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 Post subject: Katie Melua's diary of paradise lost
 Post Posted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 2:00 am 
Katie Melua's diary of paradise lost

@ Belfast Telegraph

In an exclusive report for the Belfast Telegraph, singer Katie Melua, who grew up in Northern Ireland, opens her diary from a special trip to Sri Lanka. Katie went there as a guest of Save the Children, which is working to help kids affected by conflict and the Tsunami.
25 April 2005

DAY ONE

I AM on a 24-hour flight to Sri Lanka and I can't sleep because of the excitement of coming here. I'm sitting here not knowing what to expect but I am feeling quite apprehensive of what I am going to find. I think this is going to be a life-changing trip. I'm going to be meeting children in Sri Lanka who have been involved in the conflict and by the Tsunami.


DAY TWO


ARRIVING in the capital city, Colombo, I am really surprised. It seems really Westernised here but I think that where we are going tomorrow will be very different. On the drive in I find out more about what is going on here. I talk to Save the Children Director, Greg Duly, who tells me that the conflict started 20 years ago because the Tamils were trying to get independence from Sri Lanka because they weren't being treated very well.

What seems really sad, though, is that the rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, recruited children from this region to fight and get killed. The idea that girls as well as boys, some as young as eight, are involved like this makes me feel angry.

I remember things I used to be scared of when I was eight, but the thought of what happens to these kids having to fight and live in an armed group away from their families and homes is horrendous.

I spend the afternoon doing an interview with the main Sri Lankan newspaper and meeting some of the Save the Children staff. I go to bed early ready for the long day ahead when we venture east.


DAY THREE

IT'S about 6am and I'm flying over Sri Lanka in a tiny seven-seater plane heading towards the east coast. It's very hot and it's very humid. I will also be seeing the work being done by Save the Children.

We arrived at Ampara airport and now we're on the road to Batticaloa. It's still very hot and very humid. In Batticaloa I'll be meeting children who have been affected by the Tsunami and the conflict.

I am standing now in a place that used to be a school. All I can hear are the crows. A few hundred children used to have lessons here but it was destroyed by the Tsunami. The effect on families was devastating. Houses destroyed. Drinking water contaminated. Livelihoods lost.

This place is just completely devastated. There are people still in this area just walking about, obviously ones who didn't have enough money or couldn't find shelter so they are just still in their old homes. It's just completely destroyed. Everything is really grey and there is lots of rubble everywhere. I don't know it just seems very? well? there isn't really a word for it. We are in a Save the Children displacement camp now. The sea is a good few hundred metres away. The children's schooling takes place on one side and, on the other side, families are living in temporary shacks.

There are about 400 families living here. I was given a garland of flowers by the children when I arrived.

Carmen at Save the Children introduced me to Sanguin and Linali. They live in a temporary shack in the camp. Sanguin went on to tell me that, despite losing their house, at least this was something.

This is a stopgap. Just a start. Much work is needed to get the parents and their children rehoused and schools rebuilt. There are cases like these involving thousands of families all the way up and down the Sri Lankan coastline.

There are signs of the Tsunami everywhere. But the troubles of the east coast don't stop here. Batticaloa has extra pressures. This area has been involved in some of the worst conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers.

An estimated 120,000 girls are working in armed groups around the world. In Sri Lanka, over 21,000 of the children recruited by the rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, are girls. That's over half of the children recruited.

I am at a vocational training centre where kids and teenagers who had been involved in the conflict get taught useful skills for the future like woodwork and textiles. What was strange was meeting girls my age who had been recruited when they were 12 or 13 to work in the Tamil Tigers.

Basically, they missed out on their education for three to four years. People don't realise that they have been recruited like this. I can't imagine having missed out on so much of my education and being taught how to go off to fight and use weapons.

One of the signs when I met some of the girls today was that their hair was cut short and most young girls in Sri Lanka have really long hair. You can tell that the ones with really short hair have only left the armed groups in the last few months.

I can't put myself in their situation, but I can think about how I was at school, shopping with my friends and thinking about boys, at the same age that they were being abducted.

What is great is that I have visited these centres and seen the work that they are doing and the skills they are being taught now. And that will really aid them in the future.

It is so important. I can see the hope in their eyes. It's incredible. One of the girls I met, Milli, is only sixteen. She spent most of her teenage years learning to fight and use arms. She is back at school now and has so much hope for her future.


DAY FOUR


IT'S places like this activity club that I can really begin to see the advantages of the work being done. I arrive to the sounds of drumming and singing. The children have put on a performance of dancing and a mixture of traditional and Bollywood songs. The children here are a mixture of victims of the Tsunami, ex-child soldiers and normal kids.

What's really exciting about this place is the diversity of the kids that are here. It really helps to give them a common ground. They just all seem so happy here. They seem really glad to be performing this show for us and it is so amazing to see it. It is really colourful, there are lots of beautiful costumes, and the kids are enjoying being able to have fun.

This really does help to break down the barriers that alienate child soldiers: children as young as eight recruited to fight in Sri Lanka's long-running war. It gives them a chance to reintegrate back into their communities and to live again.

These kids have probably never really experienced a time when it was peaceful. And, on top of that, this area was hit by the Tsunami. So for them, the chance to come to a place where you can sing and dance and interact with other kids is extremely important. It brings back a structure to their lives straight away. You can never really get rid of the pain that some of these things cause but you can deal with it by getting the normality back into their lives.

Save the Children is really helping the children to deal with their experiences and to get their education and childhoods back.

For children recruited into fighting here in eastern Sri Lanka, the prospects of a good, happy childhood have been very low, but, thanks to the work of Save the Children, they are ensuring that these children have other options. A chance of education, security and of course a childhood.


DAY FIVE


ON the drive back to the airport, I have time to reflect on what I have seen and the children I have met. The country is so beautiful - the sand and palm trees are stunning. There is quite a lot of sadness here too. A bit like trouble in paradise. But the people here are really warm and they genuinely try to be really happy.

I have learnt a lot about the conflict here, too. What strikes me most is that there are always two sides to a war but children are often the innocent victims. This is the side that Save the Children is fighting. To stop the war on children.

I'm on my way back now, flying back over this beautiful island. There is still a massive task to get children away from the front line of war fully immersed back into family life but it is happening and will continue to happen with support making a better future for generations to come.

It has been really sad to meet some of the children involved in the fighting and to see the effects of the Tsunami, but I feel happy now having seen the great work the is being done to help these children.

This has been an incredible trip. I would like to come back here in a few years in the hope that things may have improved.


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