Imagining a New Future in Sri Lanka
Sujita’s* face beams as the ball drops into the hoop and her team scores again. Running wildly, screaming for the ball, and laughing at fumbled passes and missed shots—you could be forgiven for thinking this playground is like any other in the world.
However, this is no ordinary playground. Landmines, invisible to the eye, had laid buried underneath the soil all across this area. Until recently, running freely was a privilege not afforded to the children here. Now, this small piece of land speaks of immense transformation.
This community, along with many others in northern Sri Lanka, experienced intense fighting during a decades-long civil war. Vast numbers of people fled the violence in 2009, and many of the displaced families lived in refugee camps with the hope of one day returning home. After 2011, people began to return and rebuild their lives. The land itself had been de-mined and declared safe for people to walk, farm and play—but the journey to rebuild after war is a long one.
Most afternoons the playground is filled with young people kicking soccer balls, spiking volleyballs, and batting cricket balls. This land belongs to the young people of Iruttumadu. It is theirs.
Several months ago, the young people gathered together to transform an overgrown plot of land into a place fit for sports and recreation. They volunteered their time and energy to pull up weeds and plants, dig up roots, remove old trees and clear enough space to house a volleyball court, a netball court, and space for cricket and soccer.
A youth committee has been created to help manage the playground and organize events for young people in the area. They now have official registration as a youth society—with their own letterhead and rubber stamp—validating their existence as a group and their sense of agency. They are proud of their achievements so far and rightly so. Already this playground provides an important alternative to alcohol abuse, an issue impacting many underemployed young people in this community.
This empowerment and support of young people is part of a broader initiative by NCM Lanka to partner with the whole community. The impacts of conflict and displacement are not quickly overcome, and this initiative is designed to address multiple issues that negatively impact people’s quality of life in the present, as well as the way they approach the future. Beginning with children, a child development center was established to meet their educational, nutritional, and psychosocial needs. Meeting five days a week after school, these children receive extra tuition, daily nutrition, school supplies, and the opportunity to play together in a safe environment.