Colombo, Peace and Conflict

Reaching out

Sometimes it’s important to force oneself to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. When looking at the current situation in Sri Lanka, the bigger picture often looks very bleak and hopeless. But on a lesser scale, positive initiatives are being carried out and small steps are slowly being taken forward.

One such step is the story of the Welfare Centre in Maharagama. Located within a stone’s throw from the Maharagama Cancer Hospital, the centre provides patients and their families with free accommodation and facilities, making a very traumatic experience a little easier. The initiative is organised by the Maharagama Buddhist Association who have opened the doors of the temple in order to provide shelter and support to those in need, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

As this is the only hospital in the country equipped with the facilities to treat cancer patients, people from all over the island have no option but to find their way here. Patients living in the Jaffna and Vanni regions are the ones who face the most amount of difficulties in getting here as the A9 is still closed, forcing them to travel by sea or air. For Tamil people in particular, the present security situation in the country causes endless problems because it is they who are subjected to the most to arrests, abductions and search operations, making journeys not only long and tiring, but also dangerous. Furthermore, Colombo and the surrounding suburbs are by no means cheap, meaning that hotels and guesthouses are out of the question for most people.

Rahulo Thero, the monk in charge of the centre believes that this project not only supports people who’s lives have been affected by cancer, it also has more long term benefits and slowly changes people’s attitudes after years of mistrust and prejudices between the different communities.

“For the Tamil people who come here, we provide them with all the necessary facilities. Sometimes we give the best of what we have to them. There are no differences here and just because we give them the best facilities, the Sinhalese people don’t get upset. We try to make these people understand the situation. They have been having a lot of anger with the Sinhalese community for the past 20 years. They don’t know that Sinhalese people are willing to help them. So when they come here they don’t have that anger in them any more. We welcome them and we all live in harmony.”

The support extended by this group of Buddhists towards those of other religions and at a time of great need, stands out as a prime example of corporation amongst the different ethnic compositions that co exist in Sri Lanka. Such instances of hospitability are not uncommon on the island, but in the current climate they are overshadowed by a wave of hostilities, fuelled by prejudice and stereotyping that slowly seems to be taking over. But before we revert completely back to the half empty glass, it is comforting to know that this racial intolerance has not taken over the hearts and minds of everyone, that people are willing to open their doors to complete strangers and offer their support in these trying times.

A related story can be heard as a YA*TV podcast on VOR Radio, by clicking here.