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Caritas brings former enemies together in Sri Lanka

Committees create a space allowing communities to come together and understand each other

Caritas brings former enemies together in Sri Lanka

A gathering of Caritas Village Peace Committees working together to promote reconciliation. ( photo) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

September 19, 2016

With the goal of encouraging reconciliation in post war Sri Lanka, 40 Caritas Village Peace Committees have been established in 13 dioceses that span Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities.

Yasmin Kanista is Sinhalese, she joined her local committee in Mullaitivu on Sri Lanka's northeastern coast and started helping others get death certificates and compensation for family members that went missing during the country's brutal civil war which ended in 2009 when the government overran the Tamil Tigers, an insurgent group that fought to carve out a separate Tamil homeland. 

The committee also helps insular Sinhalese and Tamil groups meet.

"We don't get a chance to meet Sinhalese people other than the army and tourists. Many of them come here to see how they defeated Tamil forces and celebrate their victory. None of them want to hear about the suffering and pain that we underwent," Kanista said.

Sri Lanka has faced criticism for failing to properly investigate alleged rights abuses amounting to war crimes during the final phase of the war. 

"Yes, there is no war but still many wives do not know what happened to their husbands and mothers are still waiting to see their children again," Kanista said. "How can we say we are living in peace when our minds are not peaceful?"

"Going to Sinhala areas and attending Caritas reconciliation programs is a good experience for us," she added.

L.M. Heenmanike, a committee member in Seruwila, Trincomalee district said her Sinhalese village saw heavy fighting. "During the war, our area was frequently attacked by terrorist groups so we lived in fear. Now we do not have that fear and we move here and there freely," said Heenmanike.

Heenmanike is also happy to meet Tamil people and her local committee organized visits to the villages of their former enemies. "When we are together we understand each other," she said.


Yasmin Kanista (center) with her Caritas Village Peace Committee group members from Mulathivu. ( photo)


W.A. Sriyakantha is Sinhalese woman from Thalwilla Village in Chilaw Diocese who did not have any Tamil friends before she joined the Caritas Village Peace Committees. Her committee organized an exposure visit to a Tamil village and she had the chance of staying with a Tamil family. It was not easy for her to communicate with them as she didn't speak their language.

But even so, Sriyakantha felt the love and compassion of her host family even though they could not verbally communicate. After the exposure program she shared her experience with her home community but unfortunately many did not listen and still despise the Tamils.

Sriyakantha is undeterred. She wants peace committees to be more creative and create programs that will help people understand each other.

Priyantha Anton Fernando, project officer of Caritas Sri Lanka is happy with their attempts to bring different communities together.

"Many Sinhalese people believe that after the war ended, peace was restored but this is a myth. The purpose of the committees is to create a space for all communities to come together," Fernando said.

"Our biggest challenge now is to convince government officers of the need and win their support because they are of the view that peace was automatically restored after the war ended," he said.

But it's still looking good for the future of the peace groups.

"Over the two years we have been running the program, we can see the results as people begin to show empathy towards each other," said Fernando.

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