Michael Roberts, 9 September 2011
When I was shown round the health facilities at some of the IDP camps – “detention centres” as they were in my view up to 1 December 2009 — in the Menik Farm area in early June 2010 by Dr. Safras [who had worked there from April 2009], he happened to mention the fact that one of the Psycho-Social units he was in the process of showing me had been set up with the aid of a friend in Colombo, namely Manori Unambuwe, who had rustled up the monies required.
Psycho-Social Centre at midiay – Pic by Roberts
The hard work done by all sorts of agencies in alleviating the life of some 280,000 Tamil civilians[i]in these camps has hardly been revealed to the outside world in Colombo and beyond by anyone – not even by the government media outfits who follow His Majesty’s Command; though one report on this particular branch of welfare was presented in 2009 by the Sunday Leader [which is ranged against the government].
- Renton de Alwis of Kiula in the south had spent Rsone million (Rs 1,000,000) to “set up 40 toilets and a bio-gas generating plant with human waste to be used as fuel for the kitchens [in one] camp” (email dated 25 June 2011)
- Supem de Silva of Hayley’s had been active in the IDP camps.
- Michael de Zoysa and his Assembly of God companions had camped out in church premises in the area in May-June 2009 and set up soup kitchens in one camp while also distributing other goods collected by their church network.
Such efforts, I note, seem to be only a tiny record of the private initiatives mounted in aid of the suffering Tamil peoples.
Manori Unambuwe’s review gains in strength because (a) it is specific and focused on a single path of action; (b) it has been prolonged and is now continuing in the northern Vanni; and (c) because she is head of Marketing, IBM, Lanka.
Let me summarize some of her data thus:
- The financial foundation for the mental health facilities has been provided by Nkar Travels & Tours and their agents Wingtips.
- Though she does not mention it I believe she herself and several friends –such as Professor Harendra de Silva, Professor Dr. Sheriiffdeen and Dr SS Jayarathne — also dipped into their own pockets.
- IOM assisted with the tents required.
- At the grassroots, Dr Safras, Brigadier Kaml Gunaratne and camp inmates Nagenthirarajah and Meghananthan were critical agents of change.
It is in this light that one must absorb her summary answer to my Question F, can you provide general insights into the IDP camp operations?
MANORI UNAMBUWE: ANSWERS dated 9 September 2011
A. Can you tell me how much money you all were able to invest in the Psycho-social units at Menik Farm? And did the govt or some NGO also chip in? The main funding for the psychosocial centre and the many activities we did there was funded by a private donor – Nkar Travels & Tours & their german travel agent -Wingtips -we were donated 20,000euros and the whole of it was spent on activities in menik farm. IOM (an NGO) helped us by donating large tents which were used as the centre in zone 4 and zone 0. Government helped very much with the support to carry on activities – mainly Ministry of health – the doctors attached to the disaster preparedness and response unit at manik farm were amazing and so committed – they personally extended themeselves in supporting the psychosocial activities. Sir Lanka army personnel in charge of the manik farm were also superb in their support & gave me all the help to do the activities by organizing events/activities etc. We had over 10 “art camps” over a period of 6 months where about 2500 children participated, had activities like a sports festival for over 700 students, kite competition, handicraft competition, fancy dress parade, career guidance forum etc. We also brought 100 students from manik farm (zone 4) to colombo for an excursion, in dec 2009 and they visited many sites, interacted with students from bishop’s college & ladies college & we had an exhibition of their art & performances by the kids from idp camps & colombo schools (bishops royal & ladies college students) at Colombo Hilton – this was a great event which went a long way in building trust between the communities and lasting friendships.
B. Were there several such units or just one? We set up 2 psychosocial centres in zone 4 & 0 in manik farm but thereafter we have set up over 8 centres in resettled areas in schools (Mallavi, Pandiyankulam, nedunkerny, illuppukadvai (mannar), killinochchi, pooneryn etc) and few more [are] on the cards in mullaitivu area
C. Who composed the “you all”? The idea was mine and then many friends and family joined to help & carry out activities, however 2 people supported me most were Dr Safras (from MOH) and Maj General Kamal Gunaratne (SF Commander Wanni) who gave me the most support to do these activities in the north. Also there is one Principal of Oddusudan school Mr Nagenthirarajah who was in the IDP camps as a resident, who helped me so much to organize and he continues to do these since resettlement, todate plus the Zonal Education director of Thuukkai, Mr Meghananthan. There are numerous organizations who funded the centres separately -i.e True Volunteer Foundation (UK), Action & Care Trust (funded 3 centres), etc
D. When precisely were they set up.? First centre was set up in sept 2009 in zone 4, & oct in zone 0 – after that since jan 2010 in resettled areas and this is on-going
E. and have your written up your experiences? I wrote about my first experience of visit to manik farm in april 2009 (before end of the war) – check links –
http://www.island.lk/2009/05/03/features7.html – Fallacy of concentration camps – Sunday Island – 02nd May 2009
http://sundaytimes.lk/090524/Plus/sundaytimesplus_05.html – Concentration of sheer goodwill – Sunday 24th May 2009
http://sundaytimes.lk/090531/Plus/sundaytimesplus_06.html – Achieving Peace lies largely with us – 31st May 2009
However, since then i have not had much time to sit and write my experiences which i could do, given some time here are links to opening of centres in re-settled areas – I wrote them though they appear in the def/army sites
Mallavi Opening = http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100207_04
Nadankandal = http://www.army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=2151
Killi opening = http://www.army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=2395
Inside unit at Kilinochchi–Pic from Unambuwe
Kuchchuveli – ThiriyayaGTMS School done by US Embassy = http://www.army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=2515
Nedunkerny = http://www.army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=2503
Illuppukadvai = http://www.army.lk/detailed.php?NewsId=2767
F. and can you provide general insights into the IDP camp operations? Definitely can do! I was in and out of the camps (almost every other weekend) since april 2009 till jan 2010 and saw the landscape change from a few tents and 2 zones to thousands of tents and 7 zones. I saw how the govt coped so excellently with the exodus of people who just landed up overnight and witnessed the commitment and excellence in providing all the facilities to the people and above all, the humane approach. I saw how people transformed from being shell-shocked, starved and sick to healthy, nourished and secure and beginning to feeling normal again and daring to hope!
I am also attaching a doc on the psychosocial activities for your ref
[i] In fact, there were many LTTE fighters and other functionaries within this body. Those who had familiarity with the scene, such as Fr Rohan Silva and T. Dharmalingam Siddharthan claim that anything between 6,000 and 15,000 people slipped out and that many moved abroad by channels illegal. in brief, the camps were not prisons and it was not difficult for inmates to get out if one had the cash or contacts. Local ventures (mostly Tamil) cropped up to assist the demand. Bribes were feasible. In the course of subsequent welfare work Darshan Ambalavanar discovered that there were “package deals”: — so much to get to Colombo. so much to India.