‘Solidarity is Strength’- Palmyrah
With much gratitude I like to submit the reflection of my recent visit to Switzerland at the invitation of our partners to attend official meetings and to meet with people and organizations related to the work of trauma and disaster management. The trip also paved way to have a retreat on trauma and spirituality at the University of Bern for 3 days.
Evolution of the partnership
The partnership programme which started around 20 years ago between the Bern-Jura-Solothurn churches of Switzerland and the Jaffna Diocese came together in an agreement to help young women especially widows and school dropouts. The partnership was initiated by Rev Angela Tambiappa of the Jaffna Diocese and Andreas of Switzerland. They were Matthias Hui, Annemarie Waser, Elisabeth von Rütte and Brigitte Morgenthaler Subramanium came together to further this partnership and were known as “Palmyrah Switzerland”.
The third phase came into being with Brigitte meeting Dr Daniel Thiagarajah (who is the present bishop of CSI Jaffna Diocese) in India. Since then the agreement was signed between the Palmyrah Switzerland and the Jaffna Diocese by Annemarie Waser, Matthias Hui and Brigitte Morgenthaler Subramanium on one side and the Bishop of the JDCSI and Dr Daniel Thiagarajah as Coordinator on the side of JDCSI. Then a task force was organized and named as Palmyrah Project Task Force (PPTF). Albrecht Hieber and Catrina Hieber were also there helpful in the whole project. By this time Thaya Thiagarajah became the Coordinator of PPTF.
The final stage saw PPTF becoming a part of Center for Holistic Healing (CHH) and this is now the mode of operation. The agreement is signed between the two parties by Presidents Matthias Hui and Dr. Damaris Lüthi on behalf of Association Palmyrah – Ecumenical Partnership, Berne & Coordinator Palmyrah, Nathalie Peyer & Treasurer Conradin Mohr from the Swiss side and Bishop Daniel S. Thiagarajah, President cum Coordinator PPTF Dr. Thaya Thiagarajah and one member from PPTF (normally the Treasurer, A. Jeyaranee) from the JDCSI side.
Our aim is to build a just, participatory and sustainable society with a preferential option for the poor. “Holistic comes from the word “whole” and represents treating the whole person, not just the condition of symptom that is being presented. This involves the struggle against violence, empowerment of the oppressed and the marginalized with special emphasis on the rights and the needs of women and children. We yearn to provide psycho-social counselling for those who are affected by war and who face crisis situation. Our services go to people irrespective of their religious affiliation, caste or creed. Many people need psycho-social counselling in order to facilitate their reintegration into ordinary social life. The Centre for Holistic Healing strives towards facilitating this in the society.
Our mission is to help the community who suffer from all sorts of victimization including the survivors the thirty years of long civil war and its consequences and to help them heal the wounds and trauma. The process includes of being restored bodily wholes, emotional well-being, mental-functioning and spiritual aliveness. Healing also refers to the process of reconciling broken human relationships and to the development of a just social and political order among people in Sri Lanka. Through the work of our centre we seek to bring healing and restoration to the affected communities.
Facets of the work of the PPTF
Though the project originally started to help the women, the need of helping the survivors of the escalating civil war demanded the service among children, amputees, single parents, people affected by trauma and post traumatic stress disorder widened the area of ministry. Thus, all these ministries were brought into the umbrella of ‘Centre for Holistic Healing’, along with the help of Elisabethenwerk Swiss League of Catholic Women” in Switzerland.
Important Aspects of the Visit
I had the privilege of worshiping at the parish Muri-Gumilgen where I was given an opportunity to share the work of the PPTF and the Centre for Holistic Healing. It happened to be a special day as they celebrated Refugee Sunday. The meeting with the president and the members of the Foundation of Trauma Therapy was a very useful for the trauma work so was the meeting with the foundation of War Trauma Therapy. I also had the opportunity to visit SRK Ambulatorium for torture victims which helped me learn more about the trauma caused by torture, the consequences, and the self help to the survivors.
Other meetings with psychologists, counsellors, and organizations related to my work helped me widen my horizon of the knowledge to help the community work we do in our context.
The Annual Meeting of PPTF
The annual meeting of the PPTF was held on the 23rd afternoon. The agenda contained the minutes, the audited report and discussion about the future plans. It was sad to see bidding farewell to one of the oldest member and the Chairman Matthias Hui who has been a source of strength for the project for a long time. Elizabeth, the one who was a member from the time of the formation of the PPTF opted to stay on and help for one more year.
A good gathering of well-wishers and friends were present for the presentation made by the Director Dr. Thaya Thiagarajah chaired by Matthias. The power point presentation, discussion, the case studies and the present ministry of the CHH was well appreciated and cleared the type of ministry which is being carried out at present.
The program started off with a good retreat cum lecture held by the International Association for Spiritual Care, organized by the University of Bern. Scholars and professors from various countries contributed to the three day workshop. The topics like Spiritual care Migration and Multiplicity, Spiritual Care-the alternative to Pastoral care in a world of migration and trauma, Model of Spirit and Spirituality in the face of Trauma, Healing Hatred: Instruments of Pastoral Care and Counselling, and Spiritual Care in human-caused disasters are some of the very useful topics covered during the sessions.
My sincere thanks to the board for inviting me to Switzerland this year. My visit made space to clear doubts, explain the new ministries that we have to focus on, bring to light the burring issues emerging after the war which are detrimental to the society etc. Damaris’ visits and the continuous support have been the source of strength to me. Her visits to our projects and personal visit to the clients confined to the houses helped her to understand the real situation in which we are placed. Thus the importance of Trauma work was very much supported by her.
My gratitude to Mr Condradin for keeping the accounts and other members of the board who have contributed to the work of PPTF in the past by holding different projects like film festival, art gallery etc for fund raising. Nevertheless I thank the churches and the individuals who have contributed to the ministry. My thanks to those who hosted me for meals, shared their time with me discussing relevant topics, taking me for sightseeing to the lake of Thun etc.
Dr Thaya Thiagarajah