Early in 2019, almost ten years after the end of its civil war, Sri Lanka was named the best country to visit by the Lonely Planet travel guide.
On Easter Sunday 2019, this status changed tragically. A co-ordinated wave of suicide bombings in churches and hotels meant that suddenly the island was one of the most dangerous places to travel, and everyone was living in fear and distress.
One of the churches attacked was the Zion Evangelical church, located on the east coast, in the town of Batticaloa.
The bomber blew himself up where the children were having breakfast after Sunday School, amidst the joy of Easter celebrations. 28 people died immediately, including children, and many more were injured. Three more church members would die of their injuries in the days which followed.
Community Concern, Global Care’s long-term partners in Sri Lanka, responded immediately with an offer of help. Founder Sriyani Tidball describes what happened next:
“The church asked us for help in two areas. Firstly, to help those sent to the capital city of Colombo for treatment, and their caregivers. Batticaloa is eight hours away by car, and 11 hours by train, and having help close by in Colombo was a necessity.
The second need was to prepare and implement healing workshops, and a professional programme to help the Sunday School teachers who were traumatized that day. They lost many of their children, and some of their fellow teachers, before their very eyes.
We were honored to be of service. We first needed funds, so we just started sharing the need on social media and the necessary funds came in.” Donations included a £1,000 grant from Global Care’;s Children At Risk crisis fund.
“We truly had the joy of doing small things with great love.”
There were about ten severely injured, mostly women and children, who were receiving treatment in Colombo, some of them for months.
A six year-old girl, blinded and orphaned by the blast, hospitalised with her distraught aunt, widowed, burned and with a broken leg, all in the same awful moment.
Injured brothers, aged six and eight, crying for their mum, whom they saw die, along with their little sister.
A teenager with serious burns and shrapnel injuries to the head, whose ten year-old brother died, whose family could not afford his medical expenses.
Sriyani recalls: “From taking meals to the caregivers every day, to getting supplies, or just a visit or a phone call, sometimes translating information for the patient from Sinhalese to Tamil, we did whatever was needed, for several months. We had extra funds to help three families, who had lost their breadwinner, for six months. We truly had the joy of doing small things with great love.
We sent teams to Batticaloa and did some trauma workshops, and visits to the families we were working with. Everything we did was following the lead from Zion, and they knew they could count on us.
Last June a donor offered to fund the psychosocial programme we had designed for the Sunday School teachers. We started this six-month programme in January 2020, to take us through the anniversary and beyond.
It’s a hands-on, inner-healing training which was specifically designed for these teachers, who saw the tragedy first-hand, and even lost some of their own family members.
We completed two programmes in Batticaloa, but now we are living in lockdown and curfew due to Covid-19, we have to run it online and by phone, as many of the participants don’t have a computer or a smart phone.
This change of delivery has unexpectedly given us a much better way to understand each individual Sunday School teacher, and the specific needs and trauma they are dealing with, to tailor-make the training to be even more effective.
As the first anniversary is almost here, our hearts are all stirred up.
These folks in Batticaloa have faced a lot. The 30-year ethnic war. The Asian Tsunami. The suicide bomber. And now the coronavirus. But they are resilient, and they love the Lord. Their journey has not been easy, but their solid relationship with the Lord keeps them strong.”
Global Care used its Children At Risk fund to support Community Concern’s work with the bombing victims. We are currently using the same fund to help vulnerable families affected by the coronavirus pandemic, in countries including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Guatemala, India, Albania and Ethiopia, with feeding, soap and emergency needs. If you’d like to be a donor giving a small amount monthly, so funds are always available for us to step in at times of crisis, you can find out more on our Children At Risk page, or donate below.
*The image on this page is of the banner outside Zion Church, remembering those who lost their lives that day.