In May 2009, jubilation filled Sri Lanka's streets following the end of over two-and-a-half decades of civil war. But although the fighting was finally over, the war had changed many lives irreparably. In the final months of the conflict, heavy fighting in the hard-hit north left hundreds of thousands of people stranded in vast camps. Among them were numerous unaccompanied children who had lost their parents amid the chaos of war.
Giving children a new family
In the aftermath of the war, we began a care programme for children who had lost their families. This was based at the Chettikulam camp for internally displaced people, located near Vavuniya, a town in the north of the island. We provided around 235 unaccompanied children with shelter, education and medical care as we tried to reunite them with their families.
155 of these children found their families again, but many could not. So for those who were unable to return home, we began work on a new Children’s Village in Jaffna. In December 2010, the remaining children moved from the camp into two rented buildings in Jaffna while we finished work on the Village.
A day of celebration as the Village opens
Now, the Village is complete, and on 22nd August, the first children were able to move into their new home. In celebration of their new lives together, SOS families and Village staff performed the ritual of pūjā, an offering to the gods of the Hindu faith.
They began with worship of Lord Ganesh, followed by the bringing in his statue, because Hindus believe that placing Ganesh in the home brings prosperity and protection. Festivities continued into the following day, culminating in a trip to the local “Kovil” - the Tamil term for a Hindu temple - and the transportation of beautifully decorated religious imagery back to the Village.
Though children have begun to arrive in the Village, its official opening will not take place until January next year. Still in the final stages is a nursery school. When complete, the new school will provide education and play for Village children and infants from the surrounding community, including those we are already supporting. The school will have a playground, a hall, two classrooms and enough room for 50 children to begin their academic journey. It can get very hot in Sri Lanka, so we are carefully landscaping the school grounds to ensure there is plenty of shade to keep the children cool in warm weather.
There to help at times of crisis
Our first Children’s Village in Sri Lanka opened in 1981. Since then, we have always been on hand to help children and families at times of emergency. After the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, we were there to provide emergency relief in the direct aftermath of the disaster. At the heart of our relief work was the Batticaloa centre, alongside 10 other child relief centres and temporary schools where we were able to provide the clean water, food and medical care families needed to survive.
We also provided ongoing support local people needed to return to normality, helping rebuild homes, schools and hospitals along the coast. Our new Village in Jaffna is just the next step in our work to provide care to children left vulnerable by disaster.