Return to Normality on the Cards for Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Survivors

Date Publish: 
01/02/06

If you happen to visit the southern Sri
Lankan town of Matara one of these days, it’s more than
likely you’ll bump into a group of bright-eyed youngsters
clutching white envelopes. Smartly turned out in jeans and
T-shirts, they have a purposeful look about them. And if your guess
is that they are on a mission, possibly canvassing for some cause,
you’re not very far off the mark.

These children - aged between eight and 18 -
began a sales campaign a little before Christmas but they’re
not selling the usual greeting cards for the festive season.
Instead the Matara kids are offering something very special. In
fact it is unique - two types of cards commemorating the December
2004 tsunami.

What makes these cards particularly special is
that they feature two pictures painted by children from a couple of
shelter sites established for tsunami survivors in the district.
What’s more, the young sales team also consists of children
from these camps.

IOM helped youth from the camps organise an
art competition some weeks ago.

“The competition was meant to pay
tribute to those who experienced devastation and loss on that
tragic day one year ago,’’ says Erandana Hemawardena
from IOM Matara’s psychosocial programme.
“Tsunami-affected children and youth in welfare centres
throughout Matara district participated in the contest.” And
the theme was ‘Life one year after the tsunami’.

Two of the best entries were selected for the
tsunami commemoration cards now on sale. Each costs 20 Sri Lankan
rupees, which is less than 20 US cents.

“The profits are to be used for
recreational and educational activities for us,” says
18-year-old S.H Arunika, a resident of one of the IOM-administered
camps for tsunami-affected people. “We are all excited about
this project. IOM staff have told us we’ll be able to visit
the zoo in Colombo soon with the money we’re
collecting!”

The children say that besides providing
opportunities for leisure activities like this, the project is also
helping them gain confidence and to work together as a team.

That apparently was the idea, says Juan
Valdivieso, project officer at IOM’s Matara office.
“The children not only get to express themselves through art
but at the same time, the activity teaches them certain skills to
develop a project of their own. And of course, it generates some
fun too!”

The art competition and the sale of cards are
part of IOM’s psychosocial programme, which aims to help the
survivors recover from the psychological and emotional effects of
the 2004 tsunami and to bring back some sense of normality to their
lives.

The one-year commemorative events and
activities include a cricket tournament for children living in
transitional shelter sites built both by IOM and other agencies in
the entire district as well as Buddhist religious ceremonies, with
the ideas for the activities coming from the communities
themselves.

“People who are living in these shelters
are coming together as a community and showing that they are able
to enjoy the recreational, cultural and religious activities they
did before the tsunami despite the hardships they have faced over
the past year,” Valdivieso adds.