At the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park Corner.
Hyde Park Corner in London that is, not the one in Colombo.
These are some of my favourite photographs that I’ve taken of little girls. This was taken when I accompanied my father in one of his site visits to Puttalam. These girls may have been refugees or may have been not, but they surely must have something to do with the social dynamics associated with the refugee camps in Puttalam. As is evident from the thatched houses in the background, these girls hail from a poor economic standard and clearly it was reason for them to be curious when some people ‘from Colombo’ came to the vicinity of their humble home in an SUV, something not often seen in the rugged terrains of some parts of the refugee camps .
Their initial emotions were very much a blend of apprehension, curiosity or even a fear of some sort in seeing these foreigners, by foreigners I mean foreigners to their locality. Later on I managed to chat with them in Tamil, tried to make them comfortable speaking to me and distanced myself from any stereotype they may have had of me and then the floodgates opened! They were very extrovert once they knew I spoke their language and were indeed very playful. I like to think the image below reflects that, even though the sharp little one in red still seems to have some reservations about me.
This war has taken the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Hundreds of thousands more are displaced, and the abnormality of the war and post war situation is fast and painfully becoming normalcy to most people, some don’t and didn’t even live to see that.
Hundreds of children are being born into such conditions, by virtue of the fact that the Muslim IDP’s displaced in the early part of the conflict are still languishing in Puttalam, I won’t be surprised if a decent amount of these children born would die (possibly as adults) in the same conditions to which they were born to.
Studies suggest that post war trauma is conceivably more painful than the emotional stress suffered during war. During periods of war and despite the aggressive conditions that ensue, people subjected to these live in pain and indescribable stress. However, the hope that these abnormalities will diminish and normalcy would resume lingers on and this is a solace of sorts to those who look for solace in the most difficult of times. In a post war situation, when there is no conceivable military conflict taking place and the people continue to suffer in difficult conditions it is inevitable that post war trauma will tighten its venomous grip.
Because of its brutality, this has become the paradigm for traumatic experience, with the constant need for psychological and psychiatric help for victims long after its end.
My father was the architect for a project called ‘Food for Education’ by an Italian NGO. Thus he had to make several site visits to seventy schools in the Trincomalee District. In addition to the war, Trincomalee was also severely affected by the tsunami of 2004.
Due to poverty, lack of infrastructure, the loss of hope that school education will achieve little and for fears of safety, school attendance amongst children was very low. It was also known that malnutrition was rampant amongst these children. The project aimed to build Kitchen & Sanitation facilities in these schools and free food was distributed to students who attended school. Thus this incentive helped mitigate absenteeism of school children to a certain extent in the Trincomalee district.
I joined my father in several of his site visits and I remember going to Trincomalee at least ten times during 2005 – 2006.
In spite of all the pain and suffering that was around, the faces of the children depicted a remarkable sense of resilience to the pain they and their families endured. These children coupled with the ready and mischievous smiles in their faces disguised the very painful story many a parent I spoke to in my limited Tamil told me.
There is now an end to a military conflict, and a year has gone by. And yet, there is years of work to be done in these areas to rebuild shattered hopes, dreams and society in general. These photographs can only attempt to ask questions about and to do justice to the untold story of many a child.
If not of most, this conflict didn’t manage to wipe out the smiles of all children in conflict zones. We must ensure that they never are, at least by planned yet hastened resettlement of all affected men, women and children.