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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. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sunera's effort to heal wounded minds

Sunday Observer: 28/08/2005" by Ranga Chandrarathne

A novel method of rehabilitating a large number of tsunami affected persons in refugee camps and makeshift shelters, through a series of theatre workshops has been the brainchild of Sunera.

The cast of these workshops come from the affected communities. The workshop provides them a platform to air their feelings and narrate the horrendous experiences they have undergone.

Sunera, which was in the forefront of rehabilitation and reintegration of differently abled persons into society, has come forward to contribute it's share to the national effort, by healing the traumatised tsunami victims.

I had the opportunity of being a spectator at one of the workshops conducted in the Southern Province, by the Sunera Foundation.

What unfolds on stage, is a story about the affected persons. The stories are true and the present cast had indeed gone through the traumas that were being depicted on stage.

The workshop was a success from all conceivable perspectives. This was visible from the bright faces of the participants.

The tsunami special project was commenced, in addition to the regular workshops conducted islandwide by Sunera to empower the differently abled So far, the Sunera Foundation, has conducted workshops in the worst affected areas and trained 36 workshop leaders. A two-year Leadership Training Programme was conducted with funding from the British Government's Department for International Development. Specialists from the United Kingdom and Australia have also contributed in conducting leadership programmes.

The Sunera Foundation hopes to continue the process by setting up regular workshops. As the Foundation is in need of funds for the expansion of its activities under the Tsunami Outreach Workshop project and to continue its theatre workshops, a charity 'Dinner of the year' has been organised to raise funds. It will be held on Sunday, September 4 at the Colombo Plaza.

In order to increase further accessibility for the disadvantaged young men and women of all ethnic groups, the Sunera Foundation plans to have its own institutional infrastructure by way of an integrated theatre complex.

The Complex would provide a whole range of facilities including venues for conducting training programmes in dance, music, drama and the fine arts, an exhibition arena, library and residential facilities.

It will provide facilities free of charge for conducting the training programmes. It will also facilitate specially trained teachers in the field to produce dramas and performances. In addition, the Centre will provide a fully equipped Auditorium for drama and musical performances and for exhibitions.

The tsunami victims who have overcome the trauma after joining the workshops had some amazing accounts to relate. "I met Chandrika Premalal, one of the beneficiaries of the workshop, at the site. He related the horrendous experience of the tsunami and how he survived from the roaring waves by clinging on to a boat entangled in a bed of rocks. The incident still haunted him."

"Though I am a skilled swimmer, I could not swim against the tide. I was taken away by the waves and as luck would have it, I clung onto the boat. After this, I suffered from acute sleeplessness because this haunted me. But after participating in the workshop, I got rid of that feeling and I could go back to swimming without fear" said Chandrika. M. K. Dilini Priyanthika was in a bus, which was passing the Seenigama Devalaya, and the bus was caught in the waves and was dashed onto a tree.

"I too got rid of this haunting feeling after joining the workshop. Now I am not afraid of the past and I can face the future with confidence. I was also able to overcome hallucinations" said Dilini Vinodani Kumari lost everything in the tsunami. She was desperate and she got a house from the Government.

"At first, when I heard the commotion, I thought it was a quarrel going on outside the house.

When suddenly the waves struck us, I was able to survive, clinging on to a floating log.

After the workshop I was able to overcome feelings of despair and hopelessness. Thanks to the Sunera Foundation, now I can start life afresh" said Vinodani.

K. D. Dilshan Sandareka (12) who lived in a wooden house opposite the Seenigama Devalaya was rendered destitute by the tsunami.

"We had two lorries and a trishaw, but we lost everything after the tsunami. Everything was washed away.

I swam passing bodies and it was a harrowing experience. Thanks to Sunera Foundation, I was able to get rid of these negative feelings" said Sandareka.

Sunera Foundation

Envisioned by its Chairperson, Sunethra Bandaranaike, the voluntary organisation is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka dedicated to the rehabilitation and reintegration of the differently-abled into the mainstream Sri Lankan society.

The process of healing is done through a series of theatre workshops providing an avenue to release pent-up emotions and to develop creativity through ingenuous theatre techniques which are unique and improvised to instil a sense of hope in the participants.

Sunera has conducted several workshops and performances here and abroad.

"Flowers will always bloom" was performed in London in May 2001 at Riverside Studio to packed audience for three consecutive days. The production consisted of a 45 strong cast of persons form all ethnic communities.

"A Prayer For Peace" was performed by four members of The Butterflies Theatre Company at the Wataboshi Festival of Music in Brisbane (November 2003). Later this production was performed with an additional cast at the Disimilisestival in Oslo (June 2004).

At the moment the foundation is in the process of raising funds for the ambitious Integrated Theatre Complex, which is to be served as a Centre of creative excellence. From the inception of the Foundation, theatre personnel Wolfgang Stange, Rohanadeva and Ramani Damayanthi assisted the workshops conducted here and abroad.

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