Local development

Rebuilding lives shattered in Sri Lanka’s conflict

Three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war, victims are still struggling to rebuild their lives. A joint UN project seeks to give them a new start through training and job placement.

Feature | 19 October 2012
BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka (ILO News) – Conscripted by the Tamil Tigers at 20, Vadivel Kesavapillai* lost his right arm in Sri Lanka’s civil war. Now, he owns a small restaurant thanks to training and funds from a UN programme for victims of the conflict.

And he recently got married, something he says he could not afford before he opened his restaurant near the town of Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, an area that witnessed some of the worst violence in the 26-year war.

“Before I received these funds, I was running a small business and the income was not enough to even think about marriage. Now I am earning a good income and can support my family,” says Kesavapillai.

In early 2012, he received business management and customer care training from the Integrated Programme for Empowering Conflict Affected Communities to Rebuild Their Lives (ECAC), a joint ILO, UNDP and UNICEF project.

He also received a 78,000rupee (USD 600) grant from the project, which is funded by the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS).

The project focuses on areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, largely inhabited by the country’s Tamil minority. These areas were heavily affected by the conflict that opposed government troops and the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) until 2009.

Kesavapillai is just one of the many Sri Lankans who got a new start with help from the ECAC project.

Anandarasa Selvaratnam, 34, lost his job as a truck driver when he was severely injured in 2007 on his way to buying groceries. Selvaratnam, who uses a wheelchair, now runs a poultry farm and an animal feed store. With a grant he received in early 2012, he bought 200 chickens, and then sold 100 at a profit which he invested in the two businesses.

In 2001, Madhusha Ganabadhipilla was taken by the LTTE. She wasn’t reunited with her family until three years later, and eventually graduated from high school.

In September 2011 she received training from ECAC, which also helped her find a job with a local non-governmental organization (NGO). She now oversees a microcredit project that employs 450 people. She is planning to study for a Bachelor of Arts.

“There are a lot of opportunities to help poor people and I want to educate myself, and through that help many as a humanitarian worker.”

The conflict between the government and the LTTE was one of the longest-running civil wars in Asia. It arose out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority. A 2011 UN report – rejected by the Sri Lankan government - said that both sides committed war crimes against civilians.

* Some of the names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.