Sunshine festival for 3,000 children in Sri Lanka

Report
from International Organization for Migration
Published on 01 Aug 2005
By Gina Wilkinson
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2005 - For thousands of children in eastern Sri Lanka, a weekend festival provided more than just a chance to play games and dance - it was a rare opportunity to forget for a moment about the tsunami that devastated their communities

Three-thousand kids who lost their homes in the disaster took part in the two-day 'Sunshine Festival' in Trincomalee, which aimed to help children overcome some of the mental trauma caused by the tsunami.

"The festival was a very good experience for me," said 10-year-old Dinusha. "It gave me the chance to make new friends and talk to other kids who live in the camps, just like me."

"I also enjoyed the traditional dancing and the sack race, and I was the fastest person in my group on the obstacle course," she added with a wide grin.

The colourful Sunshine festival was organised by IOM and 29 other international agencies, UN organizations, and local NGOs under the umbrella of the Community Empowerment Network - Trincomalee (CENT).

"The festival was designed to give children time and space to play and express their emotions, which is so vital if they are to recover from the trauma of losing loved ones and homes in the tsunami," said IOM's Beth Wheelan.

With funding from USAID and the governments of Poland and South Korea, the agency also works with NGOs to train field workers, teachers and community leaders in psychosocial issues and how to recognize people who need specialised mental health care.

In addition, IOM conducts numerous workshops for camp residents on drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, and child protection issues.

Despite this, Dinoja's fears and worries won't disappear overnight.

But by providing her and the other tsunami-affected children with a weekend of fun and relaxation, the Sunshine festival helped her begin the task of rebuilding her self-confidence and well-being.

More than 30-thousand Sri Lankans were killed when towering waves swamped the coast, while an estimated 86-thousand families were made homeless.

"I had so much fun meeting new friends and dancing that I didn't think about the tsunami even once," said nine-year-old Dinoja, who took part in traditional dancing and enjoyed theatre performances and local bands.

Dinoja's family escaped the deadly waves, but their home was badly damaged and they spent several months living in a tent before moving into transitional housing, built by the IOM with funding from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Organization (ECHO).

"I like out new house because it's not hot like the tent and it's further away from the sea," said Dinoja who, like many children and adults in Sri Lanka, still fears another tsunami.

IOM has several projects aimed at addressing trauma and other mental health problems among tsunami survivors.

Four doctors monitor the mental health of residents in IOM supported camps and transitional housing sites.

With funding from USAID and the governments of Poland and South Korea, the agency also works with NGOs to train field workers, teachers and community leaders in psychosocial issues and how to recognize people who need specialised mental health care.

In addition, IOM conducts numerous workshops for camp residents on drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, and child protection issues.

Despite this, Dinoja's fears and worries won't disappear overnight.

But by providing her and the other tsunami-affected children with a weekend of fun and relaxation, the Sunshine festival helped her begin the task of rebuilding her self-confidence and well-being.

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