Kirthi Hettiarachchi

Senior Project Director Philyandala SOS Children's Villages in Sri Lanka

Change lives of children after the civil war

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The civil war in Sri Lanka was dragging on for more than 30 years, destroying the day to day life, lives of people, properties and families who live in North to South and East to West.
At the final stages of the civil war, thousands of people started to enter to the areas controlled by the government from the territories controlled by the LTTE[1] and this was an extremely difficult situation to face for all concerned parties. As the fierce fighting was going on, every human being of this country prayed for “PEACE”. At dawn of a day in the year 2009 the government of Sri Lanka announced that the war ended. Meantime more than three hundred thousand people had fled from the war zone amidst the war, and the people were brought in to a refugee camp placed at Cheddikulam in the district of Vauniya.

At the camp people were scattered all over the place and families were lost. Among them the children were looking for their parents. Parents were in search of their children. Nearly half of the population in the IDP camps was children and young adults and most of them were in traumatic conditions. The children and the caretakers of this project had faced many difficulties at the initial stages of their living inside the IDP camp such as schooling, medicine, hygiene etc. due to lack of essential services. In spite of all these difficult conditions people and children were at risk of health hazards, child rights violations and abuses and the authorities were lacking the required capacity to cope with the situation though they were very concerned about the situation.

The government was in need of support from other organisations to assist these people who were really in need of support. The need of providing care for unaccompanied children came into light and on request by the government. SOS Children’s Villages came in to act to assist the children who were at risk. SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka managed to assess the situation. We commenced our work while constructing the semi-permanent shelters as we thought we should not keep children in the canvas tents, and our site became a solid permanent structure for children.

We started to identify children who were at risk, isolated and without parents. We were successful as we managed to bring many children in to one place. The main objective of this project was to re-unify unaccompanied children with their families of origin. SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka managed to investigate the status of 234 children with the assistance of the relevant authorities and re-unified 154 unaccompanied children with their families of origin. That was not an easy task due to obvious reasons!
SOS Children’ Villages Sri Lanka with the support of Continental and International Office came up with a new SOS Children’s Village in the Northern part of Sri Lanka for these children as this was where they came from. The children were provided with: care, re-unification, trauma therapy, health care, education, integration, counselling, identity registration and finally happiness. The programme was able to provide the necessary protection to the unaccompanied children who were at serious risk. We could give them an opportunity to restart their education with the necessary counselling and extra coaching for those who experienced long lapses in schooling.

It is a significant achievement that four children who sat for the G.C.E. (Advanced Level) examination in 2010 passed the examination well. Thirteen children who sat for the G.C.E. (Ordinary Level) examinations also have done well.

During the period that the “Emergency Relief Programme North” at Cheddikulam was in operation, various recreational activities were carried out for these children. A three-day trip to the capital city Colombo, giving them an opportunity to visit the places of interest such as Parliament, museum, zoological garden, renowned government TV station & radio station, places of religious and cultural interest. They had an opportunity to interact and dine with SOS families in other areas where they experienced a warm welcome and hospitality from culturally different brothers and sisters that gave them a very strong feeling about their counterparts in SOS Children’s Villages.

Another opportunity the children experienced was the holiday camp which was held at SOS Children’s Village Anuradhapura where all SOS children from all parts of the country participated. The children of Emergency Relief Programme at Cheddikulam participated in cultural, aesthetic, sports and educational programmes with other SOS children belonging to a different ethnic group that immensely helped to create a strong bond.
These are only a few of the activities carried out to give these children a happy childhood which was taken away from them by the civil war and to give them a good mental and physical relief to feel that they are experiencing a normal life.

By establishing SOS Children’s Village Jaffna, SOS  Sri Lanka was able to make a positive change in the lives of children who otherwise might have expereinced further traumatic conditions and disturbances in their lives. This is how SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka “changes lives of children after the civil war.”
I am so proud of myself as I had the great opportunity to support children when they really needed support during their very difficult time in middle of a war and just after a war. This satisfaction is with me as I was involved in this process from very beginning and even today. Now every child is with a big smile.

[1] Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Kirthi Hettiarachchi
is Senior Project Director in Philyandala at SOS Children's Villages in Sri Lanka.

I have completed 20 years of service with SOS Children’s Villages. I am presently working as senior project director of SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka as well as the location manager of SOS Children’s Village Piliyandala. Moreover, I have been assigned the tasks of national focal point for child protection policy of SOS programmes in Sri Lanka. I am aslo a member of the programme team that conducts quality assessments and implementation of the SOS Children’s Village Programme Policy in SOS Children’s Villages in Sri Lanka.
I come from a big family of five sisters and two brothers. I am married and with my wife Anoja, who is a school teacher, we have three daughters.
As a member of society, I strive to contribute to the social and spiritual ongoing of society and to the wellbeing of the poor and vulnerable. I was once the charter president of the Lions Club in my area as well as the president of the religious Shanthi Foundation, which offers jasmine flowers to lord Buddha on the day millions of people rock in to the “Sacred Bo Tree” which is 200 km away from Colombo. After the tsunami catastrophe, I was assigned diverse functions to cater for the refugees.
My leisure time is dedicated to sports. I am a sportsman. Since my school days I have been crazy about sports. I played cricket, football, table tennis, wrestling and I was a scout as well during my school days. I love travelling to see and experience the world as much as I love spending time with my family and friends.