On Easter Sunday 2019, a series of coordinated bomb explosions killed 269 people, including at least 45 children, in several churches and tourist hotels across Sri Lanka. One of the churches targeted was Zion Church in Batticaloa; a church ACCI field workers Narel and Alison Atkinson have partnered with for many years. Sadly, 28 people lost their lives at Zion Church, including 14 children who had just finished Sunday School and were eating breakfast near where the bomb was detonated.
In response, the Atkinsons – who oversee the HelpKids education centre – began an urgent appeal to help families devastated by the violence. Through the support of generous ACCI supporters, and other donors both locally and globally, they raised close to AU$75,000. Working hand-in-hand with Zion Church, these funds provided:
- temporary income support for families;
- medical assistance for those seriously injured;
- educational and other assistance for orphaned/single parent children; and
- support for families to start or increase the capacity of small businesses.
Here, Alison reflects on how her team, and two teams visiting from Australia, were able to help these families with practical and emotional support during this difficult time.
How were you able to assist families in the immediate aftermath of the bombing?
During the days following the bombing, there were many seriously injured people needing operations and care, which was a huge strain on the local government hospital. People who were injured, especially with shrapnel in their bodies, were sent home and told they would be operated on at a later date. These people had been traumatised already and having the shrapnel in their bodies was most distressing. We were able to help some of these people have the shrapnel removed at a private hospital. They were so grateful and relieved.
We then moved into assisting families with small businesses so they could support their families; this brought light and hope into their devastated worlds. We also participated in a full-day workshop for children, together with another organisation. The purpose was to allow the children to express how they were feeling with what they saw, experienced and the loss many of them felt. We did games, artwork, group chats and were able to give all the children a gift at the end of the day.
A year on, what stands out to you about this time and the work you and your team were able to do?
Today, we continue to have a personal connection with many of the families we have helped over the past year. Naturally, their hearts continue to grieve and they miss their loved ones every day but we thank God that today, they have a smile on their faces and live with hope in their hearts, even in the darkest time.
Narel and I would like to thank everyone who gave so generously towards the appeal for the Easter bombing, which enabled us to come alongside so many amazing families. We saw great sorrow beyond measure but we are so grateful because now we see people’s lives healing and hope returning. We felt very honoured to be a part of this and that these families allowed us into their lives.
The loss of a son
On Easter Sunday 2019, Rita* attended Zion Church, along with her husband, daughter and young son. Rita is the leader of the Sunday school and that day she was teaching.
Rita’s young son was killed in the bombing, along with many of the children that were there. Rita became very depressed as she mourned for her own son, as well as her students– many of whom she had taught for many years.
Narel and our team visited Rita and her family regularly in the weeks and months after the bombings. One of the dreams Rita felt had been lost forever was her son’s dream to follow in his carpenter father’s footsteps and join him in the workshop he hoped to start one day. Through the funds we received from Australia to help families affected by the bombings, we were able to purchase an industrial all-purpose carpentry machine to support Rita’s husband to start this workshop.
It’s now been over a year since the bombings and while there hasn’t been a day Rita hasn’t thought of her beautiful boy, she now has hope. The family also continues to build their dream carpentry business in memory of their son.