Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019. Just before 9am, at least six blasts rocked Sri Lanka, killing 259 people and injuring more than 500. Suicide bombers had targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels. Any semblance of peace achieved in the years after the 26-year civil war ended in 2009 was destroyed. And at least 45 of the victims were children.
CMS local partner Nevedita and her team were immediately called upon to support victims and their families.
A mental health specialist by profession, Nevedita manages the child protection unit of LEADS, a community development organisation in Sri Lanka.
She is responsible for a programme of advocacy, intervention and rehabilitation for children who have been traumatised through experiences of abuse and exploitation.
Ambassador of God’s love
Nevedita describes her calling to LEADS: “My mission is to show God’s love to children who have been through trauma and abuse.
“Being an ambassador of God’s love for such children is the greatest difference I would like to make in their lives.”
For the first two months after the bombing, Nevedita and her team focused all their attention on attending to the aftermath of the attack.
They spent time listening and talking to victims and their families. They dealt with practical needs like finding necessary medicines. They helped people who were confused, frightened and traumatised to negotiate overstretched hospitals.
Emotional life support
They provided play equipment for children, and through playing together were able to give the kids much needed emotional support.
One victim of the attack was an 11-year-old boy whom they met at the hospital. The bomb had killed his mother and seriously injured his father.
Such were the boy’s injuries that initially he couldn’t be told that his mother had died.
He suffered terrible burns, which meant that he would have to wear a mask over his face for the next 6–8 months, to protect damaged and sensitive skin.
He couldn’t go to school, play outside or simply enjoy the sunshine.
A heart-breaking new normal
Nevedita and her team have been following up with this lad, who is just one of many who have had to adjust to a heart-breaking new normal.
His mother’s sister stepped in to care for him as if he were her own child, especially since his father is still too ill to take on the task.
He has recently been able to go back to school, which has really helped boost his confidence and help him get back to a recognisable routine.
Sri Lanka is still recovering from the shock of the attack. Security remains tight, including at churches where guards still patrol outside during Sunday services.
Although Nevedita’s team are experienced in dealing with trauma, for them, like many others, the bomb triggered memories of the war and has increased anxiety around carrying out the simple tasks of life.
Hope for underage mums
From mid June, Nevedita has returned to her more regular tasks. This term, the team will have 13 children in Kedella, LEADS’s therapeutic rehabilitation centre for traumatised children and young people.
Three of the young people the team are working with at the moment are underage mothers, below the legal age of consent, who have been dealing with the grief of giving up their babies for adoption.
It’s been a hard process, but Nevedita is encouraged that two of the girls have already decided to go back to school because this in itself is an indication of renewed hope for their future.
To set the oppressed free
Nevedita is a very busy lady, dividing her time between therapeutic counselling, team management and support, advocating for children at a national level and relief work.
But she loves her work and is motivated by being able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
It’s challenging work, but Nevedita frequently recalls Isaiah 58:6 to express the response of her heart and her calling. Where God speaks: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
She says, “Some days are stressful, but most days I don’t know what else I’d do.”
- For Nevedita’s team, working on the emotional and spiritual frontline, and dealing with struggles in their own lives, that God would help them maintain health and balance.
- Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, as the CEO at Nevedita’s organisation has recently retired, so this inevitably will mean changes in leadership and responsibility.