After 26 years of brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, a new era of peace, reconciliation, and development began in May 2009 when the conflict ended. But in a small village called Iruttumadu, people were left with the worst scars from the war. The village was largely destroyed, and healing seemed impossible.
Many of the villagers returned after living displaced by the conflict for years. As they resettled in their community, these survivors faced extreme challenges in nearly every area of their lives. Iruttumadu is an isolated village in the northern province of Sri Lanka, and the people there received limited support or assistance from the government or any humanitarian agencies.
“In the past, before the final stages of the civil war, it was easy to live here. ... After the resettlement, we have nothing,” Dhitri*, a community member, says. “If you could come to help us now, we will learn to help ourselves, and you will not need to come and help us again.”
Dhitri’s longing to rebuild is shared by many others in the village. Together with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Lanka (NCM Lanka), the village launched a five-year project beginning in 2017 to transform the community. This project aimed to restore hope and transform lives through a holistic and sustainable approach that addressed everything from clean water to finances. Now, at the culmination of the project, the transformation is clear.
TRANSFORMATION FOR CHILDREN
For many of the villagers, children were—and are—a priority. Since the war has ended, children could grow and thrive in a new, trauma-free environment. Chandra, a long-time community member, has six children and six grandchildren. During the war, his wife became ill and died because they didn’t have access to a hospital. The family had to live in a camp for displaced people for many years before returning to Iruttumadu.
“We have gone through enough suffering, but my greatest hope is that our children won’t have to go through the same,” Chandra explains. The focus on children has improved education for all of the village children, ranging from grade school to high school. Through the project, children receive holistic care—addressing, mental, educational, nutritional, and social needs—in a safe environment. Before, many children dropped out of school because of the distance they had to travel. NCM Lanka also collaborated with Helping Hands to provide bicycles to students to continue their higher education. Besides education, the project also emphasized strengthening and improving safety of children in the village. Trainings and policies were translated into the local language, making it possible for community members to create child-safe spaces and become well-versed in child protection.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
For nearly three decades, the youth of Iruttumadu came of age under the shadow of war. It was difficult for them to hold on to hope, ambition, and faith. Rudra is 28 and has two children—he was married in a refugee camp. He has spent years living through falling shells and the extreme inflation post-war.
“Because of the fighting, I couldn’t take my exams, so I have no completed education,” Rudra says. “And after that, there were no more opportunities to study anything.”
There are many stories like Rudra’s, and those who had lost so much began to build peace and develop skills together. Young people meet daily on a sports field, playing volleyball or gathering in the evenings. The field used to be dotted with mines; now, it has been reclaimed for a hopeful future thanks to the generous donation of land from a family who lost their eight-year-old daughter to the war. Her father, Kasun, had been saving an acre of land for her.
“My daughter is gone,” Kasun explained. “Let other children in the village enjoy what she has left behind.”
The close interaction with the young people that Kasun made possible led to the formation of a youth committee, which offers emotional support as well as job skills guidance. Through the connections of NCM Lanka, young people could enroll in vocational training courses.
In fact, vocational training is a key piece of redevelopment. Many families were impacted by the war, and many women returned to Iruttumadu as widows. Women, especially widows, were invited to participate in self-help groups to strengthen job and finance skills. There, they learned income-generating activities such as home gardening, compost production, and the cultivation of mahogany trees, which prevent erosion and will sell for a good price once mature. Hiruni, age 32, is one of the women who joined.
“I am without a husband; after joining the project I learned I can survive on my own,” she shares.
Iruttumadu was caught in destruction; now, new life has sprung up across the community. Young people have found hope for stable futures, and many who struggled with alcoholism were able to overcome it with the help of the development program. Gardens overflow with new life—and the community does, too. Gayan, age 36, reflects on the five-year project.
“I want my community to become self-sufficient community,” he explains. “Like what NCM did, I hope someday our community will help another village.”
Taken from the latest issue of NCM Magazine. Read online here.