In 2009 Sri Lanka emerged from the depths of a bloody civil war, leaving nearly half a million people displaced in IDP camps. For those that survived the last days of war, the return to normalcy has been long and challenging. Today, most of this population lives in resettled villages across the North and East of the island in heavily militarized zones. With a high population (nearly 90,000) of war widows and women-headed households, damaged roads and schools, limited freedom of movement, and high prices – these communities are still struggling to survive, even two years after the cessation of the war.
With a history of work in Sri Lanka both before and in response to the devastating 2004 tsunami, Operation USA remains dedicated to projects in these impacted communities. OpUSA is currently working with community-based organizations to meet the immediate survival needs as well as to develop sustainable long-term programming in education, health and livelihoods–with a focus on programs to support women’s development.
Working with a local partner with expertise in early childhood education and curriculum development, Operation USA has identified some of the core barriers to education in the North and East. These include a lack of access to trained teachers, overburdened educational staff, inability to cope with trauma, and lack of basic school supplies and materials. These challenges manifest themselves in recent statistics compiled that show that 58% percent of children in 2011 were unable to pass their math standardized exams. Operation USA is supporting programs that focus on the holistic development of the child, rather than the traditional exam-based education. These programs emphasize psychosocial support, family counseling, after school tuition, teacher training and interactive forms of learning. We are also continuing a previous program of “catch-up” educational support with a long-time local partner. Part of our education programming will include the support of a preschool attached to an integrated agricultural/feeding program that also adopts a holistic approach to education.
Operation USA will focus on supporting livelihood programs through groups that target primarily women-headed households. In the North, we are working with women’s federations comprise of women from each village, that are working to provide psychosocial support, income-generating projects to affected communities, as well as build up their own organizational capacity. Similar programs will be done through organizations in the east, also with a focus on war widows, and including some micro-finance support and revolving funds for small business operation.
Operation USA’s health initiatives are inclusive of all aspects of health including mental health, public health, primary health care, and medical supplies. Operation USA will support a public health training initiative designed to integrate basic hygiene and reproductive health into youth programming, as well as offering trainings for those affected by gender based violence or alcoholism. Our educational programs will also include nutritional support to communities where malnutrition has been identified as large problem.