Programmes Initiated to Heal Hearts & Households
The Katuwapitiya Aftermath
Just three months after the suicide bomb attack that took place on Easter Sunday, we wanted to take a closer look at how the people of Katuwapitiya recovering from their tragedy. It was not surprising to find many activities and initiatives in place aimed at reviving the locale and lifting the spirits of its people.
I began a conversation with Father Rashmi Madusanka Fernando at the ground floor of St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo. Three months after the suicide bombing here, one wonders how the people of Katuwapitiya are trying to rise up, overcoming all those unpleasant experiences. It is not at all surprising to observe the activities that were going on, day and night, aimed at reviving Katuwapitiya.
Fr. Rashmi Madusanka Fernando is someone who is in the process of lifting the spirits of the people of Katuwapitiya. Large numbers of people are behind these activities; one among them is the Catholic clergy. In addition, it has a large number of institutions and individuals including doctors, lawyers, public officials, and politicians, NGOs etc. to raise the people of Katuwapitiya village physically and mentally.
“Two families have been handed over to me. The mother of one family died in the bomb blast and the father had died the previous year. The eldest child is 16 years old and the second is eight years old and studying in Grade 3. Only the grandparents of these children were left to look after them. They are both sick. The father of the other family died in the bomb last, survived by the mother and two children. The eldest child in this family is 10 and the second is 5. The family situation is a little better than the other one because these children have their mother. Initially, they too faced many problems. In addition to these two families I am looking after seven more families.” Father Rashmi Madusanka Fernando spoke about his responsibilities with a sense of satisfaction. Fr. Rashmi Madusanka Fernando has become the father of four children who are helpless due to the Easter Sunday blast.
“We took two children of these families to dinner last week, and on another day we went to the Leisure World to keep them happy. We go to the houses of these children every day to find out what they need.” said Dr. Dimuth Ponweera, one of the doctors involved in healing patients after the bombing. Although he was not serving in Negombo hospital, he rushed to the area immediately after the incident. He volunteered to help and co-ordinated relief activities. His invaluable service to the people of Katuwapitiya still continues.
Although broken and damaged buildings are being repaired, rebuilding broken hearts is not an easy task. It is, in a sense, a time-related problem. “The sole purpose of this group was to heal the broken hearts of the Easter Sunday bomb blast victims. We did not allow room for hate speech here. We have brought in experienced psychiatrists as well as experienced specialists doctors and staffs,” Dr. Dimuth Ponweera continued.
Among those who were playing the lead role in treating the trauma stricken was Dr. Roshan Perera of the Psychiatric Unit of the Negombo General Hospital. According to him, most of the people affected by this attack do not want to visit a mental health unit or clinic. The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) organized a medical clinic for such people which focuses on the physical and mental well-being of the people of the area.
“A visible injury can easily be treated with little medication. How are we to put medicine on an invisible wound? The invisible wound is more dangerous than the visible one. We, as doctors, have joined the church in the program of healing these people. We are satisfied to see the progress in healing the broken hearts of Katuwapitiya people during these three months. The secret of the quick revival of Katuwapitiya is bringing people together. There are Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics and Hindus among all these good people,” says Dr. Roshan Perera.
Sethsarana is another leading organization that does a great job in the uplifting Katuwapitiya. Director of Sethsarena, Comrade Mahema Gunawardena, who spent nearly three months working on the project on the advice of Fr. Lawrence Perera, has done a great job within a short period of time. Comrade Gunawardena stated that 115 people belonging to seventy-five families had lost their lives in the Katuwapitiya bomb-blast.
“At least 250 people were injured in this attack. There are about 140 children in the families of the dead and injured. There are homeless people in these families. Under our programme, education of children is the priority. We provide Rs. 5,000 per month for the education of each child. This programme will continue until the children complete their higher education. We are also carrying out an initiative to increase the knowledge of these children, where lecturers and students of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura conduct seminars for GCE O/L and A/L students.”
“We pay all expenses for the recovery of the wounded. We also contribute to the maintenance of his or her family. We organize a medical camp on every first Sunday of the month,” comrade Mahema Gunawardena said.
The Catholic Church, acting on the instructions of the Cardinal, has identified 140 children in need of help from the victims of the Katuwapitiya bombing. Fr. Manjula Niroshan Fernando who came to Katuwapitiya for the service has taken the lead with Sethsarana is also contributing to the initiative.
“My main task was to identify affected people and then identify the unique problems of those people under three categories. We then formulated a programme to assist them. The education of children is one of our priorities. Thereafter, the need for housing, health and sustainable income generation. Of these 140 children, the youngest one was only three months old. We will continue with this program for all these children until they reach 18 years old,” said Fr. Niroshan Fernando.
The Catholic Church, with the support of the government, is also implementing a programme to provide housing for the affected people. Fr. Manjula Niroshan Fernando says that a programme is underway to building houses for land owners.
“The most difficult problem we had was the building of houses. The government had come forward to help solve this problem. They informed us that they could build houses for the affected people if they possess lands. So, we had to buy a piece of land for this purpose. Fifteen houses could be built on this land. Among the injured are 24 homeless families. We will take action for the rest of the nine families to own a house soon,” Said Fr. Manjula Niroshan Fernando.
The Catholic Church has announced that it has spent more than Rs. 700 million from the Archbishop’s Fund for the wellbeing of 352 families affected by Easter Sunday incident.