YI: That's true. Now, you are experienced with victims of the civil war. It must have come in handy when the 2004 tsunami happened. There were thousands of very disturbed people. I understand you went immediately to work with them. Why was that decision taken?
Ananda Galappatti: Immediately after, we heard of lost families, of those who lost their homes, their livelihood. They were living in makeshift camps, and it was not clear what would happen to them next. So one of the things that many of us did was try to prepare materials. No one had ever experienced a tsunami before. Some, quite elderly people in the community remembered the time when something of the sort had happened years ago. But explaining to people what happened, what the likelihood of it recurring was, those sort of things helped the people understand what it was all about and helped to manage some of their anxieties about what will happen or understand what had happened. The other things is try to provide information of what services existed, where to go to get assistance, what sort of services were implemented by the government, where the other camps were, how one could try to reunify families. Things like that. Another thing we looked at was how to reunify families. That was important. How to help file a report in a crisis, helping parents find children who had been separated from them, children who had lost their parents, who want to reunite with their siblings. And then, of course, several things like helping people go through it all, learn simple steps, whereby people understood what was going to happen and what they might encounter, where their loved ones might be, and how they can learn to deal with the impact of their loss.
YI: I understand that you had a hand in founding an organization called 'The Mangrove.' What does this organization do?
Ananda Galappatti: The Mangrove is actually sort of a coalition of groups of organizations that was created by both the non-governmental organizations and the state sector in one of the areas.
YI: An area badly hit by the tsunami?
Ananda Galappatti: Yes, one of the badly hit areas. Essentially, one objective was to try and coordinate services that existed in the area, but also of the assistance flying in. It was a very generous, somewhat chaotic outpouring of help after the tsunami. So we started trying to marshal out the contributions, make sure they were distributed equitably under the minimum standards provision. The second was about trying to build a group of people who tried to link people up with those having more experience, more skills to share to ensure there would be good quality services that could be sustained over time. And the last element was the network the coalition was doing around mental health and psycho-social support. We realized that a number of things that impacted very strongly on the people of the villages on how to cope, and on how it affected their mental health, in fact, it was the management of the displaced peoples' camps. So there was a lot of inter-sectoral cooperation and lobbying that went on. Ensuring women living in camps had private spaces where they could bathe and change, which was not always a top priority with some people.
YI: What is the difference in treating war victims and victims of natural disasters?
Ananda Galappatti: Basically, the difference is in terms of the support that one might provide. A lot of the problems are similar. One of the key, the fundamental differences is that natural disaster does not happen intentionally, it does not happen very often. Conflicts, on the other hand, are perpetuated by other people, maybe inadvertently, therefore there are issues around anger, rage, hatred which becomes quite essential for making people understand what has happened to them and to renegotiate in the process of recovering . So that makes the work a lot more complex.
YI: You have made Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka as your base. Is this because your expertise is more needed there or is it because of the tsunami and the concentration of the conflict is in that area? What brings you all the way out there?
Ananda Galappatti: As I said, I wanted to gather all the facts, in response to the tsunami. I am by nature someone who do not see my work being limited to one area alone. But I find it useful, as I am doing in Baticaloa, to spend a degree of time in one place. The longer you stay, the more you understand. You get an understanding of how things change, how circumstances change, the way in which people cope, the difficulties that people have and so I continue trying to constantly to a sustainable and long term in terms of understanding people's need not just for now but 5-10 years after that fact. So, that is the main reason why I've remained in Batticaloa for about four years now. But it's also because I think one can develop knowledge and a good model support which then we share here in the country, but also in the region.
YI: You also teach. What do you teach?
Ananda Galappatti: Well, teaching is not something that comes naturally to me. I'm trying very hard to develop a feel for the area because it's very important that we in Sri Lanka build the capacity to respond to the wide range of issues and disasters that we have in the country. I think what expertise we have in this field, the numbers, the capacity that we have within Sri Lanka was somewhat limited. In many ways, the situation is very different now. We've got a lot more home grown expertise, which I think is an excellent thing. But some of them with whom we've been associated with in the field of post-traumatic care from the University of Colombo which provides people with skills and processes of intervention, socio-psychology and counseling, but similarly I am now involved with some people in this field with less academic achievements but who are important in delivering services . One of the things that I am also particularly excited about at this point is an exchange and shared learning across countries in Asia, and this last week I have been discussing with colleagues for a course which would bring together some of the active figures in this field, in the South Asia region who really haven't had much of an opportunity to teach each other what they've learnt, what they've developed, spending time together in a sense to share that learning and their experiences.