The Support Group was created for victims: survivors of torture and rape, families of the disappeared and ex-prisoners. It was formed as a means to identify what should happen next for the victim. The approach is to draw on the knowledge of the group, share ideas and help decide on the victim’s future. Members of the Support Group are driven by a desire to help the helpless. Discussions on victims are held in confidence and individuals are only admitted to the group if members believe them to be suitable. In addition, the Support Group helps to educate its members on human rights as the group explained they now have a better understanding of what rights are. There were also observers at the ceremony who are from an organisation in Colombo and are planning to begin a similar Support Group project.
To start the Testimony Therapy, Caspers Paul and his family and attendees were greeted with ‘Pottu’ at the entrance to the hall. Pottu is a dot of red colour applied to the centre of the forehead close to the eyebrows; it means “We are with you”. Participants were also welcomed with a traditional dance using wooden batons performed by 4 girls. At the opening of the ceremony Father Nandana, Mr. Eric from RCT and Caspers Paul with his wife and daughter each lit an oil lamp that stood at the front of the hall as a symbol of freedom.
A moment of silence was held at the start of the ceremony to spare a thought for those who are still in prison across Sri Lanka and the wider world. Miss. Priyangani, a member of staff from HRO, gave a speech welcoming all attendees. She also gave an explanation of the origins of Testimony Therapy and its significance today.
A young girl from Ampitiya Parish performed the traditional Tamil cultural ‘Baratha Dance’ which originated in Maha Bharatah India. After the performance the audience watched a music production ‘Cry from a Prison Cell’ made by the media staff of HRO. The video is based on the real story of a prisoner called Siripala. The song was composed as a reflection of Siripala and the memories of his past life. He wrote the song on his prison cell wall.
Family councilor Miss. Shimalee and Mr. Ranjith recounted Caspers Paul’s trauma testimony. Prior to his arrest under suspicion of being a LTTE terrorist subject, Caspers Paul was happily married and his wife was expecting their first child. After more then two and half years in pretrial detention he was released without charge. During that time he lost his job, investments and his reputation was destroyed. But most importantly, he missed the birth of his daughter. He is still trying to form a bond with her.
Mr. Cecil a family councilor, took to the stage and presented Caspus Paul a copy of his testimony in booklet form. Mr. Cecil then proceeded to give Casers Paul some words of encouragement and wished him good luck for the future.
Four children from Ampitiya parish were invited onstage for a dance performance during the ceremony interval.
Support Group members ( Councilors) Mrs. Padmini and Mr. Shafi gave an account of the pain and suffering felt by Mrs. Mary, Caspers Paul’s wife. After being married only 18 months her husband was arrested. Mrs. Mary found herself two months pregnant and alone. The loneliness she felt was at its strongest during her recovery period after giving birth when women in hospital beds next to her received visits from their husbands. She suffered with abuse from her neighbours who accused her of marrying a LTTE terrorist.
Mrs. Mary’s testimony was then presented to her in booklet form with words of encouragement by Support Group and member of HRO staff Patrick. Father Nandana shared with attendees his vision of the prison ministry and gave a blessing for the survivor family’s future.
A video on prisoner survivor Chithrakumara was shown. He was a father of two sons and a marathon runner who had participated and won medals at both national and international events. The video emphasised the destruction wrought when a family member is accused of a crime and left waiting in remand prison. It echoed the pain of Caspers Paul and his family.
To close the ceremony attendees joined Caspers Paul and his family on stage to wish them good luck in rebuilding their lives.