Working with Children through Art at the IDP Camps in 2009 et seq

Kumudini Hettiarachchi,  in the Sunday Times, 30 August 2009

I came across this item by accident and reproduce it here because I had been shown one of the Psycho-social units by Dr. Safras when he showed me round two ot the Menik Farm camps in 2010 around mid-day when the tent for children’s art play was empty because it was still school time. This tale -mostly unknown except for the odd nws report like this one by Hettiarachchi, is relevant becasue of the continuous misrepresentatiosn by the Tamil migrants abroad, one recent example being the author who has chosen the nom de plume Niromi de Soyza. Web Editor

No words are needed. Their colourful and vibrant paintings speak volumes…..and it is important to take heed, for in most instances they are the unheard voices in any situation. These are the voices through art of children ranging from as tiny as four years old to that vital teen-age of 15 years old. Clearly and visually their thoughts and innermost feelings have been put on paper, being made possible by an ‘Art Camp’, the first of its kind to be held among the children who have lost home and hearth but found some semblance of stability in the camps for the internally-displaced in Vavuniya. The Art Camp was held in Zone 4 in two open tents on August 16.

Three Pics taken by Roberts in June 2010–click to enlarge

It had a two-pronged objective, the Sunday Times learns. It was an attempt to do something different to enable the channelling of the children’s creative energies while also making art a form of therapy to identify children whose mental wellbeing had been affected by what they had gone through. It all began with a first visit to the camps by IT specialist Manori Unambuwe in late April soon after the “mass exodus” of men, women and children to Vavuniya in the last phase of the war.

Recalling the scenes in April that “moved” her deeply, Manori, herself a mother of two, a son and daughter, says families were coming in busloads. “They were malnourished, starving, sick and shell-shocked.” These were the families who had lived under the terror of the LTTE. “They had been living on rice and water. They had been amidst the shelling, amidst the dying,” explains Manori, asking what would have been the impact on the children……..“obviously, they were battle-scarred”.

It was then that it struck her that they could do something for them through art. While she mobilized her son, Ineshke, “who helped on the creative side” and daughter Anekha “who meticulously planned the programme”, she mentioned her idea to a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, who mmediately joined forces to coordinate the funding and sponsorships.

Colour Products Ltd. contributed the chalk, Richard Pieris’ the pencils and erasers, Green Cabin the cake, Sunquick the juice concentrate and the water, Uswatte the snacks and Kandos the chocolates for these children, says Manori.

The Art Camp was also made possible by the unstinting support given by the Health Ministry’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Coordinator Dr. Thushara Ranasinghe, and the efforts of those at ground-level who handled the logistics, according to Manori, who picks out IDP Healthcare Director Dr. H.D.B. Herath, Health Development Coordinator Dr. A. S. A. Safras and Medical Officer of Health who is also Coordinator of Human Resources at Menik Farm Dr. Ishanka Thalagala, all of whom are based in Chettikulam. Another name that keeps cropping up is that of Education Coordinator Mr. Nagendrarajah, who had been a Zonal Principal in the Wanni.

Although the original plan was to have the camp for 200 children, they finally ended up with 315 children painting to their hearts’ content, stopping only for a sip from their drink or a bite of cake.

Seeing a knot of curious youth, they gently mobilized them to help out with mixing the drinks and serving the food. For Manori, among the many, Sherine who became their impromptu interpreter stands out. There was immediate bonding with Sherine, who is assisting the doctors and nurses in the Zone 4 primary healthcare centre.

So what did the children’s art reveal?

A majority drew something colourful and beautiful houses, with trees, flowers, birds and people. These were happy pictures. Only about 5% portrayed what Manori calls “dark thoughts”.

With the hope of bringing groups of children from these camps to Colombo to get to know the rest of the country and also exhibit their work in Colombo, Manori and her band of volunteers have vowed to make these children put their past behind, integrate into Sri Lankan society and be the heirs to a lasting peace.

Art Camps and More: It’s not just a one-off thing, assures Manori who is not only planning to hold bi-monthly art camps but has also mapped out many other activities including a fully-equipped psycho-socio centre to be opened in Zone 4 on September 5.

The International Organization for Migration has already put up the tent for the centre and is now doing the floor, says Manori, adding that equipment for it and also the future Art Camps will be from a donation of Euro 20,000 received from the ‘Back to Life’ foundation, the corporate social responsibility project of NKar Travels and Tours Pvt Ltd., which had secured the funding from its principal tour operator Wingtips of Germany.

If you feel the need to help out, Manori may be contacted on e-mail:


Filed under citizen journalism, cultural transmission, historical interpretation, IDP camps, life stories, LTTE, reconciliation, Tamil civilians, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

3 responses to “Working with Children through Art at the IDP Camps in 2009 et seq

  1. padraigcolman

    It is very difficult to get positive items about Sri Lanka published in the west. I used to write about once every month for the blog of Le Monde diplomatique. I attracted readers because my stuff was different. I tried a balanced approach and provided positive news which was not available elsewhere. The editor, Wendy Kristianasen, recognised that I was good for them and asked me to alert my “fan club” every time a new article appeared. I noted that every bit of positive news had to be “balanced” with criticism of the government according to the “editorial line”. Relations became frosty when I criticised an article about Sri Lanka by a parachute Frenchman which was full of factual errors. I haven’t been able to get anything published there since.

    Incidentally, this Sunday Times person, Kumudini Hettiarachchi, stole my work. I was asked by the Environmental Foundation (EFL) to write and publish articles marking their 30th birthday. I managed to get items in the Sunday Island, Lakbima News and LMD. The Sunday Times did not reply to my e-mails. EFL had contacts at the Sunday Times and asked me to send a variety of material to them, EFL, and they would pass it on. Kumudini Hettiarachchi was the contact. I sent a long article, a short article and a medium-length article. I received no response. I then discovered that this had been published:

    All my words. No payment. No credit. No acknowledgement. Bastards!

  2. padraigcolman

    I have sent a complaint to the Press council.

  3. Pingback: Mental Health Facilities for the Tamils at the IDP Camps and now for Those Being Resettled … Reports from Manori Unambuwe | Thuppahi's Blog

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