I was deeply saddened to wake on Easter Sunday and read about the tragic events in Sri Lanka. I reached out to our friend Charika Marasinghe and we’ve been in close contact this week. Charika and I first met at Findhorn a few years ago and she joined us for the Centers Gathering at Omega last year. As a Senior Consultant in Human Rights, Child Rights, Child Protection & Institutional Development, and a Mindfulness Trainer, she is a remarkable woman.
Charika’s father, Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne is the Founder and the present President of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka, a grass-roots humanitarian organization based on the concept of ‘sharing of labour, thought and energy for the awakening of all’. Sarvodaya has been active throughout Sri Lanka since 1958 despite numerous hardships it has faced over the years.
Our holistic centers in the west make a great difference in the lives of the 1000s of participants who attend transformational programs each year. And yet this somehow pales in comparison to a network throughout Sri Lanka active in 35,000 villages. For over 50 years, Sarvodaya has continued its service as the largest non-government movement in a country that had endured 26 years of civil war. Peace had been established for ten years until the terrorism of last weekend.
The events gave me a deeper sense of the challenges Sri Lanka faces and the significance of Charika’s grass roots work. May this be a turning point towards deeper healing and reconciliation throughout the region. Charika is constantly travelling around the country offering training and support and this has now been amplified. She shares some of her personal experience here. Please send your love and prayers so that she knows we’re holding her and all involved in our hearts. You can send messages here.
Thanks so much for being in touch with me at this hour. We are in a state of shock. Simply cannot comprehend what has happened. We are all safe. But the number of casualties have increased. It’s so unfortunate to witness this unprecedented series of attacks. We mourn with all the family members whose loved ones became victims of these terror attacks.Thanks so much for being with us in spirit.
With many thanks and love,
Since Sunday I have been working round the clock trying to address so many issues after the unexpected disaster. Monday whole day I had to spend briefing the House Mothers and other staff members of Sarvodaya Child Development Centres how to prevent the children in our care who have already been traumatised due to violence being exposed to the current wave of violence and getting retraumatised. Sarvodaya has nearly 500 abandoned, abused children, teenage pregnant rape victims, destitute elders and persons with disabilities in ourcare and we are committed to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
Since yesterday Sarvodaya had commenced its relief operation work and Vishva Niketan is given the responsibility to address Psycho Social issues of affected communities. Different specialised units of Sarvodaya have come together to make diverse interventions to address emotional, mental, physical and other basic needs of the affected families and at the same time working for peace and reconciliation with all ethnic and religious communities.
As I have already shared with HCN last year Vishva Niketan has been closely working with the Catholic Church and conducting Mindfulness training to Catholic nuns and Catholic school children. The Catholic nuns who underwent the training on mindfulness have requested Vishva Niketan to visit the affected families and provide psycho spiritual healing. Tomorrow I will be visiting Negombo area with the Vishva Niketan team and the Catholic sisters to assess the psycho social needs of the affected families.
We are also contemplating in identifying a few potential para counsellors who could be trained on mindfulness and loving kindness meditation and send them to the affected families to provide support. A team of Volunteer Psychotherapists from New York helped Sarvodaya during Tsunami to train a team of para counsellors and it was a very successful program. The same team has offered to help us at this hour even virtually to conduct the training as we do not want them to come visit Sri Lanka to conduct the training due to security concerns especially in view of ISIS involvement. Tomorrow they will connect us via Zoom at 7.00am to guide us before we leave for Negombo.
I am working very hard to get everything organised and delegate all the responsibilities and connect our team with local and international support groups before my departure to Canada for the Centers Gathering at Hollyhock.
Christine, I truly don’t know what to say to you about our plans to hold the HCN Asia/Oceania regional gathering in Sri Lanka next year. Having witnessed the Easter Sunday tragedy we don’t want our overseas friends to take any risk by visiting Sri Lanka. We have strongly advised friends not to come as we are concerned about their safety.
The area in Negombo that we will be visiting tomorrow have just completed the funerals and the coffins had been buried in a mass grave as they were unable to find space in burial grounds to bury them separately. Also collective church mass was held as there couldn’t hold individual mass for such a large number of deceased persons. It seems that in certain streets in Negombo there isn’t a single house without a funeral. Still there are 150 dead bodies in the Colombo mortuary that cannot be identified. Sarovdaya relief workers are also deployed in the Colombo mortuary as the hospital authorities are unable to cope up with the large number of families visiting the hospital searching for their lost loved ones.
The situation is that bad. I am so sorry for sharing this information with you. Tomorrow is going to be a very challenging day for us. But we are determined to do whatever we can to help as much people as possible at this hour.
This is all for the time being. Shall write to you again soon.
With much love and affection,
Yesterday whole morning and early afternoon I spent time in the village (together with Catholic Sisters who were trained by us on mindfulness based stress reduction) where Katuwapitiya Church is located. The psychological and emotional damage caused to over 100 people in that area is just unimaginable. The church is geographically located in a way that all the little streets are radiating from the centre of the church and at least one or more family members of each family had been victims of the disaster.
Almost in every little street every house there were funerals or they had just finished the funerals. It is very hard to comprehend how the affected people are going to live in that area without being reminded of what happened on that dark day. If a particular house is shut down that means all the family members have gone in the disaster. Even yesterday morning they had brought the remains of 10 people who had passed away while being treated in the Intensive Care units of hospitals. We have a long way to go as a country to heal the suffering of the people who are affected.
I strongly feel that given the volatile security situation in the country it will be difficult for counsellors and para counsellors from other geographical locations to make regular visits to the area. I personally feel we need to identify some people within close proximity to the affected area to be trained as “befrienders of relief’. At this moment we are trying to gauge the extent of the emotional and psychological damage caused to the victims.
I am attaching herewith the latest brief about Sarvodaya Relief Operation for your information. Much gratitude to you for being with us at this hour and I have no words to say how much it means to us.
With many thanks and love,
Dr. (Mrs.) Charika Marasinghe
Human Rights, Child Rights and Institutional Development Consultant