Overcoming the unspeakable

Nevedita Jeevabalan works with Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Services (LEADS) in Sri Lanka, serving as an ambassador of God’s love.

Nevedita’s call is to help disadvantaged, voiceless and traumatised children in Sri Lanka, and to equip others to do the same.

She says, “For me, mission means breaking taboos and being there for the child who is hurting and the family, and supporting them through that painful period of time.”

Taboo topic

In Sri Lanka, the topic of sexual abuse, and abuse in general, is highly taboo, making it difficult to deal with the problem. Even so, things have come a long way since Nevedita started working with LEADS – the government now at least recognises that abuse is a reality. But often, families don’t want to report abuse, and even if something is reported, a court case can take up to 10 years.

Nevedita – whose very name means “dedicated to service” – makes a difference by working to improve the conditions and care given to children.

Right person, right time

She came to be involved with the organisation LEADS partly because she was one of few people with a psychology degree in Sri Lanka when LEADS was looking for someone.

When Nevedita went to university in India, she ended up studying psychology, even though the field of psychology was largely unknown in her home country. So, when LEADS needed someone to work directly with traumatised children, she had the clinical background they were looking for, and more importantly, felt in her heart this was where she needed to be.

Though she had no training specifically in the area of working with traumatised children, she responded to the call and started working with LEADS, just for a short while. Seventeen years later, she is still engaged in this vital work.

Keeping children safe

One story that stands out in Nevedita’s memory is that of a nine-year-old, her mother and two siblings who left their home to escape the abuse of the children’s father.

The plan was to send the children on to a child development centre and encourage the mother to pursue employment, but this mother was determined not to be separated from her children. LEADS worked to find the family a home where they could be together, as well as a job for the mother and schools close by for the children.

The vision is to have a safe home in each province, providing emergency accommodation for abused children until arrangements can be made for them to go to a relative or a foster carer. Currently, there isn’t even a list of foster parents.

Standing up for children

LEADS is also involved in community development, helping to form committees of government staff and people in the villages who will take responsibility for safeguarding children. There is also a small advocacy team, helping to make victims’ voices heard.

“As a Christian organisation, our work is distinctive and we bring a Christian perspective. One challenge working directly with the government is that we are not able to express ourselves as Christians. But for me the strength to work is given by Christ.

Spiritual battle

“This work is tough and I've seen a lot of non-Christians who start with a good heart but are not able to be there for a long time because it's emotionally draining.

“I believe it's a spiritual battle. We are standing on the edge and God is the only one who will be able to protect us from physical problems like safety.

“Also it's spiritual warfare. So I think it's God's strength which keeps us going. Being with a Christian organisation means you have a team who will support you in prayer.”

Nevedita is a local partner working with Asia-CMS and jointly supported by Church Mission Society.

Published 28 August 2018

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