Now the war is over, many Sri Lankans living abroad have started to visit Sri Lanka again. For some it is the first trip ‘home’ in several years and for others its been a decade or even longer.
But what about the thousands of IDPs in Sri Lanka? When will they be able to return ‘home’? (Not just the IDPs from the recent war but the thousands of Tamil and Muslim IDPs created since the early 80’s). For most of these people, going home isn’t an option for a variety of reasons including; detainment in camps, the appropriation of their land for ‘high security zones’ and ‘special economic zones’, the resettlement of Army personnel and their families into their lands. In addition the heavy military and para military occupation of the north and east makes return an unappealing prospect.
How would you feel if you were in their position? Maybe you have been personally affected by one or more these issues? If you feel strongly about these injustices then you could use your trip to Sri Lanka to do some informal research into the situation faced by ordinary people. On your return, you could share your findings with your extended family and community. If you are able you could contact the media / advocacy groups with the stories you have collected – personal testimonies can be a powerful way of exposing difficult issues. Also, the SLC would welcome your findings (written and photo) however small /large. Send an email to Srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com
As a starting point these are some of the issues you may decide to investigate during your trip.
1. Impact of the war on young people and children
– visit schools and orphanages and ask the children about thier concerns and hopes
2. Changing demography of the north and east
– ask local people you meet to give you example they know of
3. Destruction of religious and cultural sites (and the building of new ones)
– speak with local people and take photographs if possible
Even if you dont find out anything that could be reported on your return, the time you spend talking and listening to people will be appreciated. Remember that many people’s primary aim at this stage is to cope with basic survival needs and you may find that you are able to help financially or emotionally. Of course there will be deeper stories that may take more time to uncover and many people will not be comfortable sharing that information with strangers, but known people and members of the extended family may be willing to share more.
It may be useful to ask yourself the question.. “In what small way can my trip to Sri Lanka help towards advocating for dignity of the people who are oppressed?” The best approach is based on genuine interest and sensitivity to the persons situation. Some of the questions to consider:
1)What is the most pressing physical need? …see if you can meet it, or log it to pass onto/ report it to advocacy/help groups,
2)What is their story of the conflict?
3)What is the the truth, as they see it?
4) What will heal their pain?
5)What does justice mean for them?
6)What is their hope?
7)What acts beyond charity will fix the problems?
If you feel uncomfortable talking to a range of people why not find a family that you can ‘twin’ with – you may decide to provide them with some assistance or simply write to them from time to time.