As Sri Lanka rebuilds, Uniting Churches give support through Christmas Bowl
Kamala and her husband were so afraid when the bombing and violence got close to their home they fled war-torn Sri Lanka with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
During five long years in a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu, southern India, they dreamed of raising the daughter born to them in the camp in their homeland.
Now, they are safely home in Sri Lanka. Support from churches around Australia for the Christmas Bowl — the Christmas Appeal of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia — helped Kamala and her husband to survive in the camps and to provide vital healthcare to her newborn baby.
And it helped Kamala and her family to return home once it was safe. Life is still tough but Kamala is incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to rebuild her life.
Rebuilding lives torn apart by war
Kamala and her husband are among the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans who were forced to flee as a result of the civil war that gripped their country between 1983 and 2009.
Many fled to Tamil Nadu, southern India, and have been living in camps there ever since — and now that the conflict has ended, many are yearning to return home.
Australians who support the Christmas Bowl in 2012 will be helping more Sri Lankan refugees like Kamala to make a safe return home and providing refugees who are still in camps with health care and other support.
“We left for India because of fear, but promised to return when things were safe again,” said Kamala. “Returning to Sri Lanka has not been difficult because of the help we have received.”
The costs of the civil war, which ended in May 2009, remain high and Sri Lanka now faces a huge challenge in resettlement, rehabilitation, large scale infrastructure reconstruction and reconciliation between and within ethnic communities.
Unemployment is high, and the country’s economic outlook is bleak. Act for Peace supports programs in the refugee camps to help refugees prepare for a return to this environment.
Refugees are provided with health care in the camps before their return, and participate in self-help groups to support community leadership, peace building and human rights, assisting safe return and resilience.
While living in the refugee camp in Tamil Nadu, Kamala was a member of a self-help group that helped prepare her for her return to Sri Lanka. “They explained many things to us. They taught us about saving money. This was very useful to me because when my daughter got sick I was able to take money out of savings for her care,” Kamala said.
Act for Peace, working with a local project partner, also helps provide refugees with the documentation they need — like birth and marriage certificates — to ensure that they can prove their Sri Lankan citizenship and obtain the benefits they are entitled to on their return to Sri Lanka.
Churches working together
Alistair Gee, Act for Peace’s Executive Director, said, “Australian Christians have been supporting people like Kamala since 1948, when the Christmas Bowl began. Through our work, Act for Peace sees first-hand the devastating effects of conflict on innocent people — but also the incredible difference that the right support can make. Act for Peace’s life-saving work around the world simply would not be possible without the support of people around Australia.”
Last year more than 2,000 churches from over 19 denominations took part in the Christmas Bowl, raising almost $2.5 million to provide much-needed assistance to people in some of the most conflict-affected countries in the world.
Uniting Church congregations in New South Wales and the ACT raised more than $380,000 for the Christmas Bowl in 2011. Among the participants was the Coffs Coast Ecumenical Council of Churches, which launched its Christmas Bowl appeal at St John’s Anglican Church in an ecumenical celebration organised by the Anglican, Uniting and Catholic Churches from Coffs Harbour and Sawtell.
“We were blessed to see the church full, with some 250 people in attendance”, said the Rev. David Morgan from Coffs Coast Ecumenical Council of Churches.
Christmas Bowl resources
The Christmas Bowl is the Christmas Appeal of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia and a member of the global ACT Alliance.
Funds raised through the Christmas Bowl will help Act for Peace partners in Pakistan and many other conflict-affected regions of the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma/Myanmar.
Christmas Bowl resources for are available for download from www.actforpeace.org.au/christmasbowl.
Resources include a two-minute video clip which can be embedded in websites via YouTube and Christmas Bowl worship resources, used by churches to help guide worship throughout Advent, Christmas Day and Epiphany. The worship resources include prayers, hymn suggestions, notes on the Gospel, and questions for discussion.
For more information about Christmas Bowl, or to make a gift, call 1800 025 101 or visit the website.