Interview with Ananda Galappatti,
Yuli Ismartono [time 29:59]
Yuli Ismartono: Ananda, thank you for being in this program.
Thank you for having me in this program.
YI: Ananda, how did you first get involved with trauma victims in Sri Lanka? Was it something that you originally studied for or did you come on it by accident?
Ananda Galappatti: Well, it was a long time back. I went off to study molecular cell biology for my first degree, but in the course of my studies, I found I was more interested in people than cells, and wound up shifting into the area of psychology. And on my return to Sri Lanka - I did my studies in the UK -- I looked for ways in which to be helpful in the country. It seemed to me that working with children who had experienced conflict might be one way in which I could do that. So I started to work with a lady who provided services for victims of conflict and people affected by the conflict. And that's how I first got involved. Sri Lanka has had a number of conflicts over the years. We've had class-based uprisings in the south and central parts of the country, quite brutal ones in 1971 and then again in the early 1980s. Then we had separatist ethnic conflicts for over 25 years, mostly in the northern part of the country although it affected the country as a whole. So, we've had quite a wide range of problems and population, that required help, and once I got involved in this kind of work, I had no interest anymore in molecular cells.
YI: I understand you were involved with the work of Dr. Gameela Samarisinghe in a survey of Sri Lanka's conflict zones. Was that a determining factor in your choice?
Ananda Galappatti: It certainly had an influence. We did work with communities affected both by the separatist conflict as well as by the southern insurrection in the late 1980s. We found, even years after, people still suffering terribly. It was really quite influential in determining what we did next. We started out with families. It wasn't just one of many sufferings, like the loss of property or things like that, rather it was the cause of suffering, how the conflict affected social relations, the breakdown of relationships within a given village. The challenges for a woman taking on a new role of caring for her family but also playing the role as the main economic provider. Those issues shifted me away from the focus from the purely psychological to a realization that the social aspects of people's lives, were social effects of conflicts that were as important as part of the problem, and that we needed to start developing a means of intervention to address both aspects, the psychological and the social.
YI: Who did you work with, which organization or was it the government that you worked with in this field?
Ananda Galappatti: Well, initially I worked with a small foundation and then later I became a consultant providing training for personnel in areas affected by conflicts. But over the years I've actually worked with a wide range of institutions including those providing health and educational services. The thing about this field that I'm working in is that if one defines the problem broadly, taking in the people's realities, you actually have to have a broad responsibility. I know of no single organization or a single entity that can actually respond adequately to these range of problems. So you really need an inter-sectoral and or the holistics of the approach, depending on the population affected by war or by natural disaster.
YI: In your experience, what is the percentage of the population that has suffered trauma by the civil war which has been going on for decades and what measures have been taken?
Ananda Galappatti: To measure or quantify suffering is a fairly difficult thing. The general estimates are that if one takes a mental health view of things, that severe mental disorders at onetime in any population may increase by five percent caused by disaster or conflict and from the common symptoms that we often associate with wars, such as depression may sometimes affect as much as ten percent of the population. But if one frames the question differently, like how many people are struggling to find decent livelihood, how many people are having difficulties rebuilding themselves in terms of identity or community, the numbers tend to be much greater. And of course all these problems interact with one another. So it is hard to quantify them.
As far as approaches go, I can come up with a range of approaches. Clearly, providing counseling as the main thrust of intervention is very often not feasible because they are very large populations, talking about the need to engage with hundreds and thousands of people. You would need an army of counselors. So, therefore one thing we can do is look at ways in which you give special services like that of a psychologist, but you also try and bring on board people who have more general skills, people within communities, who already play a supportive role. Many of us, when we have problems don't necessarily go to the best doctors. We rely on family networks, the uncle or aunt we are particularly fond of, including other figures who are good at helping you cope. In times of conflict and in times of displacement, these resources are stretched, and often, what we can do is take some of the burden off these resources so that they can play the roles they used to play, prior to conflicts or prior to disasters.
YI: Now, when we talk about victims of wars or disasters, a person like yourself, who want to help people, must work with both camps. Do you have difficulty with the government or with the other side?
Ananda Galappatti: No. I think, one of the things that have been quite, um...this is a bit difficult. In some instances, I haven't really experienced problems, because many colleagues, myself included, try to provide these services in a way that is not politicized, that is linked to basic services, that everyone, no matter what their political affiliations, can agree on. So, I provide services to the whole structure or through the basic social service mechanism. Usually, it is not too complicated but it can be tricky. But I think, if one is clear about the role one is playing in terms of what one individual may do, mutually beneficial and ethical in manner, then you should really have no problems with either side.