Brief account of the experience in Batticaloa working with war widows from the perspective of Dealing with the Past


1st visit to Batticaloa, March 19th to 21st 2003 (see report)

2nd visit to Batticaloa, January 25th to 28th 2004


  • Rajan Iruthayanathan from Batticaloa, at present doing an MA in London, UK
  • N.I. Christy, from ZOA (refugee care service)
  • C. Nixon, from PWA ( People Welfare Association)
  • Kumaravel Purosothaman, from PWA
  • Amara in her personal capacity, not representing a group
  • Roberta Bacic, WRI, London

Participants at the workshop:

  • 16 women from the area of Kiran, from two different villages
  • the 6 organizers named above
  • 2 young women from the two villages who came and stayed with the women during the workshop and acted as support and also participants

Aim of the workshop as a result of last year's meeting:

The workshop included discussion, story telling and practical activity. The women spent two complete days at Sarvodaya. They stayed over and came and went back by hired bus.

On the last visit the groups were very interested in the photo exhibition from Chilean women on memories and memorials and were prompted by those images and the experiences of those women to tell heir own stories. They had expressed interest in the possibility of local women capturing their own experiences in photographs.

In practical terms after the initial sharing of experiences and story telling, the participants were provided with disposal cameras and invited to take their own photos. Before coming to the workshop the coordinators had asked the women to bring along with them objects and/or photos which were associated with their lost ones. These photos were taken during the first day, and were developed so they were ready for the second day. All the participants had the chance to comment on their own photos, their peers and also on the experience reflected in the choice of subject.

A very significant meaning they all gave to the possibility of having the photos before leaving was the fact that they would have the chance to share with their families what they had done during the two days away, something absolutely unusual in their lives.

Before concluding the workshop and as a closing up that would lead to follow up, each woman was given a second camera to take back home so as to take photos of their home, community and what they found relevant of their past and present life.

The workshop went beyond the planned outcome as the women were able to identify four needs they had and asked for ways of implementing them:

  1. They made a decision to meet once a month in their own villages
  2. They agreed that they needed to follow up on the initiated healing process. There was a consensus that it had been specially meaningful to have been able to go from crying, to laughter and also to silence
  3. They made it very clear that they needed some training in skills regarding the way they could improve their capacity to be economically self sufficient (e.g. poultry growing, tomatoes and corn, vegetables, etc)
  4. They pointed out that they would welcome for themselves and other groups the chance to meet at least once a year away from home so as to be able to have a short break and the capacity to discuss amongst peers their own daily life and life experiences, as well as mechanisms of coping.

Follow up

Some agreed steps regarding follow up:

  1. I met with Rajan on the 28th late after having finished the workshop and decided:
    • He would meet with the organizers on February the 1st to discuss their impressions, follow up and possible commitment on follow up
    • He would meet Amara before leaving for London on the 4th to also discuss her involvement and follow up as she offered 1 day a month to visit the community and do home visits as well as try to engage in any common activity they would have
    • Rajan and myself to meet in London on February 6th to share reports and work on the final text of the report to be sent to organizers
  2. I contacted Amara on February the 2nd and agreed communication procedures and discussed possible follow up in Sri Lanka and WRI involvement in a future stage

Next steps agreed:

  • Meet locally in the villages at the end of February and report to Rajan and myself
  • Plan a possible exhibition of the photos in the community of the shots taken during this workshop
  • Try to organize a follow up for the first week in June so as to collect the photos taken with the last camera, have them processed and share the process since the meeeting in January in Batti
  • Plan an exhibition in London at Saint Ethelbuga's Peace and Reconciliation Center of some of the photos. We would aim through this to share this sample of meaningful work with the wider society and also commit members of the Sri Lankan community living in the UK with this work. If possible we would also animate groups and individuals to support this group. We would welcome the chance of being able to invite to London at least one organizer and one participant of each village.

Final remarks to this preliminary sharing experience, in advance to a final report that has to include reports of all the involved:

  1. Even if the photos are a concrete outcome of the experience and this is in itself most valuable, it is not an end in itself.
  2. The taking of the photos allows the participants to express themselves around the feelings and experiences in a very concrete and creative way, without feeling pushed to speak it all out and has an immediate outcome.
  3. In some specific programs and or projects, the use of this means would allow complex topics to be approached in a way that is difficult to achieve by simple conversations

Positive outcomes

  • relief and a bit of rest
  • evidence that in 'old age' new things can happen, that I can learn well and then share that too
  • to have lived together these two days as a family was a real support and leaves us with a feeling of contentment
  • share with others and open in front of other people and women whom I did not know was very important and liberating
  • the photos allow me and us to take back memories and also share them with the family and community if possible will be very important
  • I feel very satisfied and happy. I was very worried before coming as had never been away for so long, but now I am relaxed and will have much to share and bring some happiness back
  • I am looking forward to the follow up
  • I value that we were not questioned, but invited to open and share what we wanted and felt like sharing
  • I came with a great burden, it was difficult to start but feel that I have been able to break the circle of question and answer and feel in peace. Would really like to continue.
  • Each session gave us different experiences. We went from being sad, to being happy and so again and again. It was very restful.
  • I grew lots of confidence along the process
  • I feel I have gained courage and can face new moments, I am less afraid of crying and sharing
  • I see a complete process being started.
  • I feel light hearted
  • Loved eating together and not having had to cook myself. I also loved sharing with a woman stories before going to bed
  • I had not laughed so much for a long time, but I also was able to cry what I rarely do and never in public
  • I am thankful for this chance of hope and nice shared moments, we need a bit of joy, we have suffered so much
  • I would value we would look into possibilities of improving our poverty

Suggestions for improving future workshops

  • the organizers should have told us more about what we were going to do as I did not have it clear
  • I was told that we would heal, so my expectations were that we would be able to do so immediately and felt frustrated at the beginning because we cried, it took me long to understand
  • Many of us were not told to bring belongings of our relatives, so I did not do it and it would have been good to do so
  • The organizers did not tell us that there could be a follow up, so we thought that that was all that we would be able to do.

Roberta Bacic

Programmes & Projects

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