Report from Leena Khatri
The first two Creators of Peace Circles in Sri Lanka took place in the Northern Province in the first two weeks of September 2016. The ground for these Circles was prepared by two Sri Lankans, Shashika and Wimarshana, who have been trained over the past two years in India through working with the programme IfL (Initiatives of Change for Life). They returned to Sri Lanka in July to work for the healing and reconciliation of their war–affected country.
These initial Peace Circles were for two groups of women from Self Help Groups (SHGs), with similar backgrounds. The hope ultimately is to be able to bring together women of different ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka in such Peace Circles to share and build trust and friendship.
The first SHG was the 'Mannar Kitchen', a catering project of 'Bridging Lanka', an NGO working in Mannar that IofC has been closely associated with. These women, most of them war widows, prepare and sell food items. This small income helps them sustain their families. Manthai West, where the Peace Circle was held, is one of the five divisions of Mannar district in the north west of the country, just 30 km across the Indian Ocean from the coastline of India.
Nine women attended this Peace Circle from 9-10 September. It would have been more if domestic compulsions had not intervened. For example, Sabastiamma could not make it because she spent the morning looking for her cow that had strayed away!
The Peace Circle was conducted in Tamil, thanks to the presence of Dr Nyanam of UK and Malaysia, and translated by Jessie, the Bridging Lanka coordinator.
Participants shared moving stories of losing sons, homes, and of being displaced several times from conflict zones and having to live in refugee camps. It is only in the last two years that they have been able to build new homes on their restored land where their properties were razed to the ground during the war. The houses have been built with grants of SL Rs 5.5 lakhs each, given by the Indian Government with additional amounts from loans. We had the opportunity to visit their homes.
Minachiamma, alone now, still lives in her tin shed while her house is being constructed. At our first meeting she had said, 'There is no happiness in my life, only pain', but the big smile with which she welcomed us to her home the day after the Circle, with hugs and tea was evidence of a new story in the making. She said, 'I have to leave the past behind to live happily with my children'. Her friend Poornawathy said, 'I should not think of worries all the time'. Vasantha, who lost one of her five children in shelling and who herself suffers from a severe eye disorder after a head injury, said, 'Thinking about illness all the time will make me more ill. I have to think for my children now'.
The energetic coordinator of this group, Stella, transports the food made by the 'Mannar Kitchen' ladies to the canteen on her bike, which she bought from her savings. She lives with her 12-year old daughter. She said, 'I need to develop qualities of peace. I never thought of peace in this way. We have to show by example'.
Having heard their personal stories, these statements were for us quite significant. Their resilience and determination to rebuild their lives literally from scratch is a reality we know little about.
The second Peace Circle was in Mullaitivu, on the eastern coast across from Mannar. Here we partnered with PARCIC, a Japanese NGO, which has amongst others one project called 'Sari Connection'. Shashi and Wima had met their project coordinator, Fumi Ito, and helped to collect saris from the south of the country to bring to their women's SHG. There they make clothes, bags, cushion covers etc from these saris which are then sold in Colombo and Jaffna. Twelve of the women came for the Peace Circle. Shashi and Wima will bring the women they know from the south who gave the saris, to this northern region to meet the women there. The idea was warmly welcomed by these women of Kokkuthoduwai, where the Circle was held. Then the real connection through saris will truly begin. Fumi Ito would next like IofC to do a workshop for their staff in Jaffna…. And so it will continue…