Thursday, May 21, 2009

SL: 5500 Tsunami orphans still languish in shelters....!!!

Tsunami orphans still languish in shelters

By Hemanthi Guruge
More than 5,500 tsunami affected orphaned children still remain in shelters around the country, the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) revealed yesterday adding that it would launch a programme to seek guardians for these children.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, NCPA Chairman Jagath Wellawatta also said that more than Rs. 10,000 has been allocated for the welfare of each child who had lost both parents during the tsunami while Rs. 5,000 had been allocated for a child who has lost a single parent.

He further said that there were at least 422 orphaned children in the Jaffna peninsula out of which 355 children still remain in tsunami camps.

Some of these children are faced with the dilemma of being unable to obtain a death certificate of their parents and as a result the Ministry of Justice has now come forward to provide the necessary assistance.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Countrywide red alert on dengue

By Sandun A Jayasekara

The Health Ministry yesterday declared a national red alert on dengue through all its MOH offices as the number of deaths from the dengue outbreak continued to rise sharply with more patients seeking hospital treatment.

Government Epidemiology Unit’s Dr. Hasitha Tissera told the Daily Mirror the number of deaths this year from dengue had risen to 63 by yesterday in comparison to 27 deaths last year.

“This is alarming. We see a sharp increase in deaths and dengue cases from almost all parts of the country,” Dr. Tissera said. From January to April 2008 the number of dengue patients reported island wide were

728, 838, 598 and 601 respectively while in 2009 it increased to 1,247 in January, 948 in February, 868 in March and 1031 in April, he said.

A significant increase of dengue cases have been reported from Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy, Kalutara, Kurunegala, Kegalle, Matale, Puttalam, Hambantota, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts.

“Patients must seek immediate hospital treatment if fever continues for more than three days. There is a possibility of patients developing hemorrhagic shock if they do not seek hospital treatment after three days,” Dr. Tissera warned.

The main culprit for the spread of not only dengue but almost all communicable diseases is the public themselves who do not keep their households and immediate environment clean and tidy thereby creating ideal breeding places for mosquitoes, he said.

The health ministry is conducting awareness programmes through MOH offices to educate the public and school children in particular on dengue and its prevention, he said.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Robin Tampoe 'Last of the big ones'......!!!

Book review:

Robin Tampoe 'Last of the big ones'

Robin Tampoe
'Last of the big ones'
Author: Vilasnee
Tampoe Hautin
Pages: 236
Tower Hall
Theatre Foundation
Price: Rs.750
Though he was one of the pioneering filmmakers of the island, many are not aware of facts about the life and times of Robin Tampoe. Thus his daughter Vilasnee had taken up the much needed task of scripting a volume on his yeoman service to the reel as well as some interesting escapades from his personal life.

The book titled 'Robin Tampoe: 'Last of the big one' along with another book Gewee Giya Yugayaka Antima Tharuwa was launched at the Sri Lankan Foundation Institute some months back. The event which was put together by RT Films coincided with the 78th birth anniversary of the veteran filmmaker. Dr. Tissa Abeysekara, Sumitra Peries and Dr. D.B. Nihalsinghe graced the occasion.

The son of W.M.S Tampoe, another filmmaker, who made a few Tamil films in India and gained a named as Ceylon Thambu before breaking into the Sri Lankan cinema industry with Sepali.

Growing up in a background filled with cameras and cinema equipment molded the character of young Robin and formed a part of the success he gained through his work.

Penned with sensitivity, the book is scripted to pay homage to a father, who also happened to be an iconic figure in the cinema industry. With 22 films such as Sudu Snade Kaluwa, Sulalitha Sobani Sathutai Kandulai, Sudo Sudu, Landaka Mahima, Sanasili Suvaya, Ruhunu Kumari and Manushatwaya to his name he made his mark in the entertainment film category.

He entered the scene when the movie industry was in its twilight days and made Sinhala films at a time when the flames of ethnic conflict were threatening to shadow the land. He did not hesitate to experiment and mix techniques borrowed from Indian films thus resulting in a number of sentimental melodramatic creations. Though some of his productions were not recognized for their artistry, one cannot help noting that they continued to bring in money which is much needed for the survival of the industry.

Another special feature of the artiste is that he was an all rounder in the industry. He was not only a director but also a producer, studio owner, exhibitor and importer. He had come into contact with many of the pioneers as well as iconic figures in the industry and some like Dr. Lester James Peries, Tissa Abeysekara and Dr. D.B. Nihalsinghe had even taken pains to pen a few paragraphs in the book as a dedication to a filmmaker who had been a friend, ally and colleague to them during the prosperous age of Sri Lankan cinema.

- Ruwini Jayawardana



The journey in helping the mentally ill begins with small steps

By Dianne Silva

A certain comic strip relates how this little boy is told to go and sit in a corner by his mother. The boy goes to this corner but chooses to stand instead of sitting down, much to his mother’s annoyance. In the next frame the mother physically makes him to sit down. The final frame shows the boy saying; “I might be sitting on the outside but I’m standing on the inside!”

The strip more or less depicts our ability as human beings to outwardly portray an image that is in stark contrast to what actually lies beneath. We are all able to show the world that things are all ‘honky-dory’ when in reality they are not. In a society that quickly sweeps mental health problems under the rug we are expected to deal with our problems internally and not make a scene about these problems we, supposedly, brought on ourselves. However, living in a world where the deaths of children caused by the faults of their parents are becoming increasingly frequent -- suicide is becoming the easiest means of solving problems. This trend reflects the emergence of a post-conflict society and this phenomenon seems more pertinent now more than ever before a situation demanding the focus on this area of health which has thus far been stigmatised by society.

Escalation of the incidence of mental illness

According to a study by VSO (an international development charity that works through volunteers and promotes volunteering to fight global poverty and disadvantage), between 5% and 10% of people in Sri Lanka are known to suffer from mental health problems. The organisation attributes the deterioration of the mental health of the population to the Tsunami of December 2004, which is estimated to have affected some 400,000 people. Together with the conflict in the North, it has made a significant impact on the mental health of the population. Further the finds that the post-traumatic stress caused by both the ongoing conflict and the tsunami has an impact on people’s ability to earn a living and participate fully in their communities.

Despite being ranked 93rd among developing countries in the Human Development Index (2005), the mental health of our people has been ignored to a great extent due to the stigma that surrounds the subject. The VSO through their studies identified three main areas that were leading to the marginalization of mentally ill persons.

(a) Social discrimination - people with mental health problems are frequently ostracized from society due to ignorance, myths, false beliefs and lack of awareness of their rights.

(b) Inadequate access to mental health services, resulting in lack of treatment and rehabilitation. Mental health services which exist are concentrated in urban areas with little or no services in rural areas, while specialized services for the elderly and children are extremely limited

(c) Economic barriers - families of people with mental health problems are often poor and are not provided with welfare benefits to address their psycho-social needs. This type of mental illness often leads to suicide or other acts of violence which have been evident in the past with many affected people resorting to heinous crimes that escape all reason.

Coping with life’s challenges

According to the experience of experts on the area, having good decision making skills and coping skills will help an individual to have greater self confidence to face the day to day challenges of life, keeping them from being lured by undesirable compulsions such as, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, premarital/ extra marital sex etc. all of which can lead to emotional problems.

The Director of the Suicide Prevention Programme conducted by the Colombo South branch of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, Surakshi Siriwardena believes that this can be avoided if people are given the resources to cope with their problems and more importantly their emotions instead of resorting to acts of violence. “We have identified that befriending is of utmost importance and the benefits of decision making skills are being imparted to our society to reach all walks of life” she said.

Since the increase in the number of suicides is identified with the consumption of pesticides, some authorities have been discussing the possibility of eradicating such potential materials of self destruction. However, the Sumithrayo concept differs from this. “There have been many discussions and workshops on suicide prevention and controlling of the sale and use of pesticides among farmers in rural societies. Instead we are focused on empowering the various groups of persons through emotional support to enable them to develop coping skills and not reach a point of suicide.” Ms.Siriwardena said.

Ms.Siriwardena also explains that persons need to realise the significant roles they play in the lives of others and that one moment spent to ask someone else how they are feeling could possibly save their lives. “We very rarely ask the question ‘are you feeling suicidal?’ If someone asked me that I would say no, but if you ask someone who has been considering it then they could break down and pour their heart out to you which could make the difference between their taking that decision to end their lives or not. Yet we are so fearful of asking that question,” she explains.

Peer support for the mentally ill

The Director explained that small steps however insignificant they may appear to be, have to be taken in order to make great successes in this area. The Chinese Philosopher Lao Pzu said ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ Taking this idea further the American politician Adlai Stevenson said that the journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step. So we must never neglect any work within our reach however small it is,” she said. Experts stress the importance of having a good group of peers for support and the importance of women especially not confining themselves to the company of their family. Surakshi Siriwardena says one should remove themselves even for a brief period from the sources that cause them stress or displeasure and thus need a source to run to when such pressures come from within the family.

For those who find themselves alone and isolated from such situations are requested to contact the Sri Lankan Sumithrayo who are always willing to listen on their hotline - 4401094.

How to help outside your circle: Colombo South, Sumithrayo

The Colombo South Branch of the Sri Lanka Sumithrayo are calling for volunteers willing to help ‘the suicidal and despairing’ by giving their time, commitment and a listening ear. A training programme is conducted by the Colombo South centre for volunteers after which, they are trained for a short period and then allocated a weekly four hour shift.

The initial training is a two day programme and gives participants all the knowledge needed to befriend suicidal persons. The programme focuses on training in listening to the emotions of those in despair instead of focusing on their problems and trying to solve them.

Training batches of police personnel, school children and hospital staff have been conducted to befriend those in their own environment. The objective of the organisation is to reach out to a considerable number of persons at an early age by creating an awareness of suicide prevention and recourse they would have in case of suicidal feelings. Further, to make society and peers aware of how to identify another person with suicidal feelings or early depressive feelings. The organisation also hopes to make persons aware of what steps are available and what could be done in order to prevent a potential suicidal person taking his or her life.

In an attempt to reach outside of the Colombo circle the Colombo South branch has established outreach centres in Arachchikattuwa and Pambala as part of their expansion programme. They hope to establish more centres around the country beginning with their next one in Galle.

With this in mind the group held an all island essay competition for school children in collaboration with the Ministry of Education on the topic, “The Importance of developing decision making skills and coping skills amongst schoolchildren”. This was completed in March of 2009 and the winners were gifted 16 computers. Trophies and 240 merit certificates were also awarded. The branch also carried out a quiz on world children’s day where over 1100 students participated and the winners were given certificates and 425 book vouchers. Further, a free health camp at Lunugamvehera was held to reach out to over 600 needy persons.

About depression

Most people feel depressed at some stage of their lives; but for some the feelings are more intense and last longer. This type of depression doesn't just ‘go away', and telling the person to ‘cheer up' or ‘pull yourself together' doesn't help. It's not that simple. But there is hope. Depression is a medical condition that can usually be treated. A doctor may prescribe medication or therapy - or a combination of the two. The important point is to seek help. If someone you know suffers from depression that lingers encourage him or her to see a doctor or healthcare professional

Symptoms to look out for:

Depressed mood - most of the day, every day

Mood swings - one minute high, next minute low

Lack of energy and loss of interest in life

Irritability and restlessness

Disturbed sleep patterns - sleeping too much or too little

Significant weight loss or gain

Feelings of worthlessness and guilt

Difficulty in concentrating and thinking clearly

Thoughts about death and the option of suicide
Helping a suicidal friend or relative

Be quiet and listen! If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, our first response is to try to help. We offer advice, share our own experiences, try to find solutions. We'd do better to be quiet and listen. People who feel suicidal don't want answers or solutions. They want a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves. Listening - really listening - is not easy. We must control the urge to say something - to make a comment, add to a story or offer advice. We need to listen not just to the facts that the person is telling us but to the feelings that lie behind them. We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.

What do people who feel suicidal want?

Someone to listen. Someone who will take time to really listen to them. Someone who won't judge, or give advice or opinions, but will give their undivided attention.

Someone to trust. Someone who will respect them and won't try to take charge. Someone who will treat everything in complete confidence.

Someone to care. Someone who will make themselves available, put the person at ease and speak calmly. Someone who will reassure, accept and believe. Someone who will say, "I care."

What do people who feel suicidal not want?

To be alone. Rejection can make the problem seem ten times worse. Having someone to turn to makes all the difference. Just listen.

To be advised. Lectures don't help. Nor does a suggestion to "cheer up", or an easy assurance that "everything will be okay." Don't analyze, compare, categorize or criticize. Just listen.

To be interrogated. Don't change the subject, don't pity or patronize. Talking about feelings is difficult. People who feel suicidal don't want to be rushed or put on the defensive. Just listen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

1307 NGOs in Sri Lanka: While 357 of them are foreign NGOs and 950 are local NGOs. ...!!!

Director, The National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations, Douglas Nanayakkara.

Reining the NGOs, INGOs
Nadira Gunatilleke


Certain standards are required to regulate these organizations. The standards should be included the Constitution with minimum requirements decided by law. This is the basic paper which governs the entire process of the organization.It also requires certain financial standards such as Sri Lanka Accounting Standard to ensure that all the accounts are being prepared in a uniform manner with utmost transparency. There should be a law to wind up an organization, to take action against any erroneous act or malpractice of an organization and the persons involved.


A 29-year-old law cannot meet the present day demands when it comes to Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), said Director, National Secretariat for Non Governmental Organizations Douglas Nanayakkara, in on interview with the Daily News.

Q: Why it is necessary to bring a new Bill on INGOs and NGOs ?

A: Like any other sector, there are bad hands coming into this field. This may be involved with corruption, misuse, illegal activities, anti Government activities and similar things. The other issue is the amount of funds they collect and their distribution.

How much funds they transfer to the beneficiaries, how much they use for their own organizations and how much funds disappear has to be ascertained. Therefore, there should be a mechanism to record all these important information.

Certain standards are required to regulate these organizations. The standards should be included the Constitution with minimum requirements decided by law. This is the basic paper which governs the entire process of the organization.

It also requires certain financial standards such as Sri Lanka Accounting Standard to ensure that all the accounts are being prepared in a uniform manner with utmost transparency. There should be a law to wind up an organization, to take action against any erroneous act or malpractice of an organization and the persons involved.

The other most important part is ‘service delivery’. The service delivery has two parts; the services and beneficiaries. Standards should be set for service delivery with the intervention of Government agencies. Government agencies should provide certificate of quality assurance to these organizations.

The organizations should reveal who the beneficiaries are and their details to ensure that benefits have been actually delivered to the intended beneficiaries. Corruption and malpractice can be minimized only through a proper system.

Q: Briefly explain the existing law on NGOs.

A: Since 1980, there has been instances of legal developments in the country with regard to the NGO sector. The basic law that is in force today is known as `Voluntary Social Service Organizations’ (Registration as a provision)Act number 31 of 1980. This law was amended by Amendment Act No. 8 of 1998.

Again a regulation was issued in 1999, under the Commission of Law by the then minister. Meanwhile, through a Cabinet decision, the National Secretariat of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Secretariat) was established in 1997.

Then in 1999, the President’s Circular was approved by Cabinet which was drafted by an official committee along with a number of recommendations. That circular was a landmark development in the history of law relative to NGOs which was on registering and monitoring of NGOs.

The circular was provided for registration of NGOs at District and Divisional Secretariat offices. The NGO Secretariat registers all national level NGOs while District Secretaries and Divisional Secretaries register other NGOs.

There was a clear increase in the number of NGOs following the tsunami.

In the recent past, the Finance Ministry Secretary issued a number of circulars. Defence Secretary and the Internal Administration Ministry Secretary also issued important circulars. This is the legal base we are having now in connection with NGOs and we are operating based on these laws.

The 1980 law was adequate to govern the NGOs only under the scenario that prevailed in 1980. But now the situation has changed a lot. Particularly after the tsunami, a large number of INGOs came to Sri Lanka.

The law passed in 1980 in connection with NGOs does not include punishment other than of Rs.250 fine by Courts. Because of this weakness, corrupt NGOs are freely engaged in billions of rupees worth deals and get away only with a fine of Rs.250 without a problem.

There was no provision to terminate the licence of NGOs. Fund raising is another section that is overlooked by the 1980 law. There should be records on how much these organizations raise as funds locally and internationally.

Q: What does International Law say on abuse charities for terrorism?

A: The Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001 aimed at placing barriers on the movement, organization and fund-raising activities of terrorist groups. UN Member States were encouraged to share their intelligence on terrorist groups to assist in combating international terrorism.

The Resolution also calls on all States to adjust their national laws so that they can ratify all the existing international conventions on terrorism. It stated that all States “should also ensure that terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations and the seriousness of such acts is duly reflected in sentences served.

The Resolution established the Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee [CTC] to monitor state compliance with its provisions.

It also aimed at restricting immigration law, stating that “before granting refugee status, all States should take appropriate measures to ensure that asylum seekers had not planned, facilitated or participated in terrorist acts.

Further, States should ensure that refugee status was not abused by perpetrators, organizers or facilitators of terrorist acts and that claims of political motivation were not recognized as grounds for refusing requests for the extradition of alleged terrorists.

Q: Was there any change with the number of INGOs, NGOs and their operations after the tsunami?

A: Yes of course. There was a very clear increase in the number of NGOs following the tsunami. Before the tsunami, there were only 850 NGOs in Sri Lanka. This number increased to 1,150 after the tsunami.

Those NGOs came with a lot of resources and troubles. Some of the problems caused by NGOs were there even before the tsunami. At present, there are 1307 NGOs in Sri Lanka. While 357 of them are foreign NGOs and 950 are local.

Q: What forms of corruption and malpractices have been reported in connection with such organizations?

A: The National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations receives complaints from stakeholders of NGOs in connection with various problems. The Secretariat has already appointed an Inquiry Board under the provisions of the existing law. Majority is mainly related to financial irregularities.

And there were some complaint against certain expatriates. There are two investigations going on, on two local NGOs and there are around 10 to 15 pending investigations. All are national level NGOs. Stakeholders and the public can forward complaint to this Inquiry Board.

The governance problems came into question such as accountability, transparency and the role of the law along with responsiveness. The principles of good governance need to be applied to ensure that the NGO sector is well governed. There was another problem in complying with Paris Aid Declaration to ensure the aid effectiveness of the NGO sector.

Governance problems in the NGO sector have become an international issue. Financing terrorism is one such problem that has become a global issue. The Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001 on combating abuse of charities for terrorism mentioned above shows the gravity of the problem.