Happy to be back home at last
The laughter of a little child emanates from the house of Perimbarasa Rajeswary. It is her mischievous grandson, and Rajeswary is running behind him. “Quite a handful!” she says, smiling.
It is very warm outside, however, Rajewary has made a little extension to her temporary shelter where she can sit out and play with her grandson. “We are back after ten years,” she explains. The family was displaced when their land in Sampoor West became part of the military’s High Security Zone during the conflict in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
Rajeswary had no choice but to cope on her own. Her husband disappeared in 2003, and she was left to care for her two young children on her own. The escalating conflict forced the family to flee their home in 2006, and they moved multiple times. Her son was twelve when he sustained an injury while they fled.
“Before we were displaced, we had quite a good income,” explains Rajeswary. “Although we left our homes, I think everyone really struggled to survive. We all tried to do something.”
Her children tried to continue their studies while in displacement. Rajeswary, determined and resourceful, started a little trading business on her own – others in the welfare centers would sell her their dry rations, and in turn she would travel by bus to Valachchenai and re-sell the goods there.
In August 2015, the family was able to return to their own property, when the new government released the land to its owners. “We had a big house, a good well, a nice home garden with mango and coconut trees,” says Rajewary wistfully. “We came back to a desert.”
When they returned, Rajeswary was worried that she would have to start again from the bottom all alone, but help was at hand. “The UN and their partner organization the Rural Development Fund, helped us above and beyond what we expected.”
A project largely funded by the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) aims to assist more than 2500 returning families to settle back in their lands. With a funding base of $1.47 million, the project is providing assistance to facilitate the safe and immediate resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons to land released by the Government from former High Security Zones. The PBF is also supporting other peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts of the current government, which was elected to office in January 2015.
Through the PBF, temporary shelters, latrines and water supply are being provided to returning families by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), while other UN and government agencies along with humanitarian organizations are also working in close coordination to enhance their support towards resettlement.
Rajeswary received a temporary shelter through UNHCR and a latrine through UNICEF. She is full of praise for the support she has received so far. “They understood our situation. We had no roof, no toilet. The teams met us and always kept us informed about what we can expect.”
While the family waits for the government’s permanent housing programme to commence, Rajeswary is hoping she can run a small grocery store – mainly so her son has an income since he is unable to work due to his injury. “I worry about him. If he has a steady income then even if I cannot work, he will be alright,” says Rajeswary. In time, she also hopes to have a thriving home garden, like she did before.
Although she does not have the capital for her shop just yet, Rajeswary is trying to make ends meet with a small poultry farm and also by buying and selling a few garments in Batticaloa town.
Despite the difficulties of starting life all over again, Rajeswary is just happy to be back home. “We have a roof over our head – and for that I am so thankful to the UN family. To me, this house is not a temporary shelter. It is my home.”