A World of Contrast in Colombo

By Duncan Pedersen
Devastation along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka from the 2004 tsunami

I can hear the waves roaming from my room overlooking the Indian ocean. We are back in Colombo and today under sunny deep blue skies, the ocean looks cobalt green and the palm trees are waiving on a gentle breeze. But if all of this resembles paradise, the overall situation out there, in the rest of Sri Lanka, is the very opposite. We just returned from a captivating, but risky, three-day visit to the tsunami-hit areas in the South and were forced to change our itinerary more than once after learning violence had erupted once again with LTTE sudden incursions and clashes with the military, as a result of which seven corpses had been discovered in the vicinity of a village we were supposed to visit later that day. Since the end of the ceasefire a few days ago, the Tamil Tigers are getting closer to Colombo (it seems they are getting desperate after experiencing heavy loses in the North) with remotely activated clay mines and suicide missions... we were stopped by military patrols a few times, but they politely smiled at us and let us go. All in all, thanks to our local hosts, Chamindra Weerackody and Suman Fernando, the field trip went very well, we managed to travel overland with no much struggle and visit refugees and families who were affected by the tsunami, as well as government facilities and NGOs involved in delivering mental health care services. Creative Action, a local NGO, initially supported by the UK-based Basic Needs, escorted us to home visits and facilitated meeting patients and their families, volunteers and mental health animators. The brief field exposure to the coastal South-Western region of Sri Lanka has given us valuable first-hand information and a much better idea of prevailing conditions on the ground.

On Monday, we started a six-day course on trauma and global health, and not much time for fun is left in between classes... all of the McGill-Douglas team are here (Consuelo Errázuriz, Laurence Kirmayer, Danielle Groleau, and Jaswant Guzder) we're truly excited and stimulated with the extended visit to Sri Lanka and the warm reception we received by people at the Institute of Psychiatry (Angoda Hospital), our host institution where the course is taking place.

January 2008
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