A voyage of exploration and discovery
By Malini Balasingham
Emotions that stem from grass roots level have
an in-depth aura that differs from those that stem from casual reactions
to the passing scene. A visit to Jaffna was an event that was memorable
for this very reason. Let's take it step by step.
air route from Ratmalana airport to Palaly is low key in most respects.
We were a group of eight people on a "voyage of exploration
and discovery", who arrived at the Ratmalana airport with expectancy
and anticipation of what was for most of us, an unique experience.
Previous rumours of the stringent regulations regarding hand luggage
etc. proved slightly exaggerated. Only Kamal had to part with her
precious camera, till she reached the end of the 55 minute flight.
Palaly, we cautiously looked around, but everything was peaceful
and normal. We were warmly greeted by Rev. Joshua, who was the very
epitome of efficiency, and in no time we were on the way to our
destination - the house of the Principal of Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai.
Acres of land
covered with scrub bushes, coconut and palmyrah trees (some decapitated)
and patches of intensely cultivated fields, gave way to cottages
and houses (some decapitated). And soon we were being greeted by
the Rev. Anthony Durairetnam Paul and his wife Venothini. Somehow
everything seemed familiar - roots reacting, I suspect.
Our programme over the following days proved this fact. The
next morning we visited the Institute of Nursery Studies and Gender
Development at Moolai. On the way it was noticeable that the motor
traffic was sparse, but cyclists were abundant. The Moolai Institute
had been set up in 1986, discontinued from 1996-98, and reorganised
in 1999. Its activities, with Mrs. P. Rajeswaran at the helm centred
on the social mobilization of villages with training, advisory services
and the building of a new partnership user support system at grass
roots level. We visited a training centre, - the only current activity
located in the spacious Moolai Cooperative Hospital, which, for
the time being appears to be non-functional.
From my point of view, the highlight of the visit was the opportunity
I had to meet Professor Daya Somasunderam once again. With characteristic
modesty, Dr. Somasunderam did not speak of the vital role he has
played as Head of the Department of Psychology, and initiator of
numerous other facilities to help overcome the intense degree of
trauma and mental distress that people in the region have had to
cope with for years. One of the undertakings is the Mental Health
Society, which will make a major contribution to the expanded network
of the Institute of Nursery Studies and Gender Development.
It was a pleasure
to receive a copy of one of Dr. Somasunderam's latest publications,
"Mental Health in the Tamil Community", of which he is
a co-author, with Dr. Sivayokan. This book has been compiled for
a wide cross section of professionals and social workers, engaged
in community mental health, and describes simply, effective interventions
for psycho-social problems.
Our visit to the Wanni will remain memorable for a long time.
We passed through Chavakacheri, with its devastated buildings, which
strangely formed a backdrop to a lively scene of bustling city life,
and children on their way to school. The checkpoints we negotiated
later bristled with efficiency. Having Rev. Joshua with us was very
reassuring. We visited a boys farm and girls school, both bustling
Our next point
of call on returning to the peninsula was Point Pedro, where the
Methodist Church has recently set up a self-help centre for war
widows. Mrs. Doris Thambyrajah, the live wire of the project briefed
us on the activities, ranging from cloth painting to setting up
On the last evening of this memorable visit, I had the pleasure
of interviewing Rev. Dr. Jebanesan, whose viewpoints on the present
situation in the North carry much weight, since they epitomise the
spirit that now prevails there. Rev. Jebanesan, who comes from Chavakachcheri
has watched and participated in the progress and occasional regression
of events over the years. "The total breakdown of law and order
was when the killing of Alfred Duraiappa took place," he said.
At that time Rev. Jebanesan had been the Principal of Jaffna College,
with the responsibility of dealing with bereaved parents and traumatised
expressed some concern about the fact that most of the younger people
wanted to go abroad, with a view to having greater opportunities
and prosperity. Recalling 1995 he said, "The majority faced
the trauma with admirable resiliance. We will have to wait for some
time for high confidence to be restored, but Jaffna is now open
to varied activities - buying and selling has stepped up, and even
scrap iron is going out."
The next day
some of us prepared to leave. The two main organisers of the visit
Sybil Kanagasunderam and Sarojini Kadiragammar stayed on for further
discussions and an outing to Kayts.
out of Jaffna was also uneventful. As we departed, the message that
came through, was that with the prevailing resilience and determination,
the peninsula was on the pathway of adjustment to cope not only
with the present but with the future.