Children have a secure and stable home in SOS Children's Villages (photo: SOS archives).
Before the civil war, the historic town of Jaffna was a bustling economic centre. However, its port, one of the main sources of income and employment in the past, is now largely abandoned. In 2013, the reconstructed fishing port was opened; this now provides a living to around 700 fishing families who have returned to the area. But other industries continue to suffer. The infrastructure was damaged during the war, and although the rebuilding of roads and railways connecting Jaffna to the rest of the island is underway, it is far from complete.
Many families are struggling to survive in this new environment. Some of those who left due to the fighting have returned to their town of origin, but their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. The task of rebuilding their lives needs time and resources.
The Northern Province has one of the highest number of vulnerable children in Sri Lanka. Many have no parental care; 41 per cent have lost one or both parents during the war. Even when parents are alive, many children are at risk. The most vulnerable children include those living with single parents or in child-headed households. Children born to rape victims, teenage mothers and out of wedlock often end up in care, because the mothers are not given the necessary support that would allow them to care for their children.
The rates of child labour are also high in the area. Children often stop going to school, so that they can go out to earn a living - many work as domestic servants or in the family business.
From emergency relief to sustainable support for the community
In 2009, we started an SOS Emergency Relief Programme in the Cheddikulam Camp for internally displaced people near Vavuniya. Due to the decades of civil war, many children had lost parental care; we provided them with medical and psychological attention. When the conflict ended, some children were reunited with their families but others remained in our care. Since then, we have worked with the local authorities and established ways of offering long-term support to families and children in need.
What we do in Jaffna
Children in our care and those from the nearby families grow up together and benefit from the support of SOS Children's Villages (photo: SOS archives).
The SOS Family Strengthening Programme supports families who are at risk of breaking down. In cooperation with local authorities and partners, we work directly with families and communities. We provide food for those who are malnourished and ensure that children can go to school or get medical care. To help parents improve their situation, we offer counselling, and training on income-generating skills.
Children who have lost parental care can move into one of the twelve SOS families, where children grow up with their brothers and sisters and their SOS mother.
Young children go to the SOS Kindergarten alongside children from the neighbourhood. As they grow older, they attend the local schools - this ensures that they make friends and integrate into the community.
Once the young people are ready to leave their SOS families, they usually move into shared houses while they continue their studies. Qualified SOS counsellors guide them as they learn to live independently.