With Peacekeepers in Haiti

The Sri Lankan Military has been involved in the peacekeeping mission in Haiti for over five years. A brigade consisting 850 men from the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air Force are stationed in five different camps and serve as peacekeepers in a large area. When I informed them of my upcoming visit to Haiti, Colonel Hareen Walgama, the commanding officer of the 3rd Sri Lanka Corps of Military Police, took responsibility with great enthusiasm and became the officer in charge of my entire visit to Haiti. Col Anura Bandara and several other officers met me at the airport in Port Au Prince and accompanied me to their headquarters in Leagone.

As soon as I got settled I met Colonel Jayantha Perera, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Battalion and discussed the plans for my entire visit and the programs to be conducted during that time. Col. Walgama organized the details of the activities and informed me of the enormous challenges the soldiers had encountered since the earthquake. He felt that the entire Battalion would benefit greatly if I could spend as much time as possible visiting with them, speaking and administering blessing ceremonies in the military camps. I happily agreed and visited four camps during my stay, meeting approximately 80 percent of the peacekeepers. Col. Anura Bandara traveled with me continuously, taking care of any immediate needs and solving any emergent problems.

The Sri Lankan Peacekeepers had a challenging job even before the earthquake. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, many of them took the responsibility of caring for practically every need of these poor affected people. They buried the dead in mass graves, took care of the wounded; they fed the hungry and gave council to the grieving people.

One officer described how they used all the medicine in their storage during the first night and how they even used their blankets to dress the wounds of the injured. Even now, these soldiers are responsible for distributing food to large numbers of people who live in tents. The increasingly challenging job of providing security to these people also continues to fall under their jurisdiction.

All the solders in these units had previously, in one way or another, been involved in the final phase of Sri Lankan war against the Tamil Tigers back home. I am sure that when the war ended and they left Sri Lanka, they thought the painful experience of war was behind them. With the unexpected occurrence of the Haitian earthquake, these soldiers were suddenly immersed in a similar horrific experience. Helping the wounded, burying the dead and rescuing the trapped people must have been quite similar to the battlefield experiences not long left behind.

The more I spent time with them and listened to their stories, the better I understood the daily life they live and the work they do to maintain peace and make this world a better place for all of us to live peacefully. For many of them, attending to the wounded and rescuing trapped people in the absence of gun fire and the fear of getting shot, made this experience a far more preferable choice than war. I hope these dedicated, hardworking men will receive their wish to remain free from the terrors of war throughout their life times. May they continue their peace keeping missions around the world without ever again having to fire the weapons that they are trained to use.