Report on Clive Bailey’s visit to Northern Sri Lanka (March 2013)

Report on Clive Bailey’s visit to Northern Sri Lanka
to see the post-conflict work done by our partners
Y-Care International and YMCA Sri Lanka
11th to 14th March 2013


Main People Involved
   G.S.Lakshan Dias – National General Secretary, YMCA Sri Lanka
   Theonis Brownson – Project Manager for Peace, Reconciliation and Reconstruction
   Susi Taylor – Y-Care International, London
   Clive Bailey – Chairman, Austin Bailey Foundation

Locations visited
   Vivuniya YMCA - about seven hours drive North of Colombo
   Killinochchi YMCA - another two hours further North
   Point Pedro YMCA - another two hours further North and the northernmost point

Background

The Austin Bailey Foundation provided the major charitable foundation funding for Y-Care International/YMCA’s very successful HIV/AIDS Education project in India from 2005 to 2010.  On completion of this project, we agreed we should continue working together.  We studied a number of projects and settled on post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction work in Northern Sri Lanka.  The trustees agreed to support this cause and we are the largest outside source of funding for the project (£40,300 over a three year period).

Sri Lanka has two main population groups, Sinhalese (mainly Buddhist) in the South and centre of the island, and Tamils (mainly Hindu but with many Christians) in the North and East.  Ethnic polarisation increased steadily after independence in 1948.  Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists, the most predominant of which were known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), finally erupted into war in 1983. After nearly three decades of fighting, in May 2009 the government announced that its military had defeated the remnants of the LTTE.  Since the end of the conflict, the government has enacted an ambitious programme of economic development projects, many of which are financed by loans from the Government of China.  In addition to efforts to reconstruct its economy, the government has resettled more than 95% of those civilians who were displaced during the final phase of the conflict and released the vast majority of former LTTE combatants captured by Government Security Forces.  At the same time, there has been little progress on more contentious and politically difficult issues such as reaching a political settlement with Tamil elected representatives and holding accountable those alleged to have been involved in human rights violations at the end of the war.[1]

[1] Some information is derived from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ce.html


This is Clive Bailey’s report on his visit to Sri Lanka in March 2013 to review the project’s progress.

The programme
The bulk of the programme’s efforts and expenditure so far has been on livelihood and vocational training work.  This identifies needs amongst people under the age of 30 in the former war-torn Northern region who have little or no income and lack training or basic tools to restart their livelihood.

There are many international NGOs now working in the region.  However, the Sri Lankan government is currently focusing its efforts on large infrastructure projects, while there is a huge need to support young people and their families to rebuild their lives by establishing safe and sustainable livelihoods.  Local Churches and local YMCA’s that have been established in the region throughout the conflict years are well placed to rebuild trust in communities which were devastated by conflict.  The YMCA is therefore in a unique position. This was one of the main factors that persuaded ABF trustees to support this project.

The YMCA’s local presence has two other important aspects.  Firstly, all beneficiaries are visited on a monthly basis to monitor how their livelihoods are progressing.  They are expected to become members of the local YMCA.  I was impressed by how there is a clear bond between YMCA staff and their beneficiaries.  It has something of the parish priest looking after his parishioners.  It also means that the scope for abuse of the grant or training is greatly diminished.

Secondly, in post-conflict regions, there are huge psychological scars where young people have been traumatised by war.  YMCA staff are on hand to help.  They have found this aspect more challenging than expected and are currently building their capacity to handle these issues.

The North of Sri Lanka has not only suffered from thirty years of civil war. In December 2004 the coastal region around Point Pedro was hit by the tsunami.  This was a natural disaster that shocked the world. Huge sums were donated. NGO’s came from all over the world but often came with too much money and too little time. Fishing is a major part of the local economy. We heard how NGO’s donated far more boats than there were able-bodied fishermen to operate them. Similar tales were told about cash handouts being given in “cash for work” programmes rather than vocational support.  The YMCA’s ongoing involvement in the local community ensures the support we provide will not be wasted this way.

Continuing problems beset the region.  The UN and the international community is concerned that the government is not fulfilling its commitments under the peace agreement. A second UN Human Rights Council Resolution was passed in March 2013 to investigate war crimes by the Sri Lankan government, which was backed by the US and India. In light of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in November, provincial elections in the Northern Province are planned for September for the first time in history.  This step bodes well for the future alongside improved economic conditions.

The physical and psychological scars of the war are deep.  During the conflict, many young people including girls were forced by the militants to take an active role in the conflict, sometimes forcing them to fight on the front-line. Many young people now suffer stigma and discrimination as a result.

Most of the beneficiaries I met had shrapnel wounds or more serious injuries.  Here are a few of the people I met;-

Ester
Conscripted by the Tamil Tigers as a 17 year old girl.  Wounded in an artillery attack resulting in a spinal injury and 15 shrapnel wounds.  This prevents her from being fully active.  Ester moved in with her uncle in Vavuniya. YMCA has provided her with a sewing machine (cost about $200) allowing her to support herself.  Income $100-150 per month currently which covers her living costs.  Hopes to get title to the land she occupies with her uncle.  Once done, she will be able to apply for micro-finance to further expand the reach of her business.

Suthan
Lakshan, National General Secretary YMCA Sri Lanka receives a head-massage from Suthan

Suthan is an ex combatant, injured in the elbow preventing him from doing physical work. YMCA sent him on a hairdressing course.  He now has a small hairdressing salon and an income of $160 per month.

Gnanash and Sivachselvam
Cousins – 29 years old, and 23 years old.  Gnanash’s two brothers were killed beside him. Returned to the family land near Vavuniya but found the irrigation system had been destroyed.  YMCA provided a pump and piping to allow cultivation to re-start.  The land could not support them before.  Now they are selling brinjal and other crops in the local market.  They have plans to start rice cultivation. Income $150+ per month each.

Kirubar
Kirubar was badly injured in his leg.  He sought shelter in a Catholic hostel, where he works as a dormitory minder.  He knew metalworking and the YMCA provided a set of tolls for working aluminum.  He makes picture frames and door/window frames that are used in the hostel and sold in their shop.  Once electricity is connected to his mother’s village, he plans to return and operate his metalworking business from there.

Kannan
Kannan lost his leg at the age of 12 when his school was bombed.  Scraped a living by helping fishermen on the beach repairing their nets.  But income was very low and sporadic.  His brothers, both fishermen, had difficulty supporting him.  By providing Kannan with a set of fishing nets, the YMCA brought the three brothers together so they share income three ways.  When his brothers fish, Kannan takes care of their nets.  This is an example of the YMCA doing real community work benefitting the whole family.

Clive Bailey and Susi Taylor from Y-Care International outside Vavuniya YMCA

Outdoor board-meeting Vavuniya YMCA


Killinochi YMCA’s two-storey building was destroyed in the war.  Despite this, they will start operating from this temporary hut as the third location for the programme in May of this year.


Point Pedro YMCA complete with resident goat


Clive Bailey - Chairman