01/08/2005, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Post-tsunami support for children

by Danielle Vella
Church has set up programmes geared towards children to help them cope with tsunami-related issues. A spirit of collaboration and unity after years of civil strife is starting to be felt.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international Catholic agency which helps refugees worldwide, will soon offer tsunami refugee children now living in camps education programmes that include psychological counselling.

JRS has been present in Sri Lanka for several years, reaching out to people uprooted by the island's long-running civil war.

Fr Vinny Joseph, JRS director in Sri Lanka, is currently visiting camps for tsunami survivors, assessing how best to mobilise staff and resources

Speaking to AsiaNews from a camp in Jaffna (a tsunami-hit northern town under Tamil separatist control), Fr Vinny said teachers are being placed in refugee camps across Sri Lanka and around 100,000 notebooks and other writing material will be distributed in the coming days.

"We have arranged for teachers to be in the camps to stay with children [and] help them adjust to their new situation," he said. "They will launch an education program, with studies, playing games, and other activities."

Teachers will also provide counselling and follow the children on their slow path to recovery.

What's more, the project includes improving the physical environment of the camps which have now become home to thousands of displaced children.

JRS is also meeting survivors' emergency needs—its staff are currently busy implementing relief operations together with diocesan workers in Jaffna, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

Fr Vinny is especially involved with children and youths. Before moving to Sri Lanka, the Indian Tamil Jesuit worked for years in camps for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu, in southern India, where he set up a range of youth programmes, all designed to instil in them hope for the future.

In spite of the immense tragedy that hit Sri Lanka, Fr Vinny can see signs of rays of hope.

"We see this disaster has brought communities together," he said. "Sinhalese people from the south are coming to the north and distributing lots of things to Tamil people. And the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and the army are working together in many affected areas.

The hopeful climate that now exists might pave the way for Sri Lanka's fractured society to start healing. Long-standing animosity may be overcome if south meets north, Sinhalese meets Tamil, and Tiger rebels meet Sri Lankan soldiers to work together.

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