Since 1990, JRS has worked with Sri Lankan refugees to provide access to quality education in public and technical schools and learning centres in 110 camps throughout India’s Tamil Nadu state. Contributing to the holistic development of the nearly 67,000 ethnic Tamils, JRS provides education services, promotes leadership and organises training to promote empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Decades of conflict in Sri Lanka not only caused significant internal displacement, it also drove people to seek asylum in India where they are accommodated in the government-run camps. Discrimination, multiple displacement, camp life, the pain and agony of war, have left deep and tangible scars in the minds of refugees, particularly minors.
The issue of security and the political context in Sri Lanka has been in constant flux since the civil war officially ended in 2009.
The UN has stated that each family must decide for themselves whether or not it is safe to return home. While small numbers of Tamils are returning to Sri Lanka, most feel it is not safe to do so, and say there is nothing there to return for. The war caused the destruction of villages with land being seized by the government. Some refugees who fled Sri Lanka no longer have land, work or a family to go home to while thousands of others born in the Tamil Nadu refugee camps know nothing of Sri Lanka.
With education as the cornerstone of this project, JRS assists families in registering to attend Indian public schools and helping parents find housing for their children nearer to schools or universities. Once the children are in school, the JRS Pedro Arrupe Learning centres in each camp offer children a place to do their homework at night and participate in extra-curricular activities.
Secondary school and college students actively participate in activities on personal development, leadership, media, HIV Aids, gender issues, and social rights and duties. Similarly, peer counsellors training and public awareness activities and campaigns on sexual and gender-based violence are organised periodically at 80 selected camps.
However, some young people are not enrolled in school. With social problems persisting in the camps – financial hardship, alcoholism, early marriage, domestic or sexual violence, post-traumatic stress among them – it can be difficult for young women to complete their education.
For those who have dropped out of the formal education system, JRS has opened two skills centres, managed by religious sisters, for women not just to acquire skills to make a living, e.g. like tailoring, and IT, but also to learn about leadership, women’s rights, public speaking and street theatre; the type of skills which lead to their empowerment as full citizens.
Of the 23 groups of women who have completed the six-month tailoring course, 90 percent have gone on to find employment. Other services include rehabilitation activities for alcohol dependents and legal services for people to document human rights abuses.
Stan Fernandes SJ
+91 11 4310 4661; +91 11 4953 4106
JRS South Asia is one of 10 geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. The regional office in South Asia serves Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, Srilankan refugees in the Indian State of Tamilnadu and internally displaced people in Sri Lanka. Services include: education, skill training, economic programmes, healthcare, psychological support, disability centres, community development and emergency assistance. There more than 8,00,000 refugees presently in these four countries.
Dreams being transformed into Reality
Though born in India and most of them having grown up there, the youth still carry the stigma of being refugees. Their future is uncertain; that fear however, has not robbed them of their childhood or their ambition for a better future.
India: our journey in Tamil Nadu
New Delhi, 16 May 2013 – At the height of Sri Lanka's civil conflict in 2009, 280,000 people were living in India's refugee camps. Today, the number has decreased to 67,000, while some families have chosen to return, many others believe it is still not safe.
India: school drop-outs experience their first graduation ceremony
Trichy, India, 13, September, 2012 – Young women born into one of Tamil Nadu’s 114 Sri Lankan refugee camps have a difficult road ahead of them, making graduating school and higher education nearly impossible for some. Still 19 women who had left school recently graduate from a JRS alternative school where they learned more than just livelihoods skills.
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