The people of northern and eastern Sri Lanka have experienced high levels of trauma during the last 25 years, having lived through the country's civil war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army. A significant number of children were recruited into the conflict as soldiers, and were pulled from their lives at an important stage in their educational and social development. When these children leave the armed forces, they are faced with several challenges as they begin the process of reintegrating into society. Such challenges include a lack of education and job prospects, mental and physical health issues, and ostracism from their communities. They also face the fact that the areas from which they come have been economically devastated from decades of fighting, and have few resources to support them.
In partnership with the Professional Psychological Counseling Centre (PPCC) of Batticaloa, in eastern Sri Lanka, Heartland Alliance is implementing a 3-year vocational training program for former child soldiers. The program offers four vocational training courses, as well as courses in literacy and language, to residents of the Cuckoo's Nest, a residential rehabilitation program for both male and female former child soldiers. The program also provides trauma-informed psychological and psychosocial counseling specific to the needs of former child soldiers, and is working to develop a network of mentors made up of adult former child soldiers to provide guidance and support. Offering a comprehensive array of services addressing the specific vocational, social and mental health needs of the former child soldiers is designed to ensure success in their transition back into civilian life.
Heartland Alliance is supporting a program for former child soldiers in Sri Lanka that will help them reintegrate by:
- Offering vocational training opportunities that will lead to employment, including training in particular trades (tailoring, catering, carpentry and electrical wiring), supplemented by courses in basic education in Tamil and English and Sinhalese language skills; tutoring by an employment counselor in writing business plans and accessing micro-credit programs; awarding of small grants to start-up businesses; and helping with job placement;
- Training counselors to provide individual and group psychological and psychosocial therapies with the residents of the program;
- Creating a network of mentors from a pool of former child soldiers that have successfully transitioned to civilian life to serve a dual function of providing guidance and inspiration to the children while at the same time providing follow-up and continued oversight of the children's employment after they leave the program.