About Father Paul
Father Paul Satkunayagam, is perhaps the most well known and beloved man in Batticaloa. He is multi talented and multi faceted. A man of the cloth, he spent time studying in America at Loyola University, Chicago, where he obtained his doctorate in Psychology. We hear, in his time, he was also a rather good sportsman.
Returning from the United States in 1976, within two years he had developed a ‘Leadership Programme' for children. The process was slow, hampered by the impending war and political problems in the area during the 1980's. The idea of creating the actual homes for the children was born in 1990. On February 4 th , 1991 , Sri Lanka 's Independence Day, the first home opened its doors to 4 boys, amid great celebrations. Funded by the Swedish NGO group Diakonia, ‘Butterfly Garden ' was built in 1996 and acts as the base from which Father Paul runs his operations. At present the programme cares for 175 children, spread over seven homes; three for girls, three for boys, and a vocational training centre.
The backgrounds of the children are varied. Many are orphans, others are fatherless or motherless, the remaining parents either unable to afford to keep their child or remarried. A combination of natural and manmade disasters, namely the Tsunami and the ethnic conflict, are responsible for the large numbers of orphaned and destitute children on the East Coast. The estimate lies in the region of 10,000 orphans, in Batticaloa region alone, prior to the tsunami.
The vocational training centre is peculiar in that it is a home for one year or more to ex-LTTE children, young conscripts, who, for the most part, were snatched from their families.
Though Father Paul is himself a Jesuit priest, his homes are open to Hindus and Christians and all other religions alike. All are treated equally.
Despite their ordeals and the grief they have suffered, the children, fostered by Father Paul and his team are vivacious, loving, playful and have proven themselves to be extremely resilient. They play games with each other, they study hard, they talk openly with strangers who visit, they are not afraid of being treated differently by society. It takes time after entering a home for a child to become fully integrated, but Father Paul is confident that, after 6 months or so, he or she will have rapidly improved because of the ethos he has installed, the loving atmosphere that is common to all the homes.
This is not to say that the homes are not in need. Materially they are often found to be deficient, and even spiritually and psychologically Father Paul seeks improvement. So, at present, he is working on a counselling scheme for those children who have suffered particularly greatly. Yet there are few trained councillors willing to work purely to help others, without the many-zeroed payslip. He is currently on the search.
Father Paul would also like permanent volunteers to stay at the homes for a minimum of 6 months and has made this request to Living Heritage accordingly. Such a volunteer could form strong bonds with the children, who would pick up English, and learn how to interact with westerners. Previous volunteers have stayed within the homes for around six weeks, but this is not long enough – the children form attachments with these short term volunteers just in time to say goodbye. The permanent volunteers would circulate the homes, teaching and befriending the children for a sustained period of time.
As can be seen from the individual reports for each home, there is considerable room for improvement, which is why Living Heritage is working so closely with Father Paul. If you would like to make a donation please contact Father Paul himself, if you are interested in volunteering please contact the Living Heritage project coordinator, Patrick Harrigan.
___Father Paul's Homes: