For almost 30 years (1983-2009), Sri Lanka experienced a devastating ethnic civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist militant organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Fighting for an independent Tamil state, the LTTE clashed violently with government forces with estimated casualties of over 80,000 people and crippled the country’s economy, infrastructure, and environment. Civilians in the Northern Province were caught in the unforgiving crossfire and over 250,000 of the Tamil population were displaced from their homes. Both sides have been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including rape, disfigurement, and the use of child soldiers.
With the end of the war, fractured families are finally returning to their villages. But the landscape is broken, with over 1.5 million landmines littering the countryside and most homes and schools destroyed. Children, all of whom have been directly affected by displacement, malnutrition, and trauma, still suffer from profound psychological distress.
The Cartwheel Initiative conducted four workshops (graphic design, collage, photography, and music) at 3 schools in the Northern Province (Mallavi Central College, Pandiyankulam College, and Pooneryn School). Nearly 200 children participated in our custom designed hands-on workshops. Each curriculum was guided by the principles of art therapy, intended to help re-establish the concepts of identity and home, which were compromised during the war. Instructors led the children over the course of 2 days through activities designed to help foster creative expression. Workshops discussed the subjectivity involved in art-making, the role of the artist as the decision maker, and the ways in which art can communicate emotion. Students were encouraged to share their work and express opinions. To continue the healing process beyond our visit, the team’s professional art therapist offered workshops with faculty and staff at each school, providing reference manuals with therapeutic techniques that they can use in the future.
The Cartwheel Initiative will be revisiting Sri Lanka’s Northern province and working with schoolchildren in Kachchilaimadu GTMS (Government Tamil Mixed School), Oddusudan, Mullaitivu. In addition, partnering with The Foundation of Goodness, the team will be working with children in communities affected by the devastating 2004 tsunami. To read more about the Foundation’s work, please click here.