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But the founder of Mencafep worries about those stuck in camps for internally displaced persons.
NUWARA ELIYA, Sri Lanka — When aid workers found Mahinda, he was living in a drainage ditch in a government-run institution for the mentally ill. Abandoned by his parents, the child, about 5 years old, was malnourished, wore only a dog collar and growled when anyone came close.
"He was like a wild, wild animal," said Chris Stubbs, one of the volunteers who found Mahinda. "He would growl and bite, eat food off the floor."
Mahinda is in his mid-20s today and has grown up at a group home for disabled children run by Mencafep, one of the few organizations working with the disabled here. With therapy, Mahinda has learned to communicate and interact socially. He works as an assistant gardener on the two acres that house the nonprofit’s group home and classrooms.
Stubbs founded The Mentally Handicapped Children and Their Families Project 20 years ago, after he came to Sri Lanka from Britain as a volunteer. In a country where disabilities are often considered karmic punishment for sins committed in a past life, the group’s centers are a sanctuary for children and young adults like Mahinda.
But it's the kids Mencafep can't reach that worry Stubbs. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We hear lots of stories about kids being locked up or left to die."
|Mahinda is in his mid-20s and grew up at the Mencafep group home. Through therapy he has learned to speak and interact socially, and he works as an assistant gardener on the two acres surrounding Mencafep's facilities.
(Stephanie Rice/Global Post)
In addition to those shut away in homes or abandoned, Stubbs is concerned about the disabled living inside the dozens of sprawling, barbed-wire camps that house those who were displaced earlier this year when the government ratcheted up its military offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
The government declared victory over the militant separatist group, officially known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in May, ending one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars in history.
Because independent journalists and aid groups were kept out of the conflict zone, no one knows how many died or were badly injured during the final months of the bloodletting. Access to the camps, which the government says are necessary to screen out militants hiding among the civilian population, has been severely restricted.
According to government figures, about 136,000 remain in the camps, down from 300,000 immediately after the war. Basil Rajapaksa, a senior adviser to his brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has said the remaining detainees will be released next month.
Unable to reach the displaced Tamils inside the camps, Stubbs recently set up a satellite center in Trincomalee, close to one of the biggest camps. More than six months after the end of the war, he’s disturbed by the lack of information available to aid groups. “We hear many rumors of disappearances, lots of death and disease but no real clarification,” he said.