Improving psycho-social services is vital, and it is astonishing that we have not paid greater attention to this in the past. We had been concerned about this problem at the Peace Secretariat, and I recently came across correspondence dating from 2008, when I went to the WHO offices in Geneva to urge preparation for the problems we saw as inevitable, given the protracted conflict.
Unfortunately the system initially recommended could not be implemented because of what seemed to be internal rivalries. No substitute was suggested, so it is a tribute to the system the Ministry of Health put in place in Manik Farm that basic support was made available to prevent breakdowns on a large scale.
But, though medical personnel also noted the need for long term planning, given the long term impact of trauma, there was insufficient attention to this factor. It has even been claimed that some elements in government did not want support work in this area, perhaps in the ostrich-like belief that, if such matters were ignored, they would go away. So even the imaginative proposal of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation to develop counseling services, building on the input they had received from experienced international practitioners with regard to combatants in rehabilitation, was not pursued.
I have then recommended concerted efforts in this area, as well as with regard to language teaching, viz
- The Ministry of Health, with the support of the committee it has established to develop para-medical services, should be mandated to develop and implement a rapid programme of training of counselors. They should ensure cadre positions for Senior Counsellors in each Divisional Secretariat, with support staff available for community work and also for schools (where the skills of teacher counselors should be enhanced).
- This can take up the proposal earlier put forward by the Commissioner
General of Rehabilitation, to include the services of former cadres, with a view to enhancing the services available to rehabilitated cadres needing psycho-social support.
- A Reintegration Authority should be established, using the resources of the Bureau of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, to monitor reintegration and develop Vulnerability Indices to ensure support for those in greatest need, social and economic as well as psycho-social.
- Medical Officers of Health should, using the services of Divisional Secretariat Women and Children’s Units, monitor needs, in particular of the school going population and of women under stress.
- Different mechanisms of training teachers should be encouraged, in particular for all three National Languages as well as for Translation Skills. Religious organizations are well equipped to take on this task, and the Ministry of Education should encourage initiatives in this regard, by providing certification to those who reach the standards required for teaching in the school system.
- The military should also begin language classes, through Cadet Academies on the lines of those in other South Asian countries. These can concentrate on the three languages, plus education to equip students with the qualifications required for government employment. Recruitment to the police and the services would be facilitated, if such Academies also stress sports and character building extra-curricular activities.
- Schools should be encouraged to offer voluntary language classes. They could use the services of the police on a voluntary basis for Sinhala classes, while school teachers could help with teaching Tamil to police personnel.