Selvanayagam Selvantha, "Imagine being with traumatised people every single day"

 Selvanayagam Selvantha, 34, has worked as a pastor and social worker for eight years in rural northeast Sri Lanka, helping people to recover from the country’s civil war and the 2004 tsunami, which displaced more than a million people. He works with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, which provides free nursery and after-school activities for affected children, and spoke to IRIN about his experiences:

“I work in the rural parts of Amparai and Batticaloa, and the biggest problem is the poverty that is combined with trauma.

“When we see the suffering, our hearts, minds and spirits are also very affected. These people have suffered a lot. So many died. So much property was lost.


“I have nearly 42 people families attending my ministry. Almost all of them live far below the poverty line. When I visit them, I see no food in their kitchens.

“Most families here have more than six or seven children. Their family head, the father, is usually a farmer working for a daily wage. It’s very hard for him to sustain the family. 

“Due to poverty, parents don’t even want their children to have a good education. They want them to become breadwinners from an early age. They are usually sent to work drying fish along the coast.

“One of the most important parts of my work is to listen to these people. Sometimes, it can be the hardest part.

“Imagine being with traumatised people every single day. They share all their problems with us because we are all they have.

“Every time they share their problems, the problems become like my own. When working in this kind of an environment, you have to absorb the trauma into your heart, yet be able to balance and manage your emotions and rationality. In many ways, it’s a hard process to explain.

“We are not only social workers improving education and livelihoods, but we’re counsellors for these people.

"It’s personally very challenging to work in this situation; however, we cannot give up.”