The Invisible Wounds of Sri Lankan Children
"Seven year-old Subash explains his painting. It is a house which has been bombed, the army shooting, planes and a mother with a child missing a foot and a hand. Subash says he painted this because in real life he saw his sister and his cousin playing on a swing when a shell blew them to pieces.” Source: www.bbcnews.com
The children of Sri Lanka have grown up in the midst of a twenty-year ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group which claims to represent the Tamil minority. Despite a ceasefire in 2002, children’s lives continue to be disrupted by sporadic violence, recruitment as child soldiers, the destruction of health and education infrastructure, and political instability.
- In 2004, an estimated 1000 child soldiers were still in the ranks of the Tamil Tigers
The psychological stress of conflict can take a heavy toll on children. Former child soldiers are often traumatized by their experiences as combatants, their separation from their families, and their absence from school and from regular childhood activities. Even those children who were not recruited as child soldiers have often witnessed or survived violence firsthand, have been displaced from their homes, and have been vulnerable to poverty and abuse.
In the aftermath of the tsunami of December 2004, which killed over 30,000 Sri Lankans and forced over 700,000 to be displaced from their homes, children’s lives have been drastically impacted by the emotional, physical, and psychological impact of losing family members, homes, friends, and schools.
- It is estimated that over 9,000 children in Sri Lanka were affected by the tsunami, the majority of whom were displaced from their homes
- Over 600 children were orphaned by the tsunami
The emotional scars of conflict and natural disaster often manifest themselves in symptoms of depression, nightmares, difficulty speaking, emotional withdrawal, and physical discomfort such as stomach aches and headaches. For children who have been uprooted from their communities and separated from their families due to conflict and natural disasters, a return to normalcy and a safe, secure place to be a child again form an essential basis for healing.
Allowing children a creative outlet for the emotional and cognitive stress they have experienced is an important way to give them the necessary empowerment to confront the trauma they have endured and to take control of their future.
War Child Canada Projects Making a Difference
Together with its local partners, the Butterfly Peace Garden and the Kalmunai Peace Foundation, War Child Canada is working to provide Sri Lankan children with the psychological healing they need to reclaim their lives after the devastation of conflict and the tsunami. In the Thiraimadu Garden in Sri Lanka, children are given psycho-social support through various forms of creative healing. Art, music and theatre therapy provide a forum for informal education, vocational skills training, conflict resolution and peace building.
Led by local therapists who are sensitive to the experiences and culture of the children, these creative interventions foster a crucial process of self-discovery and emotional exploration children and offer an opportunity to build their confidence and resilience for a brighter future.
Over the past decade, 10,000 children have benefited from the secure learning and healing environment offered by the Butterfly Peace Garden. With three different centres in Batticaloa, and in the resettlement camps of Thiraimadu and Karballa, the Garden is ensuring that the invisible scars of conflict and natural disaster are being addressed where help is most needed.
Want to Learn More?
1. UNICEF: Sri Lanka: Psychosocial programmes help children heal and make friends
2. BBC News: In Pictures: Children’s Tsunami Art
3. MSF: Psychosocial trauma of the civil war in Sri Lanka
4. BBC News: Sri Lanka’s Rivals Tackle Child Trauma
5. San Francisco Chronicle: Sri Lankan kids color their world to soothe emotional wounds