Interventions are generally described as psychosocial when it is built on the assumption that there is a strong and important relationship between the individual’s psychological status and the social context. Psychosocial programs address the psychological and general health needs of post-conflict populations or post- natural disaster populations, by promoting and rebuilding the social and cultural context. The key words in a psychosocial approach are the social process and the mental process. In the social process we have threat, destruction and loss, and in the mental process we have fear, trauma and grief. If we talk of the post-conflict population in the social process they will be under threat, they will be constantly under threat. Both in the Sinhala and Tamil areas they are under threat. That is why there is so much of fear in our hearts. While the people in the south are in fear that there will be another uprising, the people in the north are in fear that they will be crushed and annihilated - they talk of genocide sometimes. So the fear is there. This is the trauma we are experiencing in our country today. We do not pay attention to this trauma too much. We are concerned with other things such as economic infrastructure development, social construction - yes these are important but we also need to understand the social processes and the mental processes that people are living through. So the fear that is there in society needs to be integrated. We cannot overcome the fear. In psychology we say, “Feel the fear, but do it somehow”. Fear needs to be integrated not to be overcome. What needs to be overcome is not fear itself but the denial of fear and the increasing inability to handle conflict. We know that violent conflicts lead to destruction not only of material things, but also of emotions and social relationships.
Reconciliation does not mean forgetting and forgiving but rather remembering and transforming. I like the name given to our commission – Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. We need to remember to transform. We cannot forget. The objective of transforming in conflicts is not to abolish conflict but to promote the ability to deal with it constructively. Psychosocial activities get involved with victims and their feelings. It requires active listening with empathy and respect. Psychosocial workers have to have the desire to understand the victim’s situation by not denying but rather by acknowledging an injury he or she has suffered.
Reconciliation is between people who recognize the dignity of each other. If we are to do so then we need to discover the power which is within each one of us. So with the widows it was a process of discovering the power within, building of self-esteem and reclaiming her place in society. Also when the war widows of the north and the widows of the soldiers from the south came together they were looking at each other in suspicion, but when they started relating their stories they discovered that both groups were suffering. They recognized each other in their pain. They discovered a new power - a power with the other and with that power they got new strength. In fact they got together and became a peace force and called themselves Women for Peace. This is the process of education we had through psychosocial programs with the widows.
It is very important after the war that we build human relationships because this means we are reconnecting with people. In this process of reconnection people find their roots. It is very important that they find their roots and also their identity. I would like to conclude by saying that it is very important that we understand the nature of our society, and that the Social Services Ministry, Education Ministry and the Health Ministry should get together and draw up an integrated plan for psychosocial well-being in our country today. John F. Kennedy says, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process of gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” We are in this process and I hope we will go forward in this process.
This address was delivered at the National Conference on the Role of Education in Reconciliation