Sivaratnam is the father of four children and worked as a shop manager in a rural village in the Mullaitivu District of Northern Sri Lanka. The war, in which his eldest son was conscripted and subsequently went missing, saw Sivaratnam and the rest of his family displaced. After three years languishing in Menik Farm, the biggest IDP camp of northern Sri Lanka, Sivaratnam’s family was impatient to know when their land would be released for resettlement.
The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) has been conducting operations in PTK West GN division since August 2011, where the most intense fighting during the last phase of the war took place. During this time, FSD has destroyed more than 200 antipersonnel mines and nearly 1,000 items of Unexploded Ordnance as part of a project targeting the safe return of 549 families. So far, 185 families have been able to restart their livelihoods while 364 families still remain in the IDP camps awaiting the completion of mine clearance activities.
Sivaratnam’s family finally returned home on 7 December 2011 to the house they had previously occupied for 22 years only to find cracks in walls, damage to ceilings and windows of the house due to the war. Initially they were supported with temporary shelter, 6-month dry rations, agricultural tools kits and water pumps etc., from the Government and various development actors, but since the day they arrived, Sivaratnam has pursued activities that will put food on their table. After working in the Cooperative shop for example, he provides labour for construction projects to earn additional income in the evenings.
Sivaratnam is working in partnership with his beloved wife successfully cultivating their home garden. The wife Parameshwary runs a family dairy farm with four cows and innovates her vegetable garden to be more sustainable by turning cow manure into rich organic fertilizer. He admits that without her support, farming might never have achieved its current profitability. The front and back yard garden of the house are filled with banana trees, coconut plants, eggplants, green chilies, manioc, tomatoes and peanuts. The farm yields 50 kilograms per 5 kilograms of cultivation.
“I am very pleased about FSD’s demining actions as we don’t need to be fear to start our cultivations. Also we have attended FSD’s mine awareness briefings and very well understood the threat around us. It is even more comfortable when FSD community liaison ladies regularly visit us to see how we are integrating in the cleared lands” Sivaratnam had a smile on his face.
FSD’s Water Well clearance teams have checked the Well located in this garden to ensure that the family has safe drinking water.
FSD Community Liaison (CL) teams are also in regular contact with the returnees and makes efforts to develop livelihood linkages of assistance coverage within the divisions, and indicate areas of vulnerability where additional support is required, as well as facilitate local resource mobilization. The CL teams report that people have sought basic necessities such as toilets, clean water, shelter, electricity and livelihood support.
“In order to expedite demining activities in PTK West, we have moved ECHO supported multipurpose demining teams from Kumulamunai Centre. Demining and making land safe for people to return to is one of the vital steps in the process of getting people back to their homes. Priority is given to residential areas and then agricultural areas in our work. FSD will continue enable people like Sivaratnam to begin a new life with a high degree of confidence and satisfaction.” says Zak Johnson, FSD Operations Manager.
Education is the foundation for everyone in Sri Lanka. Like thousands of other parents, Sivaratnam works hard to help their children get a higher education and hopefully become a government officer so they might earn more respect and standing in society.
“My children have a natural desire to learn and experience new things. I have paid and signed them up for extra classes so that they can learn properly”. Sivaratnam communicated to his daughter, who is studying Physical Science for her Advanced Level at the PTK Central College, the importance of education for herself, family, and country. He was able to talk about the differences he saw between those who were uneducated and conducted manual labour and those who used their minds to work. “At least, they don’t have to labour under the hot sun” Sivaratnam said.
“We got to know that FSD made our paddy land of 4 acres in Kaiveli village in PTK, mine threat free. FSD friends have helped us to remove the thick vegetation with their giant machines and now we have a bare land to start cultivation, when the rain comes. We used to harvest more than 7,000Kg from one season those days.” Sivaratnam remains optimistic for continued rainfall in the upcoming months.
FSD congratulates Sivaratnam and his family who struggle to make a living in “FSD Cleared” land while being committed to protect the farmers, herders, but mostly children, from the land mines laid near where they work and walk.