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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Caring for tsunami orphans

Daily News: Feature: "20/04/2005 by Tharuka Dissanaike

Thangavelu is not a rich man. With his moderate wage as a mason, however, he managed to bring up three sons and spend for their education. The family lived comfortably as they could in their crowded neighbourhood in the outskirts of Batticaloa town. But when he had to take his seven orphaned nieces and nephews in after the tsunami, Thangavelu faced a huge dilemma. How can he manage?

But choices were too few. Right after the disaster the children aged between 17 and 5, were split up by relatives and the two girls actually ended in a home. But later, Thangavelu agreed to keep the entire family together at his two-roomed house. His wife agreed. Today, his family numbers twelve and live crammed in a small house. The family is managing at present because the children are entitled to rations and Rs. 5000 a month for expenses. But once the money stops, Thangavelu will be faced with the entire burden of caring for all the children.

On the other side of the country, in Moderawatta in Tangalle a similar story. A family of four children, orphaned by the tsunami is now being cared for by their maternal aunt and her husband. Both are employed at the Hakmana Hospital and have very few means. But again, there was little choice in the matter. They would not allow the children to be institutionalized or split up to be cared for by different people.

They did not consider adoption either. Although there were various schemes announced for tsunami affected children, especially those orphaned, none of these schemes has really translated to reality on the ground.

The Child Protection Authority and Social Services Department in a bid to encourage foster parenting as opposed to setting up orphanages and foreign adoption, came up with a number of ideas to encourage relatives and friends of the family to keep the children in their familiar environment, and as much as possible in the same school.

But both in the East and the South, many orphans we met now being cared for by relatives had not received any kind of regular support as yet.

Fostering by relatives happened, not so much due to State intervention, but because people had the generosity to open their doors to these child victims of disaster. It happened because society has maintained family values and ties. Often the foster families themselves were affected by the tsunami.

In Navaladdy, Batticaloa we found a 65 year old grandmother, bent and feeble, who lost her husband to the tsunami caring for her three grandchildren left orphaned the same day. She has no income - so she goes from house to house to pound rice, chillies and such to earn money for the children.

1,074 children were orphaned, and 3,721 lost one parent according to official records. But less than 50 have been officially registered into homes and orphanages. This speaks well of Sri Lankan society as a whole.

We cannot forget the children who lost one parent either. Tragically many children lost their mothers. As reported in this column earlier, many fishing villages have lost more than half of the womenfolk, leaving behind another kind of disaster. Some NGOs have formed men's support groups to help the husbands to overcome their grief and their minds to caring for the children.

These efforts need to be encouraged and the State must support local efforts to rebuild lives and families affected by the tsunami.

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