Halfway through the reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s war-battered country, 60 years after Independence

Foreign Secretary of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Palitha Kohona with Secretary of National Security Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Lalith Weeratunga stands before the Tomb of Buddha next to Lankindia Center in Colombo. (Andrew…

Halfway through the reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s war-battered country, 60 years after Independence

Foreign Secretary of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Palitha Kohona with Secretary of National Security Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Lalith Weeratunga stands before the Tomb of Buddha next to Lankindia Center in Colombo. (Andrew Sheng/AFP/Getty Images)

To end the civil war, the Sri Lankan government launched a record war that was brutal, cruel and hugely successful. On Aug. 17, 2009, the government, supported by NATO, launched a war that claimed the lives of at least 100,000 civilians. In its victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), it eliminated Tamil political independence, but also irreparably destroyed Sri Lanka’s environment.

In April 2009, the Sri Lankan government launched a war to protect the national army, the Sri Lankan army, and ultimately to end the 25-year-long civil war against the militant Tamil Tigers. The war made headlines around the world and had widespread national and international support, but it also caused untold devastation. The government had to deal with thousands of dead bodies washed up on Sri Lankan shores, unexploded cluster bombs scattered on the beaches, thousands of unexploded bomblets, land mines and unexploded bombs. Hundreds of hospitals, schools and cultural monuments were destroyed. In many villages, the entire population either fled or was killed.

Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to end the military operations and rebuild the devastated country. He has now started to implement much of his commitment to end the civil war in 2009. Today, there are over 70 government schools across the Sri Lankan north and east, and more than 2,000 students and teachers attending them, with more opening up every month.

Kuldeep Kannah, who is in charge of funding activities for the school system, says the biggest challenge, so far, is actually getting children to attend school. “Many people refuse to send their children to the school, not because they are too poor, or because their children have been traumatized, or because they are under tremendous pressure to produce better children than previous generations. No, they are reluctant to send their children to school because they are worried they will get injured or killed,” Kannah says.

“The government of Sri Lanka set the ambitious target to reopen 300 schools and also offered scholarships to children. In fact, once the children started to attend school, some of them, especially the older ones, started to go back to their villages. When a people are poor, everybody fights for survival,” says Kannah.

He says he has raised the funds to bring 800 new teachers to schools across the northern parts of the country.

Sri Lanka’s struggles to rebuild its infrastructure – from highways and telecommunication systems to ports, airports and airports – is unprecedented, but also has been done with time, skill and perseverance.

As the university set up in displaced areas, the Ceylon University of Peradeniya, gets going, Rohana Abeygunawardena, CEO of the Sri Lanka Institution of Engineers and a former Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board says, “The government is taking the right step as part of the nation building process.

“Before the war ended, what Sri Lanka lacked was education, and we need to make sure that our educational infrastructure is up to the standard of the rest of the world. It takes a long time to build a national education system that can only prosper when every child is educated.”

The Sri Lankan government also has worked to develop a new myth, that they have liberated the country from the misrule of the Tamil Tigers. This myth, a product of propaganda, claims that Tamil Tiger leaders killed President Rajapaksa’s brother and cousin. However, according to a Colombo-based environmentalist, Sithithamoorthy Weerasinghe, there is no evidence to support this claim, as both were rehabilitated by the government, however, and the portraits of the government ministers are still up.

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