Michael Roberts, 28 September 2012
Myrna Setunga attended Southlands College in the Galle Fort at one point in her upbringing and was known to me then. Our friendship continued during her subsequent undergraduate studies at Peradeniya University when I was also in the same boat so to speak. We lost touch though I was aware that she had moved to Australia.
From Australia she moved into work in the NGO world and served in the Philippines, Indonesia and West Africa before moving back as a Director for Plan International in Uva District. She retired and moved to the Colombo locality to look after her ailing father. Her pater had passed away by the time the tsunami struck on 26th December 2004.
Myrna Setunga then moved into relief work in her characteristic manner, a veritable dynamo. She mustered support in kind and money from friends in Lanka and donations from friends abroad. She discovered a particular realm where special needs had to be fulfilled, namely, refugee and IDP mothers with babies. She devised a mother and baby pack for delivery to such unfortunates and purchased the baby basinets, nappies, baby clothes, sanitary pads, panties, et cetera in bulk from retailers in the city with aid from local friends.
Typically methodical, she also sent regular reports and details of monies received and how spent to her ‘bank’ of donors. If anyone is interested in an independent report on suitable housing for disaster relief, Myrna is the person to go to – she is scathing about the design of some houses constructed by reputed NGOs and other agencies. Her model of an exemplary design suited to Sri Lankan conditions is that worked out by Tissa Jinasena’s company.
While all this may seem irrelevant to the title of this article that is far from being the case. The point is that Myrna had gained experience and cut her teeth in humanitarian relief work during the post-tsunami rehabilitation efforts pursued by many organisations and many people. When the Tamils IDPs streamed out of the Nandikadal Pocket and created a humanitarian issue [amidst continuing security concerns from feared Tiger suicide bombers], Myrna moved into action in the same manner. She collected monies from her friends as well as other forms of material aid from some pals in Sri Lanka. Her several aid visits to the north are listed below. She concentrated mostly on the presentation of mother-and-baby packs, but dabbled in other activities and was able to visit all the zonal camps as well as smaller school camps at will.
As before she penned reports to her circle of supporters as soon as she returned. So, what we have is a contemporary set of descriptions of the IDP camps and hospitals, reports that were NOT meant for public consumption. Myrna detests the spotlight and it has taken me several weeks of persuasion to agree to the presentation of some selections from her series of essays. It was only after I sent her some of the severely adverse reports presented by Tamils and others in 2009 that she consented to this exercise because they were contradicted by her observations.
Since the last lot of IDPs have left Menik Farm just this month and are being re-settled, it is an appropriate time to review the literature on the detention centres and their welfare dimensions – facets which have been obliterated by the plethora of partisan one-sided descriptions circulating in the world as part of agit-prop activities mounted by the LTTE rump, Western accomplices, Western sympathizers, secular fundamentalists and a phalanx of Sri Lankans who are Rajapaksa-haters.
The problem, of course, is that when one says all this so baldly and when one tries to balance the scales by taking an overarching view, one is THEN branded a government sympathizer and those dogmatically opposed to the SL government simply do not read your presentations. Well, that is a cave they have dug for themselves. Some examples from these reports by Myrna Setunga will be serialized in THUPPAHI for the benefit of those readers out there who are not so imprisoned in Camp Incorrigible.
Note that Myrna has inserted one or two embellishments in some reports – these are in square brackets. I have occasionally inserted minor clarifications.
1. The Vavuniya Adventure – 15 May 2009
2. Vavuniya Hospital –15 May 2009
3. Second Trip to Vavuniya, 1-5 June 2009 – n.d.
4. Third Trip to Vavuniya, 11-13 June 2009 – n.d.
5. Fourth Trip to Vavuniya, 8-12 July 2009, – n.d.
6. [Overview] 22 July 2009
7. Fifth Visit to IDP Camps, 2-5 August 2009
8. Sixth visit to IDP Camps, 19-24 August 2009
9. Jaffna first visit, n.d.
10. Jaffna-Mannar briefly, n.d.
11. IDPs in Jaffna, 16 March 2010
12. Elders & Children’s homes, Jaffna, 16 March 2010
13. Savings Societies, Jaffna-Mannar, 18 March 2010
14. Jaffna Conclusion, 19 March 2010
15. Addampan, 16 March 2010