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.
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.
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds”
Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss
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.
I am Arulanandam J. Rani, 34 years old. My husband was killed by the Navy when he went for fishing. Two of his friends who went with him saved their lives by drowning themselves in the sea. They say the dead body of my husband may have been thrown into the sea. I never saw his body.
My mother and father are with me. I have 5 children. At the time of his loss my youngest baby was only nine months, my elder son 13 year old was hurt by a shell fallen on his body, the other boy been unable to face the existing trauma is dumb even to this day.
My husband was the breadwinner of the family. When I heard of his loss I did not know what to do? How can I feed eight people in my home? I was a poor illiterate housewife. I had not learnt any skill to earn a living.
“I must do something to feed my family”. This kept on coming to my mind. Being a catholic I prayed daily. Then it so happened I was able to get a sewing machine to pay in installments, with courage I learnt to sew and I earn my living by sewing. I am happy I succeeded. I also have put up a small boutique. Myself being illiterate my only desire is to give a good education to my children.
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 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.
The second training program on Testimonial therapy was held at Galaha Retreat House from the 17th to the 23rd of July 2011 organized by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – Hong Kong, Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) – Denmark and Human Rights Office Kandy the local organizer.
The training workshop was facilitated by Inger Agger of RCT Denmark along with Shyamali Puvimanasinghe as the co- facilitator. There were 20 participants for the training workshop and most of them were new to the testimony therapy except those from H.R.O and Jansansadaya.
A ceremonial opening was done on the 17th July by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, by lighting the traditional oil lamp and addressing the gathering, explaining the purpose of the training workshop. There were several inputs, group discussions and role plays on the procedure of the testimony therapy and Mr. Baseer from AHRC added a new vitality to the program.
Visuals on Testimonial therapy ceremonies of Kandy, Janasadaya and Cambodia were screened to the participants and they were a rich experience to the participants. They were so much insightful, the participants were able to role play a ceremony before the closing of the program. It is also remarkable that there were few graduates taking part in the programs and on the whole group was in a better standard to master the knowledge of the therapeutic process and therapy as a whole.
The first training program on Testimony therapy was conducted by Ms. Inger Agger in 2008 at Beruwela and since then several victims of rape, Torture and persons in detention have gone through the process of healing with the Testimonial therapy in Sri Lanka.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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