth operation of the day. Getting out of the usual rhythm, this year the participants were divided in to 20 groups and each and every participant was given an opportunity to share their story in the group. Following the group activity, the members of each group were called upon to introduce each other and the issues that they shared. Soon they discovered the common uniting factor that they all seek Justice being survivors of some sort of grave Human Right violation.
Several families of the political prisoners remand prisoners and detained prisoners from different part of the country came as participants of this annual event with their children. The released prisoners and their families too joined the event with Torture, Rape victims and the families of the disappeared. They had so much to share with one another. The chief guest of the day was Rev Fr. Joseph Miranda of the National Seminary Ampitiya and the honored guests were the members of the support group, the Medical personal including Dr. Clotilda and the lawyers Mrs. Surangika Ranaweera, Mr. Padmadakshan with the director of HRO Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
With religious observances and lighting of the traditional oil lamp by the guest and the survivors, the annual Tamil & Sinhala New Year gathering was inaugurated at 10.30 a.m. at the Retreat house premises at Lewella Kandy. Father Nandana explained the significance of the gathering and welcomed all those who were present.
The games began with a race to inflate a balloon first until it pops and then proceeding to the finish line. This competition was opened to children, youth and the adults. Following this was a competition to see who was closest at drawing the eye on an elephant whilst blindfolded. Numerous attempts were made by the participants – culminating in hilarious consequences as many of the crowd had to duck and avoid being drawn on themselves rather than the elephant.
A competition to weave coconut leaves was then held with the best leaf being judged this was followed by a sack race for the children. Next a rope was suspended between two poles with buns hanging on the end of pieces of string. This game was a race to eat the bun off the string and continue to the finish line – but there was a catch: the children competing all had their hands tied behind their back!
Afterwards, three pots were suspended in the air each filled with water. The winner of the game was the person who smashes open the pot filled with blue water. Participants took turns armed with a wooden bat and were blindfolded. Needless to say, there were many failed attempts by individuals swinging wildly into the air and not making contact with anything.
The last of the games was a tug of war with women versus women and men versus men and then the winners of that round against each other. This proved to be the most exciting of the games due to the fierce competition felt between participants.
Finally to conclude the event a closing ceremony was held to award winners of the games and competitions with prizes. Fr Joseph Miranda, Dr. Clotilda and Fr. Nandana gave away the prizes to the winners and all the children who were present for the celebrations.
The participants and the guests joined the fellowship meal that was prepared by the HRO staff, concluding the annual Sinhala and Hindu 2014 New year gathering.
Among the different Holistic Healing programs conducted for the holistic wellness of the secondary victims, this year a two day workshop was conducted at Santhana Retreat House, Galaha recently for 03 days with the participation of 30 women the theme being ‘Conflict management’. The theme was relevant at the precise moment in their process of healing to hand over the tools of handling their own conflicts in life.
The secondary survivor group, the wives of the primary victims of torture, rape, family members of the disappeared and the family members of the prisoners of Human Rights Office Kandy, in their path towards recovery evolved themselves as the “Women’s Unit” by 2011. Remer and Ferguson (1995) said that victimization can have a “ripple effect”. That the damage to the primary victim can spread out in waves and have an effect on those with whom they have intimate contact, resulting in stress and trauma related symptoms in the person trying to help. Dealing with the primary victim can awaken emotions in the secondary victim that need to be dealt with, and it can also be emotionally draining for the person, resulting in “compassion fatigue”.
The input sessions confirmed the natural fact that Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship and occurs whenever people disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires. Sometimes these differences appear trivial, but for the trauma survivor conflicts triggers overwhelming feelings, in the depth of their anguish remaining locked with unbearable feelings. Learning how to deal with conflict—rather than avoiding it—is crucial. When conflict is mismanaged, it can cause great harm to the individual and the relationship, but when the conflict is properly managed they can create something entirely new in their lives and in their relationships which will be a source of strength and vitality in their recovery.
Conflict management is the process of limiting the negative aspects of conflict while increasing the positive aspects of conflict.” Conflict management minimizes the negative outcomes of conflict and promotes the positive outcomes of conflict with the goal of improving learning in a society. (Rahim, 2002, p. 208)” Group sharing, sharing of personal experiences on situational conflicts in life, and role play, were effective means in the learning process of the conflict management.
In the role play of the participants it was evident that most of the survivors so far have responded to conflict management either with fight behavior or flight behavior. The best behavior pattern to be adopted in management of conflict is Collaborating - cooperating behavior with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing one’s own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win). The participants were impressed by the experiences of collaborating behaviors in their group performances specially the way it promotes creative problem solving, and foster mutual respect and rapport.
With the sun rise the participants gathered together for one hour of meditation with movements of healing memories. The reflections on forgiveness invoked courage, a mental attitude to go on living conflict after conflict and hope to imagine and desire again the very things in life that were cherished and destroyed.
At the end of the three day workshop was the talent show. The participants looked forward to the Talent show with eager and enthusiasm to relax, enjoy together and to strengthen their bond of love and affection as a group. The two day program was geared towards creating an awareness of a holistic view point on life, to strengthen their togetherness as a group, with unique experiences of loss and violence and to provide space to relax, and enjoyment for the women who work all through the day in family chores from morning till evening.
“Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love”.
Martin Luther King
It was an emotional moment as everyone knew that it would be the last event celebrated at the Bogambara prison. Built in the year 1876 the Bogambara Prisons is a maximum security Prison for Prisoners. It is the 2nd largest prison in Sri Lanka, situated in the Kandy Central Province. Built by the then British Colonial Government, and Inspector General of Police Mr. Saunders. The building is an archaeological landmark of Sri Lanka. The gallows is also housed in Bogambara, although it is not used now. The building is like a fortress or Bastille with walls going round it and high security towers which look like ancient battlements.
The long standing Bogambara prison will be closed by the 15th February 2014 and already many of the prisoners were shifted to other prisons in elsewhere. Early 2014 sentenced prisoners staged a protest at Bogambara by climbing to the roof calling the authorities to send them to a place where there is enough room for them to breath.
“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.
“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.
The survivor group of 06 member Sinhala and Tamil women headed families, left for war-torn North on the 18th of April 2013 in search of women headed families in the Mannar and Kilinochchi districts.
In their search, the survivor group of the Human Rights Office Kandy had the fortune of meeting 20 “Women headed Families” in the Thevanpitty resettlement area in the Mannar District and 30 “women headed Families” (in MulankavilIranamathanagar) in the Kilinochchi district.
Since last year a group of survivors from Kandy attend an outreach program in a war-torn area in the North of Sri Lanka for “an emotional sharing “with the wider community. Outreach programs are social instruments of healing. As the mirror would say “I find in you my pain and joy and you find in me your pain and joy.” A listening ear with compassion enhances self-healing of the traumatized person.
For nearly three decades, Sri Lanka was scarred by a bitter civil war driven by ethnic tension for many years. Much of the Mannar District was under the control of the rebellious Liberation tigers of Tamil Ealam.
The fact finding report by the association for women’s Rights in Development in Canada of June 29, 2011 records that in 2009 war alone has rendered 40000 women as homeless, landless widowed.” Widowhood is a global issue. All over the world the widows go through more or less the same pain in their struggle to survive.
As one widow righty says, ‘I feel restless to the very core. I feel like everyone else’s life is moving, and I stay in the same place. Like I’m running on a treadmill as fast as I can, and everyone else is jogging past me on solid ground, waving. Some of them are cheerfully enjoying the exercise, others are complaining about how tired they are, but their lives are still moving past mine while I struggle and sprint and still stay in one place.’
There is a formal structure in these villages. Civil coordination, protection and security of the village are under 02 Army personnel. The village headman or “G.S is in charge of the administration and the coordination with the funding agencies.
The widows welcomed the survivor group to their homes. It was a friendly encounter at their homes as they happily displayed their achievements since the time of the resettlement.
As a result of the war the people at Thevanpitty and Mulankavil dispersed, disappeared and were killed. When they returned in 2010 after the war, they found themselves alone with their children without the head of their families. It was a severe traumatic period for the women folk. They felt insecure without the powerful hands of their husbands to protect them, earn for them and be a support to the family. Zoa, a Netherland funding agency has contributed to the material and financial sustenance of the women headed families.
As Richard F. Mollica in his “Healing Invisible wounds “says, the “powerless” and “unworthy” survivor no matter how deep his or her humiliation, is able to share something, even if it seems small with another. Through this sharing the survivor has a powerful, positive impact on someone else’s life. The essence is “I heal you and by doing so heal myself”. Those who engage in outreach programs whether they realize it or not, are on the road to self-healing. They gain greater spiritual benefit. According to Lord Buddha such an action gives “One more merit than holding religious ceremonies in a hundred temples.
On the 23rd of May 2013, Nandasena, Dayawathie and their two children took part in the ceremonial delivery of testimonies at the Jesuit Retreat House Lewella. Nandasena is an ex-prisoner who had been in Bogambara-Kandy, Anuradhapura and Jaffna prisons for a period of time and was released from the prison on 19th May 2009.
Nandasena was selling fresh fruit on the pavement close to the Hatton main bus stand, and improved his business gradually but unfortunately the other traders began to harass him. During an attempt to kill him by adding poison to his lunch packet, his son aged 08 was poisoned by an unknown person. Nandasena who was lamenting over the death of his son was arrested, accusing him of possessing narcotics. Having being released by the magistrate, he was once again arrested and was detained for 02 years at the Bogambara prison.
When the political prisoners, during the time of Pinochet in Chile, gave testimony of their traumatic experiences, it resulted in diminishing their post-traumatic symptoms. Based on this experience, testimony therapy has been developed and used in the treatment of traumatized victims of war or other forms of organized violence. Many countries use testimony therapy in treating traumatized people, adapting it in different ways. Since 2008 The Human rights Office in Kandy uses testimony therapy in the form of a ceremony after a process of counseling.
For the ceremonial delivery of the Testimony of Nandasena and his wife, there were around 60- 70 persons including the Members of the Prison families, the members of the support- group, and well-wishers. The Guests of Honor for the occasion were Nandasena, Dayawathi and their two children. They were welcomed with a sheaf of beetle leaves signifying the blessings of God Naga and were accompanied to the hall with dancing and music.
The lighting of the traditional oil lamp was done by Nadasena, Dayawathi and Fr. Nandana the Director of the Human Rights Office. The oil lamp was decorated symbolizing the new life after the freedom from the Prison. It is not merely a freedom from the dreadful emotions like “I cannot, I am imprisoned.” It’s also a new birth, arising to new life to stand on one’s own feet with self-respect and dignity.
It was the moment for Religious observance. The visual song depicting the mental agony of the prison life, composed by a well-known prisoner raised the minds and hearts of the participants to the higher powers, to shower blessings on the survivor family.
The testimony stories of Nandasena and Dayawathie were read out by a family- counselor couple. The reading of the testimony was highlighted with visuals in the background. Visuals on the different aspects of the testimony made it possible for the participants to enter into the traumatic story with compassion and empathy. After the presentation of the testimonies, everybody gathered at the ceremony expressed their support and encouragement to the survivor family.
Fr. Nandana the Director of the Human Rights Office explained his vision and mission on the prison ministry. He admired and congratulated Nandasena and his wife Dayawathi for their courage and their efforts in starting life all over again after their traumatic experiences. Each participant offered warm wishes to the survivor family, encouraging them to live bravely and to look forward to a happy beginning once again.
Then the group took part in the celebration of the survivor family by taking part in a tea party.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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