PWRDF currently has a nine-member delegation visiting the Organization for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR) in India and Sri Lanka as we continue to accompany the Tamil refugees OfERR serves as they begin the process of returning to Sri Lanka from India. The members of the delegation are acting as guest bloggers on the PWRDF blog. Today’s post comes to us from Christine Hills, PWRDF Public Engagement Program Officer.
The Eastern Ghat mountains appear suddenly on the horizon.They are serene and majestic.
That serenity was shattered on Wednesday morning as the delegation along with Mr. Sakkariyas, Mr. Easwarum and Dr. Kalpana Chittaranjan from OfERR and Mr Velu our skilled driver left Trichy for the Pudupatti refugee camp. Mr. Velu swerved to avoid a motorcyclist who was trying to get into the right hand carriage way, cutting in front of us. We ended up in the opposite carriage way, striking the hand median. If you have ever driven or been driven in India, it can be a humbling experience and horn honking has been raised to an art form!
Thankfully all of us, including the motorcyclist, escaped with minor bruises and abrasions. The vehicle was not as lucky and was quickly surrounded by the curious. One hour later, in a new vehicle with a new driver, we continued on to the refugee camp. Loved ones and friends, we are all fine!
The countryside was calming, green with rice paddies, churches and temples.
We arrived at the camp and were greeted by women and children bearing flowers. We walked around the camp and were offered crafts and food items made by the womens’ self help groups.
We were then welcomed by the children with songs and empathized when a few of the children found the experience overwhelming.
Adele, Suzanne and I were honoured to plant trees in commemoration of our visit.
We then gathered and took part in a traditional Tikka ceremony that included receiving a Potu on our foreheads to mark the gathering.
There are eight self help groups in the camp and each group spoke to us about their successes and challenges. They are highly educated and spoke of their frustration at being offered only low paying jobs such as house painting. They also let us know that they have been labeled with the ‘stamp of refugees’ and don’t want to live with this label forever. Their successes are many and we congratulated them on their community and all that they have achieved.
When asked what they want India to do for them, they spoke of their desire for jobs that reflect their skills and education. They also want to be recognized with Indian citizenship. The rising cost of living in Sri Lanka was pointed out by more than one person.
It was a day of contrasts in every way. The fear as we asked each other how we were, the relief to hear that all were fine. The beautiful countryside that surrounds them and the starkness the the camp itself.
We had an amazing day and as we headed back to the Femina Hotel in Trichy to board the overnight train back to Chennai we gave thanks for all of the good things that it brought.