THE MENTAL HEALTH OF WAR AFFECTED CHILDREN: A COMMUNITY BASED REHABILITATION AND RECONCILIATION PROGRAMME IN SRI LANKA’S EASTERN PROVINCE

The mental health effects of children affected by militarised violence are receiving increasing attention as the magnitude of the problem world-wide and its implications is becoming recognised. The trends in child mental health in Sri Lanka related to war and other factors are reviewed, and local project context in Eastern Sri Lanka is described. Since 1995, research and programme development addresses psychological distress in schoolchildren from multiple factors, many directly war related. The Butterfly Peace Garden in Batticaloa, is an after-school programme provided to 600 children, that offers creative play activities and ethnic reconciliation, integrated with opportunities for trauma healing through art-based processes. Its innovative programme has several distinctive features. It is a model of community reconciliation and peace building, supportive of local community-based capacity building; its child-focussed attention embraces universal values e.g. Convention for the Rights of the Child: the right of children to play mediated through local, culturally appropriate activities. The similarity to and divergence from the model of community based rehabilitation (CBR), is discussed in relation to the controversial issues of the pathology of militarised violence at a societal level, mental illness paradigms e.g. PTSD, and the appropriateness of Western counseling approaches. The programme is also presented as an example of a 'health initiative as bridge to peace.

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