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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 soap."

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."


Updated: 14-8-2001

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