Healing Hearts and Helping Households
Psychosocial and Economic Empowerment of People Affected by the Tsunami

“A lack of basic facilities, loss confidence and livelihoods were the main problems that the people had to deal with. They all cried out their sorrows,” said Ms. Preethi Almeida, the Secretary of Sarvodaya Women’s Movement.

Such were the effects of the Asian tsunami on thousands of families living in the southern, eastern, and northern coastal areas of Sri Lanka. A national disaster of such scale as the Tsunami required the support of not only governments but also individuals. The international support which came Sri Lanka’s way was unprecedented. Among many organizations which extended a helping hand to the recovery and rebuilding efforts of Sri Lanka is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC).


Mrs.Kusum Wijesinghe, President Sarvodaya Women’s Movement presenting a momento of appreciation to AJJDC Program Coordinator Rebecca Bardach. Also in the picture is Eliot Goldstein, Project`Coordinator AJJDC.

“We have a strong tradition of tsedakah, or charity, in Judaism – we are here in Sri Lanka because thousands of North American Jews donated funds and asked AJJDC to help with the tsunami relief efforts on their behalf,” said Rebecca Bardach, Program Coordinator for the AJJDC in Sri Lanka.

The objectives of the project were two-fold: to empower people of 20 villages (10 in Galle, 6 in Ampara and 4 in Batticaloa) to address the psycho-social issues and to launch a livelihoods supportive programme by providing advice, training and technical expertise. The main target groups are women, children and elders. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee chose Sarvodaya Women’s Movement to be the implementing partner of this project.

Community Participation
Sarvodaya is Sri Lanka’s probably biggest as well as oldest local organization. It has immense experience in working at the grass root level in over 10,000 villages across Sri Lanka. Their forte has always been empowering and mobilizing communities to take charge of their lives. They took a similar approach in this project by forming village volunteer teams to reach the two target groups; women and children. A team of 7 volunteers per village were identified. They started with 50 awareness programmes which were followed by a household survey to identify the needs. The required activities were then decided upon based on the survey by the volunteer teams. Victims were turned into victors by giving them psycho-social training to help the community members.

“I almost lost hope. I can no longer depend on my husband who was lost. He was a fisherman. I have been depressed,” said Ms. Titaganami, a program beneficiary in Sarvodaya Puram, Kalmune, Ampara, who is mother to seven children and whose home was completely destroyed. “Now I can practice my trade again and begin to rebuild my future.”

Livelihoods Recovery
In the livelihoods programme not only did the project provide the women with sewing machines, coir machines, cooking utensils for food processing but also training on how to make a living out of the support provided. Reed products, ornaments made out of sea shells and coconut shells and recycled paper products were also sold at various exhibitions and sales organized by Sarvodaya to encourage home crafts. Home spun lace, garments to be sold to the tourists, dry fish, mushroom, spice paste for cooking were also items that made the ladies bread winners once again. With support and encouragement from Sarvodaya they opened bank accounts and started saving money with much hope for the future.

“We used Grama sewaka reports and police reports in verifying the beneficiaries. The advantage was that the village volunteer team knew the people. So they made the priority list of the recipients,” said Ms. Kusum Wijesinghe project Co-coordinator/Manager. “The idea is for the people to be self employed and Sarvodaya could help them achieve that.”

“You are not doing this for me – you are helping me to do for myself,” said program beneficiary Mrs. Sampath of Panama North in Ampara, who is a mother of two and is pregnant with a third child. Her house was completely destroyed. She will receive a well for irrigating the family crops, intended for family sustenance and income generation.

Healing hearts

While conducting monthly programmes on health and hygiene, environment and disaster preparedness, the project did not forget to include spiritual programmes incorporating all the religions. A multi religious alms giving was held and the lighting of ‘moksha lamps’ were held in the name of the deceased. This indeed helped the people to find solace and let go of the grief and the losses.

Early Childhood Development

Five out of the seven volunteers from the team are dedicated to the early childhood programme in a village. Out of this number one person is trained as the pre school teacher. The team is trained on psycho social interventions to help children. Regular pre-school activities such as art, singing, dance, playing, music, story telling, environment observation, spiritual and cultural activities help children gain a sense of normalcy in their lives.

There are also activities for children of 6 to 12 year age group after school. Sports goods and material for other recreational activities have been provided. Children’s camps were held to bring all the children together in fun activities. Cultural pageants, drama and play activities were held on this day. Alongside children’s camp, psychosocial medical camps were also held.

The project which reaches a target of 15,545 persons in 20 villages also held legal clinics to help the affected people obtain lost documents. The project which started in March 2005 will continue till September with the generous contribution of 200,000 US $ provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“Working with Sarvodaya has been a wonderful experience, said AJJDC Program Coordinator Rebecca Bardach. “We have been deeply impressed by the deep commitment and professionalism of the Sarvodaya staff we have worked with – from the village level to the national level. NGOs in many countries could learn from the way that Sarvodaya conducts its work. It is an honor to work with them.”

Healing Hearts and Helping Households