The conflict in Sri Lanka between government forces and
Tamil separatists has driven hundreds of thousands of people
from their homes over the past four years. Many have sought
refuge in foreign countries, but over 500,000 are displaced
within Sri Lanka. Since 1990, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society,
with the support of the Federation, has provided conventional
forms of material assistance to some 50,000 displaced people
in camps in seven districts outside the conflict zone.
While camp residents’ basic needs were being addressed
in the form of shelter, water, sanitation and health care,
it became increasingly clear that there was also a need
for psycho-social assistance and counselling to help people
cope with the stress and anguish of their predicament.
“Four of my relatives have been missing for three
years.Two of them are my sons. I would just like to know
if they are alive or dead,” laments one elderly woman.
Her sentiments are echoed everywhere in the camps.
The extension of services from basic relief and health
care to providing psycho-social support was a huge task
and required a comprehensive study which was carried out
in 1993 by Dr Baron. It was based on selected drawings done
by 12,000 displaced children on the theme, “As I see
the world”. The results clearly showed that families
in the camps were suffering emotional stress caused by witnessing
violence, losing loved ones and homes, living in a deprived
environment, worrying about safety, being unable to meet
their basic needs, and experiencing months of boredom and
The final report re-commended some 30 small-scale projects
aimed at reducing stress and rebuilding self-esteem and
“I have been told that my husband, who has been missing
for two and a half years, is dead, but I find it so difficult
to tell the children. They still think that their father
has gone abroad and will come back one day,” says
a mother of three.
A Little Elephant Finds His Courage will help such a mother
broach the subject with her children. It is accompanied
by a discussion guide for parents entitled “Let’s
talk...” that’s designed to encourage children
to discuss their feelings, either in terms of Baba’s
or their own experiences.
The basic premise of the programme is that parents are
best placed to help their children. Until they become victims
of violence, most families function normally, and parents
are able to take good care of their children. As a result
of their experiences, many families suffer a reduced capacity
to care for themselves. Parents become demoralised and believe
that they have nothing to offer their children. Initially,
parents are assisted in searching for their own courage.
“Recognising that children who are victims of violence
must have added motivation and initiative to overcome their
hardships, we encourage parents to promote courage and self-sufficiency
in their children,” explains Baron. “Emotional
stress is exacerbated when families are non-communicative
and children are unable to express their fears, feelings
or anxieties. Parents need new skills to enhance their ability
to have open family communication.”