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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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sithamuFollowing on suggestions made previously with regard to land and livelihood issues, I present here recommendations as to the two other areas I highlighted.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

sithamuThough the Reconciliation meetings I attended were confined to Divisional Secretariats in the North and East, the concerns looked at previously were general. In addition there were concerns relating to the conflict situation, in some instances affecting Sinhala communities too.

Chief amongst these were problems about land title. The LLRC Action Plan highlights the importance of dealing with these, reflecting the anxiety of all communities in this regard.

Another area of concern was livelihoods. This was of particular concern to Tamil communities in the North, reflecting the deprivation many suffered during the conflict. This means they have difficulty taking advantage of the opportunities created by the impressive programme of infrastructural development development government has undertaken.

Third is the problem of psycho-social support, which is minimal in the North. The traumas of war are compounded by uncertainties about those whose fate is not known for certain. In addition individuals of different ages in single parent families are also affected by economic and social factors.

Finally, while the commitment of the government to multilingualism is clear, putting this into practice has proved difficult because of a lack of personnel with bilingual and trilingual capacity, while translation skills are in extremely short supply. Teaching of the second language in schools is rare because there are insufficient teachers, and the Education Ministry is not in a position to increase the supply, even were the urgency understood. Read the rest of this entry »

When I was asked to write a regular column for an e-journal, I was not sure I had much more to offer than appeared in the regular newspaper columns I was writing. There were two a week on Human Rights for the ‘Daily News’ and one a week on Children for the ‘Island’. I thought therefore of dealing with Reconciliation, but not necessarily in terms of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees that meet in the North and East. I cover those meetings in irregular columns in the ‘Daily News’, which is all that is possible since I can go to those areas only once or twice a month, to participate in 4 to 6 meetings on each visit. Instead I will look here at more general issues, including the impact of international interventions, while also considering what it means to be an Adviser on Reconciliation without any facilities to promote suggestions that are made.

I was thinking of this the more deeply during a workshop organized by group of foreign academics, introduced to me primarily because they had no official backing for the workshop, and hence could not apply for visas. Since the Ministry they had contacted had been unwilling to issue an invitation letter, it was clearly not appropriate for me to do this. Still, the initiative seemed a good one, and to be encouraged. Fortunately the group persuaded one of the most effective NGOs we have to invite them, and the meeting therefore went ahead.

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Shelters in Zone 0 and 1

Efforts to rouse concern about conditions at the welfare centres are understandable in sympathizers of the LTTE agenda seeking to bring Sri Lanka into disrepute. What is astonishing is that a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General should have followed this line, while ignoring the clear evidence provided by the UN itself about the tremendous efforts of the Sri Lankan government to provide relief.  It would seem that the panel had not bothered to look into UN records, else they would have known that the UN Resident Coordinator wrote that –

With regard to specifics

  1. The concerns expressed by the panel include claims that the whole process was illegal.  Ignored are the reports of the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, who was invited three times to Sri Lanka to advise on the relief programmes. He made clear the parameters under which limitations could be placed on the freedom of movement of the displaced, and the government, through gradual expansion of the categories released and then through rapid returns, did its best, subject to security concerns as well as the need to demine and ensure basic infrastructure, to follow his advice with regard to time frames.

  2. Concern was also expressed that access for humanitarian agencies was denied.  This was nonsense as is apparent from the continuous activity of several Non-Governmental Organizations as well as UN agencies in the centres. However access was provided only in terms of specific aid projects, which irritated agencies which had seen themselves as decision makers rather than supporters of government intervention. The best comment on this was provided by the Deputy Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Steve Ray, who told me before he left that the international community in Sri Lanka had not understood the situation, since many aid workers came from situations in Africa where government involvement was minimal. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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