The sight of the thousands of civilians who had escaped from the no-fire zone and were trying to make a life of sorts for themselves will be etched in my memory for as long as I live.
On Sunday, April 26, 2009, I had gone with friends to visit the Menik Farm in Chettikulam, in Vavuniya district, where thousands of refugees are being accommodated in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The dazed, blank look in the children’s eyes and the physical pain and mental trauma of both adults and young ones broke my heart.
Many refugees were lined up outside the main tent, which served as a makeshift medical centre. They were suffering varying degrees of injury, sickness and malnutrition after escaping the no-fire zone. Many had been without proper food for weeks, and were starving. The government should be commended for the admirable way it is coping with an impossible situation, handling a massive influx of more the 150,000 people arriving in the camps.
Contrary to what many critics are saying, the army has done a splendid job as peace-keepers, not as “jailers”.
Soldiers were generously helping civilians to settle in, assisting the weak and the injured, and extending the hand of friendship to all refugees.
Immediate essentials were being distributed, including water and cooked food. These are distributed daily. Pits were being dug to expand the available toilet facilities, and refugees in need of medical attention were being attended to. The more serious cases were sent to hospitals nearby.
It should be said that the army and the various government agencies are doing a marvellous job in the camps.
The Health authorities, the Water Board, the Electricity Board – all are to be congratulated for their outstanding work in extremely difficult circumstances.
The tents are neatly pitched, despite the teeming crowds, the place is remarkably clean, and sanitation facilities are being constantly and speedily expanded, until more permanent arrangements are made.
While tents dominated the greater part of the camp, more solid structures were seen in a section where the first influx of refugees was housed. Menik Farm Zone 1 has semi-permanent structures made of galvanised sheets for walls and roofs of cadjan (interwoven coconut palm fronds).
We could see that life had settled into a routine for most of the refugees. They were getting on with their daily business –washing clothes, cooking in little kitchens set up behind their homes. Children were at play in a playground equipped with slides and swings, and adults were tending little patches of garden planted with manioc and other vegetables. There were rows of permanent showers and toilets.
The nearby hospitals were filled to capacity with patients, but the doctors and nurses were coping, working day and night, and working with enthusiasm and commitment.
We heard a wonderful comment from a Tamil doctor at one of the hospitals. He said the Army’s kindness and sympathy had helped to heal the hearts of patients, if not their physical ailments and injuries.
What I saw that Sunday was all I needed to confirm for me the Sri Lanka Army’s dedication and compassion for all civilians.
I wish the Tamil diaspora living thousands of miles away but who claim to know everything about what is going on in their “homeland”, and who are ever ready to take to the streets to attack the Sri Lanka government and the Army – can see what I have seen of the real situation in the IDP camps.
The curse that was upon our country for three decades has been finally lifted.
Let us, with love and kindness, empathy and justice, heal the wounds of war, so this and future generations can live in peace and harmony in this beautiful island called Sri Lanka.