Sinhalese monk raises Tamil orphans
Inter Press Service
ATAMBAGASKANDA, Sri Lanka -- Atambagaskada, a
frontier village just two kilometers from the army's defenses in Sri Lanka's northern
Wanni region, is home to 37 people, including six monks. Here, Atambagaskada Kalyanatissa
Thero, a 32-year old Sinhalese Buddhist monk, provides shelter, food and care to Tamil
children orphaned by the war.
The 18-year campaign
waged by Tamils demanding a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka has cost the
lives of more than 60,000 people and battered the economy.
The war has deepened
mistrust between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. But the Sinhalese Buddhist monk's efforts
at Attambagaskada show that it is possible for the two communities to rebuild their trust.
The Atambagakanda mission
began when Thero visited the Sidambarampuram Tamil refugee camp in Vavuniya. An orphaned
infant, Kuganeshan, took to him and refused to leave his arms when the monk was ready to
go. Thero felt compelled to take the child with him. "We fed him with milk and
brought him up," said Thero.
Hearing of the monk's
kindness, Tamil widows, who are unable to provide for their children, travel, sometimes
from deep inside separatist-controlled territory, to beg the monk to look after their
children. The monk himself washes the children's clothes and looks after them with the
help of his aged mother, who cooks their meals. Often he does not have time to engage in
daily religious rituals, only performing them on the sacred full moon days. But Thero
feels this is what the Lord Buddha would have wanted.
The army and a local
non-government organization, Seva Lanka, assist Thero. "Some think that soldiers are
armed murderers, but they are full of compassion," he says. "They keep aside a
little bit of the rice and vegetables they get to cook each day and send it across to us.
That is how I feed the children. Seva Lanka provides the clothes, the oil and the
Accommodation is bare and
austere. The children sleep in a small temple hall, and the monk in a room off it.
"Accommodation is a problem. We do not have any money to put up a building, though we
have the garden space," he said, adding that the army is trying to help out.
Among the temple's
residents is Samitha Himi, a Tamil boy who his widowed mother gave up. Recently, he
decided to don robes. "I come from a Christian Tamil family," he said, "but
was so moved by the environment here, and the example of Thero, that I decided to follow
in the footsteps of the Buddha."