SUBA UDE provides physical, creative and emotional projects for displaced persons living in welfare camps in Sri Lanka. We focus on psychosocial needs beyond food, shelter and medicine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

If you can’t run with the big dogs…

What the hell are we doing here? Existential quandaries aside, here’s your answer :

In international developmentgalese, a foreign language we are becoming quite fluent in, we (Stephanie, Wanna and Heather) are creating a self-sustaining participatory psycho-social program within the IOM (International Organization for Migration) supported IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Matara region (check out this map... we are on the bottom).

They call us Social Mobilizers (Mobil+Organize).
Social, because we love mixers, ice breakers, name tags, karaoke and friends.
Mobile, because we cannot sit still.

Upon visiting these 6 camps, it was very apparent to us that displaced persons were totally lacking name-tags and social diversion like karaoke. To address this problem and assist them in reestablishing a sense of normality, we are introducing a plan of sustainable stimulating activities. We are training resident teachers to provide physical, creative and emotional outlets in the form of sports games, performing and visual art activities, livelihood projects and community events.

Our goal is to create this program and leave it running itself within the next 3-weeks. So, we are not just handing out volleyballs and markers. We are creating a system of resource distribution that is based on the notion of capacity building or as our boss says: Teaching them to fish and giving them fishing net so they can eat for a lifetime. This has very literal implications here in Sri Lanka, where of the 30,000 registered fishing boats only 10,000 remain. The ultimate objective is to enable the camp residents to be active agents in reestablishing their communities. We stole that line from the 750-page UNICEF handbook “Technical Notes: Special Considerations for Programming in Unstable Situations.” We recommend this handbook to all of girlfriends going through a breakup.

With a budget that will only last us one month (or one night out in New York), we are putting our multi-tasking skills to the test. We are spending a great deal of time in the camps surveying needs and creating a relationship with the residents. We don’t want to be just another group of foreigners with clipboards who take notes, nod compassionately and zoom away in their Land Rovers. We are learning names, practicing Sinhala, dancing with them, jumping rope with them, putting up tents with them, playing music together, playing volleyball and cricket, drawing, singing and most importantly- listening.

We are also creating a livelihood project where we will distribute sewing machines to each camp. We are planning community gatherings, as the neighbors to the camps are very segregated from the IDP’s. On Friday the leading marionette company in Sri Lanka will come to one of our camps to teach the children how to make marionettes and then they will perform a full-length show.

In the next few days we will have our first teacher training, a city-wide marionette show, the construction of a playground, the distribution of thousands of dollars worth of sports equipment and the implementation of a livelihood project once 12 sewing machines arrive from Colombo.

To keep up with the production, we have taken to spiking our chai and overindulging in refined sugar. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.


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