Insights and Analysis

Pioneering Program Addresses Trauma Head-On

February 3, 2021

By Mihiri Ferdinando and Gemunu Amarasinghe

Hardship and suffering have been woven into the tapestry of Sri Lanka for decades. The nation’s 30-year ethnic civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese Buddhists left bitter sectarian tensions, unresolved grief, and the trauma of loss. The war was still raging when the Asian tsunami struck in 2004, causing 30,000 deaths. The terrorist bombings that traumatized the capital on Easter Sunday, 2019, were followed in less than a year by the lockdowns and social upheavals of Covid-19. Widespread national trauma and high rates of suicide have put mental health and psychosocial support services on the national agenda.


Ten years ago, at a time when mental health rarely appeared in development programming, The Asia Foundation launched its pioneering Victims of Trauma Treatment Program in the country’s Northern and Eastern Provinces to provide psychosocial support to individuals and communities devastated by the trauma of war. Initially a collaboration with local NGOs, the VTTP today has grown into a national program connected to three government ministries.

When Covid-19 struck, we rushed to help our partners respond, training frontline providers in psychological first aid, adapting the curriculum for Family Court counselors to address a dramatic rise in domestic violence, developing a remote counseling system for the Family Rehabilitation Center, and helping these overtaxed caregivers replenish their own mental health. Here are their stories.

Mihiri Ferdinando is director of The Asia Foundation’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Services program in Sri Lanka, and Gemunu Amarasinghe is a media specialist. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

The authors would like to thank photographer Sujeewa De Silva, who masterfully completed this photo shoot amid the pandemic.


Related locations: Sri Lanka
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Lotus Circle
Related topics: Covid-19


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