|On Assignment: Sri Lanka|
In December 2007 Fr. Ken Gavin, JRS/USA National Director, and Ron Ferreri, Development Director, visited the Mannar, Vavuniya and Batticaloa areas of Sri Lanka. Fr. Gavin writes:
I first traveled to Sri Lanka in the summer of 2005, six months after the devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004. JRS had been working there for a number of years in the north and east of the country with families displaced by the ongoing civil conflict that had ravaged Sri Lanka since the 1980s. During that first visit I was astounded at the overwhelming loss suffered by the Tamil people—for the most part, fishermen—and their families living along the coast. I remember visiting a church in Mullaitivu no more than 100 yards from the sea; it had been nearly totally destroyed by the force of the tsunami. Amid the rubble surrounding the remains of the altar, we found a water logged, wooden head of Jesus. The scarred but noble face of Christ continues to remind me of the years of suffering that the Tamil people have endured.
Our return trip to Sri Lanka last December allowed us to see how Sri Lanka has recovered from the destruction of the tsunami. We attended joyful gatherings that celebrated the formal handing over of homes to displaced families, life skills programs for young women who had dropped out of school, and the first graduating class of an English language academy.
I felt a strange similarity between my two visits in terms of the loss and displacement that the Tamil people still experience. Last year the rebel forces of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) were driven out of the east of the country and the Sri Lankan military seemed intent on definitively defeating the LTTE in and around Jaffna in the north. As we drove north from Colombo and approached the city of Mannar, I was taken aback by the overwhelming presence of military personnel and equipment along the main highway. The road was heavily patrolled and every 300 yards armed bunkers attested to the militarization of the northern countryside. Crossing the bridge into Mannar we heard the deep booming of governmental artillery shelling the LTTE controlled territory north of inland Vavuniya. The shelling, that often lasted through the night, reinforced for me the continued displacement and loss experienced by countless Tamil families. Closure of the main highway from the south to the north, soaring food costs, severe limitations placed on travel by Tamils to the south, harsh restrictions on local fishermen, and reports of continued disappearances of civilians reinforced the continued discrimination and suffering of the Sri Lankan population of the north.