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.
An inter-religious Alms giving organized by the parents of the disappeared was held on the 30th August 2012 at Kandy Ampitiya, St Mary's Church Parish hall. It was the third such event organized by the Human Rights office Kandy with the parents of the disappeared in the Central province to commemorate their loved ones on the International day of the Disappeared.
The annual commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared aims to draw attention to those people who have been imprisoned without their friends or relatives knowing where or why; also to highlight the work of those organizations who campaign against secret imprisonment and work to support the “disappeared” and their families.
In the last 40 years, the governments of Sri Lanka have used forced disappearances as a tool to suppress dissent and combat the internal armed conflict. Since 1971, there has been continuous use of enforced disappearances as a tool by the state, for what they referred to as the maintenance of "law and order". When people disappear in connection with armed conflict or other violence, their relatives endure terrible suffering as they struggle to find out what happened.
The parents of the disappeared organized this event in a very meaningful way to honor all victims of enforced disappearance and to tell the world of the seriousness of the offense and ensure non-repetition.
Buddhist monks, Buddhist nuns, Catholic priests, nuns and the parents of the disappeared gathered at the Ampitiya junction from where the procession began. They walked with ‘Hevisi’ drums beaten announcing the crowds of the event and the procession moved to the parish hall.
In a traditional Buddhist style the Almas giving was served to all the priests and religious after a sermon was preached by the Buddhist monk consoling the families and relatives of the disappeared, he said that most of the victims were breadwinners, hence the disappearance not only caused emotional and psychological anguish, but also economic dislocation to the surviving families, further the prelate appreciated the efforts of the Human Rights Office in bringing the religious leaders together." It is a new experience for the Buddhist monks to come for an Alms giving to a catholic church".
Closing the event Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office addressed the gathering and said that the enforced disappearance is one of the worst human rights violations. As a huge number of people throughout the world are affected by this scourge. It is imperative for civil society and governments to forge solidarity in bringing to an end the practice of enforced disappearance and to ensure that the right to truth, justice, reparation and memory are guaranteed".
As customary Srilankans celebrate the New Year in April and this year too it was celebrated on the 12th-13th April 2012. The gathering of the survivors of Torture, rape, families of the disappeared and the families of the Prisoners came together on the 21st April to celebrate the Tamil/Sinhala New year to St. Mary’s church premises, Ampitiya Kandy. There were more than 250 participants for this annual celebration.
Preparations for the event began early that day. The HRO staff team worked very hard on the previous day and in the morning to ensure the smooth operation of the day.
For some survivors it was their first gathering of this nature and for other they looked forward to this event to enjoy, leaving aside all their worries and anxieties. Guests began to arrive from 09.00 am onwards, with attendees including victims and their families who are being assisted by HRO, parishioners, members of the Support Group and those from the wider Kandy community.
It was noteworthy that this year several families of the remand prisoners from different part of the country, even from very distant part came as participants of this annual event with 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. Special honored guests were: Rev. Sr. Martin, Rev. Sr. Esther of the Welcome house Kandy along with Dr. Clotilda and Mr. Suren Perera (Attorney-at-Law), with the director of HRO Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
With religious observances and lighting of the traditional oil lamp, the annual Tamil/ Sinhala New Year gathering was inaugurated at 10.30am. Attendees gathered and sat together on benches and chairs set up outside next to the church. 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. However Malani Serasinghe, a victim of police brutality, was successful in her attempt.
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. Sr. Matin, Sr. Esther, Dr. Clotilda and Fr. Nandana gave away the prizes to the winners and all the children who were present for the celebrations.
In the past, our groups of survivors of torture, rape, other human rights violations, families of the prisoners and the families of the disappeared, met as three different units with their own unique experiences, ideologies and identities. Now that these different groups have started sharing their pain altogether there has emerged a sense of belonging to a greater group. This new group feeling has united the survivors closer, giving them a meaning to their pain and vitality to dedicate themselves to a common cause. In sharing, they have been healed individually and as a group. The process of inner healing through group therapy has brought them and their family members to a more stable life and strengthened family bonds.
Their identities and individuation have developed as they have formed themselves into a single group known as the Survivor Group. Group outlook and viewpoint has changed, by shedding a ‘little self’ self-image and now enjoying broader perspective.
As the survivor group started moving towards wholeness and integration, the young and enthusiastic secondary survivors (family of victims) formed a new group called the
‘Women’s Unit”. The Women’s Unit consists of selected secondary survivors of different ethnicities, creeds and languages. The Women’s Unit has a vision of reconciliation and socialization in the post-war era.
As a first step towards its goal, the women’s unit met together for a two day ‘live in session’ on the 2nd and 3rd of December 2011 in Lewella – Kandy. The theme of the event was ‘Awakening of Female Consciousness in the Cosmos’. During the sessions, a new vision of the cosmos was presented providing a wider vision of the place of women in the family in post-war era society and in the cosmos more generally.
Inspired by what they had learned, the Women’s Unit decided to reach beyond their ‘little self’ to people in northern Sri Lanka. Three Tamil-speaking and three Sinhala-speaking women of the Women’s Unit opted to visit war-affected living in the resettlement village of Nedunkerny, in Mullative District.
To share in the experiences of the war-affected in the north, the women’s unit first went through a three-day session of Grief Therapy. The therapy helped them to relive their own traumatic experiences following which the survivors-turned-healers were able to help in the healing of the war-affected victims.
The Women’s unit shared the rich experience of their visit with other members of the Women’s Unit on March 16th and 17thand look forward to continuing their project in other villages.
Life experiences are opportunities for growth. Life experiences heal, create, and lead to a more holistic life
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) is a day for global health education, awareness, and advocacy. It was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health. This day each October, thousands of supporters come together to celebrate this annual awareness program.
In Sri Lanka this day is part of the health awareness week. We at Human Rights Office Kandy, understanding the effects of Mental Health in the healing process of our survivor group celebrate this day for the first time with our survivors. The theme of the day is “No Health without Mental Health”
It was a half a day program held at St. Mary’s Church hall, Ampitiya. The participants of the celebration were: Our survivor group of families of disappeared, survivors of torture rape, survivors of Human rights violations, and their family members. There were also the members of the support group, the family counselors, the parishioners of Ampitiya St. Mary’s church, friends and well-wishers. There were around 100 participants for the celebration.
The families of the disappeared in the first meeting of the year 2011 decided to produce a magazine by themselves named as “Nadia” meaning River to share their experiences, to develop their writing and reading skills, and thereby to enrich their live. In March on Women’s Day the first issue was published and distributed. This day the 2nd issue was printed and distributed among the survivors titled as “No Health without Mental Health”. A unique feature of the magazine is the articles were written by the mental health professionals with a view of providing a better information, knowledge and experience to our survivor groups. The president of the families of the disappeared in her introduction briefed the gathering on the vision goal and the objectives of the magazine.
Fr. Nandana the founder director of the Human Rights Office presented to the participants the importance of the Mental Health in the healing process of the survivors.
The director of the Community mental Health Resource Center at his staff at Katugastota was the guest speaker for the day. With the use of audio visuals he shared his wealth of knowledge and experiences on “how to live a happy life” and the participants were enriched with his presentation. He being a well knowable and experienced in his profession working for the mental health in the Kandy district regardless of cast and creed said that it was his first experience to participate in a meaningful mental health day celebration with a survivor group. ‘It is wonderful and unique experience’ he repeated again and again
The local community of Ampitiya contributed to the occasion by producing dances, music and songs giving the participants healing of mind, body and spirit, with relaxation and enjoyment. It was a healing experience for the survivor group to be relived of the tension and stress taste of raising their minds to a high level of thinking and enjoying.
The day ended with a tone of joy and happiness.
Healing of memories and Reconciliation take place simultaneously. The first of such programs named as “Grieving Healing and Transformation” was held for 23 Family Members of the Disappeared from the 30th August to the 01st of September at Monte Fano – Ampitiya. Their evaluation taken after a month, validates that mourning and grieving has healed and transformed them. This first successful experience led to the second program of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation.
Venue being Ampitiya Parish Hall, from the 21st to the 22nd of October the remaining group of 11 Family Members of the Disappeared were prepared step by step for the process of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation. The primary step was the intensive training given to our group of Family Counselors on the Theory of Ambiguous Loss and the Process of Intervention to do counseling for each Family Member of the Disappeared. The day began by remembering the Memories the Missing Persons and healing through individual and group counseling by the Family Counselors. The Remembrance was further developed with a Religious Service, Meditation and Dharma Sermon by a Bhikshuni lasted till late evening. It was evident that the Spiritual Powers are a very meaningful and effective means, of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation.
At the dawn of the following day the survivors were on the ground doing walking and sitting meditation with the guidance of the Family Counselors...The input session on “How to live a happy life” conducted by a professional on mental health was very helpful to challenge them, and come to the realization that “their loved ones will not come back … and why to go on with grieving and mourning day after day and year after year… Hence hereafter we must live for our family and giving the best of ourselves for the next generation.”
Ceremonial delivery of testimonies was creatively adapted to befit the occasion, rich with meaningful signs and symbols. In the multi-religious gathering the Welcome Dance with lighted candles invoked blessings of Gods and Goddesses for this great occasion.
The Welcome of the 11 survivors, the Reading of the Testimonies and Encouragement were done to promote healing effect. Each testimony was summarized, touching the core sentiments of the survivors. As the Testimonies were read out the participants were one in mind, heart, body and spirit with them. After each Testimony each survivor lit a lamp remembering the Missing Person with a heartfelt wish for a better life, in the life circle of their loved ones. Remembering the missing story of each mother, brought back to the minds, the unique memories of other people all over the world who go through the same process of pain mourning and grieving.
The Testimonies were filled with mixed feelings and sentiments. As the Testimonies were read the whole place was vibrated with negative emotions, a meditation song on Loving kindness (Metha) with movements and dramatization raised the minds and the hearts of the participants in prayer of forgiveness for those perpetrators.
It was the day of the missing mothers. The 11 mothers waited for 22 years for this sacred moment in history where they could find a burial ground for their sons. So far they were still awaiting the return of their loved ones and their dear sons. Realizing that they would never come back and that they are among the dead the mothers placed a souvenir of their loved ones with some flowers and took part in the burial service. As they pay their last respect they wept bitterly. The tears were not only of grieving and mourning and of healing as well. A Buddhist monk celebrated Pensacola and a Dharma sermon, the catholic burial service was conducted by Fr. Nandana reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place while a Muslim priest prayed for the heavenly bliss of their souls.
Fr. Nandana appreciated and encouraged the grieving mothers. He pledged them of his concern and support and for their families. He gave away an especial souvenir to each of them reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place enjoying heavenly bliss and resting in peace.
It was a blissful moment. All the participants were happy and with joy they greeted one another.
Finally to express their oneness and solidarity they took part in the tea party specially prepared for them. The participants, the members of the support group, family counselors, friends and well wishers shared their affection and joy with the survivor group.
For “Dear You’
You know well, It’s impossible to let go the memories…
All the little chats we had, And the times we spent together….
With Joy and Tears.
We spent our lives regretting, Trying to search the place
where you kept
Your last foot prints…
Holding all the love close to our hearts FOR “DEAR YOU” without a grave,
Here we are to imprint your memories.
Let’s shower flowers, Bloomed with your loving memories
On your grave…
With all the Blessings and Prayers of Inter Religious Community
May You Rest in Peace… Attain Nibbane….
And with this Merit may we be healed of our Minds and Bodies.
The Women survivor group had a unique experience of leaving their family responsibilities for 03 days from the 30th August to the 02nd of September to mourn, heal and to transform them for the first time in their lives. There were 35 women survivors of families of the disappeared and the prisoners family members of Torture/ rape survivors.
From the 30th the group was prepared step by step for the process of their grieving healing and transformation. The day began remembering the disappeared members of their families with a religious service and an almsgiving held at the Parish hall of Ampitiya. The Buddhist Dharma (sermon) was very meaningful and touching which lasted nearly two hours. The alms giving was organized by the members of the families of the disappeared. There were also family members and parishioners around 150 persons for the Dharma sermon and the almsgiving.
At the dawn of the following day the women survivors were on the ground doing walking/ sitting and meditating with the guidance of the family counselors. An input session on healing the trauma ,laid as the foundation for the process of healing conducted by a professional lady doctor on mental health. Her life experiences of losses she has gone through in her past life and her working experiences with tsunami survivors was enriching and enlightening. It was an eye opener for our survivor group. They started questioning themselves and came to a realization “why do we go on with grieving and mourning day after day and year after year? We must start living for the sake of our family and other people”.
Ceremonial delivery of testimony was rich with signs and symbols. The welcome of the survivor, lighting of the oil lamp, the decorations, were befitting for the occasion. A documentary of “Piravi” a Malayalam film depicting the story of a father waiting for his son’s return day in and day out was screened to give a better insight of the mind of an awaiting father. A Meditation song with visuals raised the minds and the hearts of the participants in prayer of forgiveness for those perpetrators. Welcome dance with lighted candles invoked blessings of gods and goddesses for the great occasion. The story of a mother whose son was missing represented the disappearance stories of the group. The whole group was in mind, body and spirit was with her. Remembering the disappearances story of one mother brought back to the minds the live but unique memories of the stories of the other mothers who have gone through the same process of grieving and mourning.
It was the day of the mothers of the disappeared. There were 22 mothers who waited for the moment where they could find a burial ground for their sons. So far they were still awaiting the return of their loved ones and their dear sons. Realizing that they would never come back and that they are among the dead the mothers placed a souvenir of their loved ones with some flowers and took part in the burial service. The Buddhist monks celebrated Pensacola and a Dharma sermon, the catholic burial service was conducted by Fr. Nandana Manatunga reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place while Muslim priests prayed for the heavenly bliss of their souls.
Fr. Nandana then appreciated and encouraged the grieving mothers. He pledged them of his concern and support and for their families. He awarded each of them a especial souvenir reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place enjoying heavenly bliss and resting in peace. Insightful message of meaningful perspective for their future outlook was carved on it such as
All the survivors looked happy and with joy they greeted one another. Finally to express their oneness and solidarity they took part in the tea party specially prepared for them. The members of the support group, well wishers and friends shared their compassion and joy with the survivor group.
A workshop for survivor couples was held at Lewella Fatima retreat House from the 26th to the 29th May 2011. The place was very much conducive for the workshop. There were 20 couples participated in the workshop. The resource persons were a well experienced ME Couple in conducting workshops in the Family Movement in Colombo.
The theme of the workshop is “Towards a happy marriage in complementing with masculine and feminine differences of a male and a female. In keeping with the theme the participants became aware of their own individual differences as well as their own sexual differences and their need to be in complementing with the differences of their own partner. Marriage is a core relationship. Communication is a bridge builder that plays a very important role, the very factor as Asian men and women count as less important.
The input sessions were rich in insights and sharing experiences. The practical exercises became an eye opener for the most of the participants taking partners for granted. The group sharing was very open. Honest and rewarding paving its way for improvement in marital relations hip between the husband and wife.
“I am not the same person who came in as I leave this place today.”
“I feel the only worth in a life of a survivor is being close with his /her partner”
“I am so happy within myself and my dream is beginning to be fulfilled” Were some of the remarks of the participants.
The family counselors trained by the Human rights Office were the group leaders. They facilitated group activities, and conducted meditation sessions. It was a rich experience for them and also had the opportunity to listen to the stories of the survivors and be empathetic with them.
Monday 11th April, 2011.
Sinhalese / Tamil New Year scheduled for the 13th-14th April was celebrated by the survivors of Torture, rape, families of the disappeared and the families of the Prisoners at of St. Mary’s church premises, Ampitiya Kandy. There were more than 250 participants for this annual celebration.
Letters of invitation were sent out to guests a few weeks prior to the event. Preparations for the games and setting up the event began early that day. The HRO staff team worked very hard in the morning to ensure the smooth operation of the day.
At 9.30am attendees gathered and sat together on benches and chairs set up outside next to the church. For the opening ceremony Dr. Clotilda, Mr. Jayasundera, Jessica Callen and Father Nandana sat at the front and Father Nandana formally opened the event with a moments silence in prayer. The guests were each presented with a bunch of beetle leaves as this is a traditional Sinhalese custom in greeting. The honoured guests were invited to the front to light the traditional golden Sinhalese oil lamp which had been garland with flowers for the special occasion. After the speech by Father Nandana extending a warm welcome to all attendees, Mr. Jayasundara was then invited to address the audience. He spoke of how a meaningful Sinhalese and Tamil New Year should be celebrated. He explored how the two ethnic groups of Sri Lanka should come together at this special time and leave all problems from the recently-ended conflict behind.
The opening ceremony was followed by everyone joining together in the front garden of St. Mary’s church to enjoy the day’s festivities. The games began with a race to inflate a balloon first until it pops and then proceeding to the finish line. Following this was a competition to see who was closest at drawing the eye on an elephant whilst blindfolded. Rita, a rape victim who had been assisted by HRO, had brought her brother with her to the event and he won this game as he was able to draw the eye exactly correct on the elephant. Numerous attempts were made by other participants – culminating in hilarious consequences as many of the crowd had to duck and avoid being drawn on themselves rather than the elephant, and one eager blindfolded competitor even walked into a tree during all the excitement.
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.
A competition to weave coconut leaves was then held with the best leaf being judged by Jailer Nandani and sr. Matilda.
This was followed by a sack race for both children and adults, and then (a rather muddled) yoghurt-eating competition. For this participants entered in pairs – one was blindfolded and given a yoghurt and their partner had their hands tied behind their backs. The person blindfolded had to feed their partner the yoghurt – causing much entertainment and amusement in the crowd due to the messy consequences! 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. Father Nandana gave a thank you speech to all who had attended and the HRO staff then distributed presents to all of the young children. Jailer Nandani shared with the group her thoughts on Father Nandana’s involvement in the prison and the help given to women detainees. She expressed her appreciation to Father Nandana and the HRO staff thanking them for their work. Afterwards all attendees of the event enjoyed a lunch together to conclude the day.
Jessica Callen - Human Rights Office, Kandy
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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