Caring for tsunami orphans
Thangavelu is not a rich man. With his moderate wage as a mason,
however, he managed to bring up three sons and spend for their
education. The family lived comfortably as they could in their crowded
neighbourhood in the outskirts of Batticaloa town. But when he had to
take his seven orphaned nieces and nephews in after the tsunami,
Thangavelu faced a huge dilemma. How can he manage?
But choices were too few. Right after the disaster the children aged
between 17 and 5, were split up by relatives and the two girls actually
ended in a home. But later, Thangavelu agreed to keep the entire family
together at his two-roomed house. His wife agreed. Today, his family
numbers twelve and live crammed in a small house. The family is managing
at present because the children are entitled to rations and Rs. 5000 a
month for expenses. But once the money stops, Thangavelu will be faced
with the entire burden of caring for all the children.
On the other side of the country, in Moderawatta in Tangalle a
similar story. A family of four children, orphaned by the tsunami is now
being cared for by their maternal aunt and her husband. Both are
employed at the Hakmana Hospital and have very few means. But again,
there was little choice in the matter. They would not allow the children
to be institutionalized or split up to be cared for by different people.
They did not consider adoption either. Although there were various
schemes announced for tsunami affected children, especially those
orphaned, none of these schemes has really translated to reality on the
The Child Protection Authority and Social Services Department in a
bid to encourage foster parenting as opposed to setting up orphanages
and foreign adoption, came up with a number of ideas to encourage
relatives and friends of the family to keep the children in their
familiar environment, and as much as possible in the same school.
But both in the East and the South, many orphans we met now being
cared for by relatives had not received any kind of regular support as
Fostering by relatives happened, not so much due to State
intervention, but because people had the generosity to open their doors
to these child victims of disaster. It happened because society has
maintained family values and ties. Often the foster families themselves
were affected by the tsunami.
In Navaladdy, Batticaloa we found a 65 year old grandmother, bent and
feeble, who lost her husband to the tsunami caring for her three
grandchildren left orphaned the same day. She has no income - so she
goes from house to house to pound rice, chillies and such to earn money
for the children.
1,074 children were orphaned, and 3,721 lost one parent according to
official records. But less than 50 have been officially registered into
homes and orphanages. This speaks well of Sri Lankan society as a whole.
We cannot forget the children who lost one parent either. Tragically
many children lost their mothers. As reported in this column earlier,
many fishing villages have lost more than half of the womenfolk, leaving
behind another kind of disaster. Some NGOs have formed men's support
groups to help the husbands to overcome their grief and their minds to
caring for the children.
These efforts need to be encouraged and the State must support local
efforts to rebuild lives and families affected by the tsunami.