Mathura Thiagarajah reflects on her current experience volunteering as a Trauma Counsellor and Trainer in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.

As I near the end of my placement, I reflect that it will take time to fully digest all that I have learned from the staff, students, families and community that I have been fortunate to come to know through volunteering with the Organization for Rehabilitation of the Handicapped (ORHAN)  via comdu.it. These are my musings while I am still in Vavuniya.

ORHAN is an amazing organization that has been supporting individuals with disabilities since 1999. This organization was formed due to a need for services for the number of persons with disabilities, which proportionately increased due to the war in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, a large number of internally displaced individuals moved to Vavuniya. Programs that are currently offered include vocational training programs, a school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities, a livelihood program which provides agriculture support, fisheries support,small business support, and a rights-to-information series of workshops. The centre also provides counselling and speech and language therapy services. These programs are made possible through donations from the local and international community.


These programs aim to facilitate access to services, engage, and build capacity with individuals with disabilities and their families. Although their main office is located in Vavuniya, their programs aid communities across the Northern Province. Staff conduct field visits to meet with people with disabilities and provide information, referral services, and ongoing support to their families. I had the opportunity to spend time in the field with staff conducting outreach visits but due to the confidential nature of this work, I am unable to share specific stories.

Many of the families ORHAN assists live in poverty and accessibility is a pressing issue. ORHAN aims to remove barriers in many different ways. For example, students who attend the school are provided with a uniform, supplies, lunch and snacks all free of charge. Currently, the 75 students are transported by bus from places as far away as an hour’s commute, including students who live in orphanages. They also have monthly parent meetings and regularly conduct home visits to ensure the family is well supported. Overall, the staff at ORHAN is dedicated to supporting the local community, often going above and beyond what is expected of them.


In addition to providing counselling, I had the opportunity to train 11 teachers and office staff basic counselling skills. Their passion and commitment to supporting the community to heal and thrive, along with their wisdom, perseverance and strength inspires and motivates me to be a better social worker in my own work in Canada. I worked collaboratively with the two staff, who work as counselors, to plan the training. The 11 women were eager and open to learn counseling skills as they feel this is a service need that is not being met. The training consisted of a teaching and practical component. After the in-class portion was completed, the remainder of the time was spent going on field visits with me. An unintended impact of this training was that through this class, many of the staff had the opportunity to share their own stories of hardships and resiliencies. Naturally, living in the region many of the staff been directly and indirectly impacted by war. Moreover, this staff had been on the frontline supporting communities in the Northern Province during the most difficult and dangerous times of conflict. They have multiple knowledges and experiences on how best to support their community. However, there is common message that has been shared to the Tamil diaspora by staff and the local community, “please do not forget us in Sri Lanka.”

Check their website at http://orhansrilanka.org/

Here is a video of the amazing work the do!