Refuge Camp…Ampara…. Arugam Bay..?

Notes from the Field: Sri Lanka, August, 2008


[This was sent out as an email to people on the Commonway list; however, because of a technical problem, few actually received it…]

There is never a dull moment around this place. Ongoing war, student riots, the SAARC summit meetingA?a??A? I donA?a??a??t know where to begin.

Perhaps I should begin where every Sri Lankan who knows me starts: A?a??A?Obama!A?a??A? The worldA?a??a??s most popular man weaves his magic on this islandA?a??A? and he hasnA?a??a??t even been here. People I donA?a??a??t even know hear that IA?a??a??m an American and come up to me with the one question: A?a??A?Can he win?A?a??A?

Not, A?a??A?Is he a good man?A?a??A? or A?a??A?What are his views on foreign affairs?A?a??A?. From the worldA?a??a??s point of view, the US election is already over A?a??a?? they have their President. (We call the US President the A?a??A?Leader of the Free WorldA?a??A?. Ironic that the world canA?a??a??t vote for him or her.)

My answer? The election has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. That illusory division does not define what is going on with the A?a??A?Obama EffectA?a??A?. The November election pits two amazingly well-matched candidates against each other: The Past and The Future.

John McCain is a most worthy representative of The Past. He has all of the A?a??A?tested under fireA?a??A? credentials (and white hair) that you want in a candidate who represents AmericaA?a??a??s Past. In a time of fear and uncertainty, many people want a steady hand on the rudder and clear eye toward a safe harbor.

Barack Obama is the epitome of The Future. Someone who transcends all of the old alliances and political configurations (to the chagrin of those in his own party). Someone of the Internet Age. Someone who believes that AmericaA?a??a??s strength does not lie in her past, but her future. Someone who not only understands, but literally transcends race (to the chagrin of those in the old A?a??A?Civil RightsA?a??A? establishment). In a time of hope and rapid change, Obama has his eye A?a??a?? and his enthusiasm A?a??a?? set firmly in the future.

So, we get to witness John Kennedy duke it out with Ronald Reagan. Which one will win? It depends whether, on election day, American voters are more hopeful than fearful. (Perhaps I should characterize it as A?a??A?Voting by FearA?a??A? and A?a??A?Voting by HopeA?a??A?.)

People are motivated by BOTH fear and hope. (Remember: inclusivity means seeing things from both/all sides.) After the people of Czechoslovakia defeated the Soviet Union in their nonviolent A?a??A?Velvet RevolutionA?a??A?, at election time, they almost returned the Communists to power! Why? In times of uncertainty, people look for the familiar A?a??a?? even if it means familiarly oppressive and authoritarian. Then, rather than rely on themselves, they can complain about A?a??A?the governmentA?a??A? again. People go back to abusive governments like women go back to abusive husbands.

[Which one SHOULD win? In keeping with current IRS regulations and in light of CommonwayA?a??a??s nonprofit status, I have no stated official position.]


If you were President of a country ravaged by war, high inflation, political and social instability, what would you do? HAVE A PARTY!!Invite seven of your buddies (and their huge entourages) over for the weekend. Block off the capital city, throw in 30,000 soldiers for security, and youA?a??a??ve got the A?a??A?South Asian Association for Regional CooperationA?a??A? Summit held the first weekend of my arrival in Sri Lanka. The government spent tens of millions of dollars on a meeting that could have been accomplished with a conference call.

The economy here is REALLY bad. Even I have noticed the 30% inflationary pinch at the grocery store. Thousands of university students have rioted, because, after their years of study, there are simply NO JOBS. Right above my head as I write this, there are hundreds of young men sitting in SarvodayaA?a??a??s meeting hallsA?a??A? learning Korean. Sri LankaA?a??a??s biggest export isnA?a??a??t teaA?a??A? itA?a??a??s the young men and women of the country, sent overseas for menial and degrading jobs digging ditches and scrubbing toilets, in places like Saudi Arabia and South Korea. (The hundreds of young men chanting in Korean above me do NOT have jobs waiting for them in Korea: they are learning Korean in these classes (government-run, not Sarvodaya) for the right to APPLY for the limited Korean jobs, after taking and passing language tests.) For those who donA?a??a??t get jobs, they sit and waitA?a??A? or go to Colombo and riot.

If I had been President, I would have told my fellow heads of state: A?a??A?As much as I would like to host you, my people just cannot afford this unnecessary expense right now. Give us ten years A?a??a?? weA?a??a??ll plow the money we would waste hosting SAARC into peace and prosperity for the entire island. Then, ten years from now, we would like to throw you a HECK of a party!A?a??A?

But, thatA?a??a??s not what heads of state do. Big airports, dams, Olympics and summits A?a??a?? this is the stuff that feeds an ego as big as a country. (I left out the biggest ego-feeders: wars and shiny new weapons.) What do the A?a??A?peopleA?a??A? get out of all this?Nationalistic bragging rightsA?a??A? until the check falls due.


The war in the North is going full blazes. A staggering 125,000 refugees in the North alone. IA?a??a??ve heard heart-breaking stories of people selling all of their possessions just to stay moving ahead of the latest battle zone, of tens of thousands of men, women and children sleeping under trees and finding food wherever they can.It is a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. The aid organizations (including Sarvodaya) cannot adequately respond to the challenge, in light of the current government disfavor of charitable organizations (they claim that the helping organizations gave too much help to the Tigers).

Even reading between the propaganda-filled lines, the Government is currently playing the winning hand. Actavis promethazine price President Rajapakse and the military head, General Fonseka, are both confidently predicting the demise of the Tamil Tigers A?a??A?as a conventional military forceA?a??A? by the end of the year. From a strictly military point of view, the campaign is impressive. At the rate they are going, it might be even sooner before the Government flag flies over Killinnochchi, the Tigers de facto capital for over two decades.

But, IA?a??a??ve learned over the years not to count the Tigers out too prematurely. They have managed to pull some amazing rabbits out of their hatsA?a??A? IA?a??a??m not taking any bets on this outcome.

The key to the GovernmentA?a??a??s boasting is the phrase A?a??A?as a conventional military forceA?a??A?. With the GovernmentA?a??a??s huge advantage in numbers and equipment, itA?a??a??s a wonder that the Tigers were EVER a conventional military force, able to mount A?a??a?? and win A?a??a?? set military engagements involving artillery and other heavy weaponry, along with sophisticated logistics and their own A?a??A?air forceA?a??A? of ultra-light aircraft, a first in the insurgency business.

Yes, the Government can A?a??A?winA?a??A? against the Tigers conventional forces, just as the US government knew that it could defeat Saddam HusseinA?a??a??s army. But, as we are learning in Iraq, defeating the conventional forces is a LONG way from A?a??A?winningA?a??A? the war.

When Killinnochchi falls, the Tigers turn into a true A?a??A?insurgentA?a??A? force: everywhere, nowhere and invisible. While the Sri Lankan flag may once again fly over Killinnochchi, the levels of violence will escalate. While the Sri Lankan army gets bogged down trying to provide services to administer a hostile population where they donA?a??a??t speak the language (does any of this sound familiar?), the Tigers will be free to mount an insurgency A?a??a?? a true guerilla war. The Government may find itself missing the days when it actually knew where the Tigers wereA?a??A?

I keep saying this: it is impossible to A?a??A?winA?a??A? an insurgent war. No one has been able to do it. NO ONE. (Right now, in Iraq, the US forces are literally paying the insurgents not to attack us. This unbelievably short-term strategy will end just as soon as the checks stop.) The only way to end such a war is through a nonviolent, negotiated settlement. (To which the Sri Lanka Government replies, A?a??A?We will negotiate with them A?a??a?? as soon as we defeat them.A?a??A? Stay tuned to see how that logic train plays outA?a??A?)


This year is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Sarvodaya movement here in Sri Lanka. The organization has been involved in a year-long process of celebrating, introspection and envisioning the next 50 years.

As difficult was conditions were 50 years ago, the world has changed in some amazing and frightening ways. We are being called to A?a??A?think anew and act anewA?a??A?. I have been involved in several major strategy sessions with SarvodayaA?a??a??s leadership, examining the path for Sarvodaya over the next 50 years of its operation. Stay tunedA?a??A?

A Tour of the East:

I spent the last 3 days touring the war-scarred East of the island. (The war is too hot in the North for me to visit.)

The East is one big military encampment. There are soldiers EVERYWHERE. I simply lost count of the number of checkpoints we went through (30? 50?). Now that the Tigers have been routed from the East, the government forces are in the process of occupation. (The government prefers to call it A?a??A?liberationA?a??A?. And, they seem surprised that their heavy-handed presence hasnA?a??a??t generated throngs of flower-waving, grateful citizens.)

From Child Soldiers to Sarvodaya Trainees:

I met with about 100 young people at SarvodayaA?a??a??s sprawling Batticaloa Farm complex. They were receiving training for woodworking, aluminum working, masonry, computer skills and motorcycle repair.

Many of them were former A?a??A?child soldiersA?a??A? of either the Tigers or the TMVP (previously known as the A?a??A?Karuna FactionA?a??A?). Sarvodaya provides a safe haven, practical skillsA?a??A? and a time to be CHILDREN.While at the farm, after their classes were over, I watched a spirited game that looked like a hybrid of cricket and baseball.There appeared to be 50 or so kids to a side, and it looked like they were making up the rules as they went along. At one point, when the batter wasnA?a??a??t able to hit the ball, the pitcher walked 10 feet closer, to give him a better shot. They seemed much less interested in winning than in having fun.

A Sarvodaya Village:

My life and experiences over here are SO DIFFERENT from what I experience in the US. Yesterday, I was talking to 50 women, sitting on the dirt floor in a village of mud huts, women who had never experienced electricity; the only 4 wheeled vehicles they had seen belong to aid workers.

Cheap yasmin pills

ItA?a??a??s difficult relating to lives so utterly different from my own. At one point, I asked them about their villageA?a??a??s needs. They were very specific: electricity. When pressed further, they were still very specific: lighting on the public roads at night. (At night, the open areas are crawling with two kinds of danger: cobras and men with guns. Both are deadly if you arenA?a??a??t in the light.)

I pressed further, inquiring about electricity for households. An emphatic A?a??A?yesA?a??A? A?a??a?? they wanted lights in the home, so that their children can do their homework after dark A?a??a?? and to watch out for indoor cobras, that move in during the rainy season. What else do they need household electricity for? They looked at each other, and said, A?a??A?Nothing.A?a??A? How about refrigeration or cooking? They looked at me as if I said, A?a??A?How would you like your own private spaceship so you can visit the Moon?A?a??A?

(A sidenote: Years ago, with their hard-earned rupees, they purchased small solar collectors through SEEDS, SarvodayaA?a??a??s economic development arm. These collectors had enough juice to power 4 or 5 LED lamps wired throughout the house. During the fighting with the Tigers, while they were displaced from their village, the security forces came in and stole the solar collectors, along with everything else moveable, like bicycles. (They were very clear that it was the government forces.) I am proposing a village-sized electrical generator, one that a few rogue soldiers wonA?a??a??t be able to walk off with.)

And Yet Another Refugee Camp:

I stated very emphatically before I left on my Eastern tour: A?a??A?No refugee camps!A?a??A? I just canA?a??a??t bear to look at another. I wanted to see economic activities in this visit, and to make presentations to Sarvodaya district staff on global challenges, inclusivity and peace.

So, toward my last day there, the District Coordinator said that we were going to make a presentation for A?a??A?IGPA?a??a??sA?a??A? (income generating projects). Right. So, I hop in the truck and we drive straight into a refugee camp! I said, A?a??A?I thought we were going to see IGPA?a??a??s.A?a??A? He said, A?a??A?No, IDPA?a??a??s (internally displaced persons)A?a??A? And, worst of all, itA?a??a??s a A?a??A?photo opA?a??A? moment where IA?a??a??m to make a speech and hand-deliver food aid to a handful of refugees, before climbing back into my air-conditioned vehicle.

At that moment, I thought about LincolnA?a??a??s Gettysburg Address: A?a??A?A?a??A?we can not dedicate A?a??a?? we can not consecrate A?a??a?? we can not hallow A?a??a?? this ground.A?a??A? The warlords (on both sides) want to erect monuments to themselves and to the glory of killing. The real monuments must go to those who involuntarily suffer the effects of those wars.

What is there to say? What do you say to a group of people you hadnA?a??a??t planned to talk to, in a place none of us wanted to be? I said:

A?a??A?I have visited dozens of refugee camps, from Jaffna to Ampara and everywhere in between. I donA?a??a??t want to be here. But, more than that, I donA?a??a??t want YOU to be here. I know that you would rather be in your homes, not listening to me and waiting for a handout of food.

A?a??A?I hope and I pray and I work for the day when there are no refugee camps, anywhere in the world. Until that day comes, until you can return to your homes, please accept this gift of food as a sign that you are not forgotten.A?a??A?



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3 Responses to “Refuge Camp…Ampara…. Arugam Bay..?”

  • I’m amazed to find such a deep discussion on a tourist related web site!
    But at the same time I am also confused about the definition:
    “Who is a Terrorist” in Sri Lanka?
    If full-fledged criminals commit human rights violations:
    They merely confirm what their status is deemed to be.
    If, however, Governments and its ‘Security Forces” violate the law of their own County and worse still: International laws, which they are actually supposed to uphold:
    Then it’s time to be concerned!
    Will we ever see the day when
    1.) Mr. Pabakaran (LTTE)
    2.) Mr. President M. Rajapaksa (SL Government)
    3.) Mr. Karuna & other so-called leaders (East Coast)
    are produced in front of the International Court in Den Haag?
    Maybe to answer a few questions?
    Only when -or if – this happens there might be true peace on this (formerly) great Island.
    But all this above is just a personal opinion, and a hope like I had when Saddam fell,

  • Sie.Kathieravealu

    The system of governance said in the previous comment.

    For your kind perusal and comments please.


    * * *

    Respected Sir,

    Please accept my Salutations, Greetings and best wishes for the dawn of a bright future to everyone.

    In my humble opinion, Peace is neither elusive nor evading us, but on the contrary we are evading Peace by not viewing the problems sincerely in the correct perspective and with the correct attitude that will automatically take us on the correct track to reach Peace.

    Please consider the view, attitude and the track pointed out in the extract given below – not thought earlier by any of us as being available – for its ability to lead us on to the correct track to peace. I am sure we will be able to meet peace in double-quick time since no sooner we get on the correct track towards Peace; Peace too would automatically start traveling towards us on this track.

    * * * * * * *

    Sharing Power is essential
    for Peace and Democracy in our Country

    It is not the impossible which gives cause for despair
    but the failure to achieve the possible

    The conflict arose, in my humble opinion, due to the turmoil in the country. This conflict is often portrayed as a bi-polar conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority by-passing the substantial minorities like the Muslims and Upcountry Tamils. This sad state of affairs has to be changed. All efforts must be taken to change the mindset of ‘dividing’ the people as “majorities” and “minorities” not by words but by deeds. It is a well-known fact that these “majorities” and “minorities” are living together in many parts of the country as kith and kin, helping each other in times of need. So it is the duty of all rationale minded people of this country to converge this idea to integrate the nation if we are to end the turmoil in this country and forge ahead as a nation.
    Everyone agrees that power should be shared as a means to end the present national crisis. But the stumbling block is in the way the power has to be shared. The various suggestions proposed centre on a system with a central government and other governments under it, with the central government holding wide powers.

    But the need of the day is a system of governance that will truly portray the sprit of democracy, while preserving the sovereignty and dignity of the people. These people should be empowered at gramasevaka area level so that even a small area will be able to project its needs without going through others. It is to this extent that we should go, if sustainable peace, solidarity and development with a pleasant living to all inhabitants, is our goal.

    Therefore, a suitable system of democratic governance that would be acceptable to all rationale minded people (or one that cannot be rejected by these rationale minded people), must replace the present system of governance.

    “My notion of democracy is that under it, the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest” so said Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for his part said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”

    Keeping the above views in mind, a democratic system of governance that is rationale and based on equality of all has been developed on the basis that all powers flow from the sovereignty of the people. The peculiar concept in this system is an unprecedented mode of sharing power –horizontal and not vertical – developed in the true sprit of democracy. This system would unite all the divided communities and resurrect the “Paradise Isle” that existed some time back.

    * * * * * * * *

    In the present system the people cannot elect their own representatives but have the option of electing one set of party representatives who are empowered by the party to participate in the governance of the country. But in the proposed system the people have the option to elect and empower different sets of their own representatives based on different extent of areas (villages and villages grouped) to perform defined, distinct and different functions of the same parliament through different segments of that parliament like the different organs of our body – brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, nose, ears etc – performing different functions and helping us to govern ourselves. To be more explicit the concept is as follows:

    1. Segment A – a group to enact laws for – good governance, defining policies, collection of revenue and other connected affairs – with the concurrence of all the groups in Segment C, but excluding implementation of any policy (at National level and consisting of 10 members elected from each district area, 100 members elected nationally on trade basis and 50 members elected nationally on ideological basis).

    2. Segment B – a group to coordinate the activities of all the groups in Segment C, manage the country fiscally including collection and disbursement of revenue, foreign affairs, national planning in consultation and with the concurrence of the concerned groups in Segment F and the like and complying with all policies laid down by Segment A and implementing its proposals through concerned groups in Segment D by directly providing them with the necessary funds (at National level and consisting of not more than15 members elected from each regional area).

    3. Segment C – Groups to administer different regions of the country based on the laws enacted and policies laid down by Segment A with the concurrence of all the groups, maintain law and order, approve project proposals submitted by concerned groups in Segment E and to obtain the necessary funds for expenditure from Segment B and allocate same to concerned groups in Segment D for implementation (at Regional area level and consisting of 04 members elected from each divisional area within that regional area).

    4. Segment D – Groups to implement all project proposals approved by Segment B or by concerned group in Segment C and with funds provided by them – Segment B & C (at District area level and consisting of 03 members elected from each sub-divisional area within that district area).

    5. Segment E – Groups to coordinate and confirm project proposals submitted by concerned groups in Segment F and forward them for approval to concerned group in Segment C (at Sub-divisional area level and consisting of 03 members elected from each gramasevaka area within that sub-divisional area).

    6. Segment F – Groups to prepare project proposals for their area and approving concerned proposals submitted by Segment B and submit all proposals to concerned Segment E for confirmation and overseeing all the proposals that are implemented by concerned Segment D (at gramasevaka level and consisting of 05 members elected from within that gramasevaka area).

    7. Segment G – Groups to monitor the functions of all the Segments for transparency, accountability, and take necessary action to curtail irregularities with an eye on the elimination of bribery and corruption (at Divisional level and consisting of 02 members elected from each gramasevaka area within that divisional area)

    In these proposals, gramasevaka (G.S.) area is the smallest unit and these gramasevaka (G.S.) areas are grouped to form sub-divisions, sub-divisions are grouped to form divisions, divisions are grouped to form districts, districts are grouped to form regions and the regions grouped to form the country.

    There would be only one institution – the Parliament with seven different segments with different functions that do not overlap –to satisfactorily govern the entire country. Presently we have the presidential secretariat, cenk

    Due to the fratricidal violence that we are now embroiled in, it is far too easy to lose sight of these matters, so much to rob us of the very ideas that can be our salvation.

    For further details and clarifications of this unprecedented concept for good governance, please contact: or

    * * * * * * * *

    If your good self is of opinion that this system merits consideration, please be good enough to render moral assistance by promoting the idea through the internet, print and electronic media and create awareness among all stake-holders that there is an easy way to solve the national crisis – by sharing power in a way that will satisfy the aspirations of all the people.

    In promoting and discussing these ideas, it is my humble opinion that we make use of the email in addition to the print and electronic media as it would save money, time, and the environment and reduce the workload of the postal department.

    Thanking your good self in advance in anticipation of an early response,

    Yours in Service,



    I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything but I can do something.
    And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
    What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the Grace of God, I will do.

    – Edward Everett Hale (1822 – 1909)

    NB: The above proposal was published in the “Sunday Island” of 8th June 2008

    Men are judged by what they do, not by what they believe or by what is written in their scripture

    Please read the suggestions with an OPEN MIND as real patriots of Sri Lanka and send your comments and clarifications. I am a peace activist and a patriot with a passion for development of the country. Terrorisms of any kind have no place in Society.

  • Sie.Kathieravealu

    A very good article and most probably real facts that may not be accepted by those in power.

    I am in full agreement with the last few sentences “I hope and I pray and I work for the day when there are no refugee camps, anywhere in the world. Until that day comes, until you can return to your homes, please accept this gift of food as a sign that you are not forgotten.” Give me an opportunity to work with the author for “the arrival of that day”

    In the mean time I would like to record a few words of how to get rid of these “refugee camps” all over the world. Very simple. Get rid of “corruption” and you have got rid of “refugee camps” all over the world.

    To get rid of corruption you will have to go through a difficult path. We will have to “close” the path constructed by the Western democratic governments. It is that path that has been used by shrewed politicians to “bring down” the development of the Eastern countries and “bring up” the fortunes of the individual politicians. To put it more plainly “the Western system of democracy is a CURSE to the Eastern countries”.

    So if the author can contribute his mite in my campaign in changing the system of governance in the Eastern countries he can realize his wish of “not seeing refugee camps anywhere in the world. I have vision of a truly democratic system of good governance that will not create a “ruling class” and a “corrupt society” but allow the people to decide their destiny in the development of the country for them to live in serenity. Please do contact me for further details of this unique and novel idea for an alternative system of democratic governance that will really empower the people to carry on the governance of their country for sustainable peace, prosperity and a pleasant living for all the inhabitants of that country.

    In this situation the need for a refugee camp will not arise

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