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A Peace Refuge Struggles to Survive the Tsunami

The Butterfly Garden, home to child victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war, reaches out to Canadian friends.

By Stephen Osborne 7 Jan 2005 |
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In the town of Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, stands a walled enclave known as the Butterfly Garden. The Butterfly Garden was once the orchard of St. Michael’s Jesuit college and is now a retreat for children traumatized by the civil war that has been raging in Sri Lanka for the last twenty years.

Batticaloa was destroyed by the tsunami in December and many thousands have died, and many more thousands are homeless. Fr. Satkunanayagam who administers the Garden has lost his home, and the family that lived with him all died. Paul Hogan, Creative Director of the Garden since its inception in 1994, has lost his home and all of his possessions. The Garden itself is on high ground and is still intact, and has been transformed into a refuge for the homeless, who are now threatened by disease and floods. (Information about where to send donations appears at the end of this article.)

Paul Hogan is an artist who lives part of the year in Toronto, where sixteen years ago in the tiny forest grove behind the Bloorview MacMillan Centre (off Bayview Avenue), he co-founded the Spiral Garden, a remarkable place of recovery and healing for physically challenged and chronically ill children. The Butterfly Garden in Sri Lanka grew out of the Spiral Garden after the Centre for Peace Studies and Health Reach, both at McMaster University, began studying the effects of war on children in the former Yugoslavia, the West Bank and Sri Lanka. In 1994 some of the Sri Lankan participants in that study invited Paul Hogan to come to Sri Lanka to see what might be done there. The result is the Butterfly Garden, which opened in 1996, an oasis of reconciliation and healing for Sri Lankan children affected by war. Paul Hogan works as artist-in-residence at the Butterfly Garden six months of the year.

Children from six to sixteen years of age attend the Butterfly Garden for nine months, one day a week, in groups of fifty drawn from the local Tamil and Muslim populations. Many of them have endured profound family loss and witnessed great horror: they are the children of terror. In the Butterfly Garden these children are slowly restored to themselves and to the world through play and storytelling, music and drama, the arts of painting and puppetry and participation in the life of a garden. Reconstructed rituals of genogram-making (The Mother-Father Journey) allow them to begin telling the story of their families and their villages; group storytelling allows them to find the narrative and dramatic power to represent new worlds of their own making. Many of the Butterfly Garden staff were themselves child victims of the war, and working there is for them a process of healing and recovery. The work of the Butterfly Garden extends to the villages in the countryside through a program of outreach and by means of the Butterfly Garden Bus, which was a gift from the World University Services of Canada.

The war in Sri Lanka is becoming a very old war, and it has made refugees of more than a quarter of a million people. Sri Lanka is an island half the size of Newfoundland, with a population of 18 million.

A central experience in the Butterfly Garden is playing on Mud Mountain (a pile of mud), an activity which often leads to the development of story elements. The story that follows found its beginnings with a group of six children who met at Mud Mountain in 1997.

“Blood of the Mango”

(A story created by Zareefdeen Mohamed Ithrish, Haniffa Iqbal, Lariff Riswin, Abdul Cader Riswana, Slevarajah Matihikaran and Halitheen Shathikeen, and translated by Paul Hogan. It appears in Blood of the Mango and Other Tales, published by the Butterfly Garden Professional and Psychological Counselling Centre, 1a Upstair Road, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.)

The brothers Iqbal and Mustan lived on Mount Himalaya, which was a mountain not to be confused with the Great Himalayas of Northern India, for Mount Himalaya was singular and small and located on a jungle island in the southern sea, where Iqbal and Mustan were both circuit court judges who used to ride around on their camel hearing cases, weighing evidence and deciding people’s fates.

One night when Iqbal and Mustan were out on their circuit they stayed in a rest house where they were both bitten by a mosquito. They were annoyed by this and decided to find the offending mosquito and bring him to justice.

Along the way they asked everyone they happened to meet if they had seen the culprit, and indeed almost everyone they asked had also been bitten. There was a mouse, a turtle, a rabbit, a duck, a snake, a deer and a monkey. The mosquito had bitten each of them in turn. They decided to join in the search and help Iqbal and Mustan track down the culprit.

With so many in the posse it was not hard to find the mosquito. They entered the shade of a cool garden in a small seaside village and there he was, sleeping soundly under a coconut palm on an overturned bucket beside the well. They approached him stealthily, arrested him and secured him to the stalk of a tall orange marigold with his wings tied behind his back. The interrogation then began:

“Are you the criminal who bit us?” asked Iqbal.

“I am not a criminal,” answered the mosquito. “I am just doing what comes naturally. I was hungry so I bit.”

The mouse, the rabbit and the monkey cried out for justice. “He admits it—he bit us! He must die.”

Some of the others disagreed. The wise old turtle stepped forward and presented a thoughtful alternative. “It is true that he bit us, but it is also true that seeking blood and biting are in his nature. He cannot help it. Let us have mercy and not take his life. Let us instead banish him from Mount Himalaya to a place so far away he will no longer bother us.”

The duck and the snake immediately agreed. This was a more reasonable and compassionate course to follow. The deer kept silent. He had found some fresh grass to chew and was more interested in that. Iqbal and Mustan conferred. “Where will we send him?” they asked.

The animals discussed it among themselves and came up with a popular destination.

“Let us send him to Canada,” they said. They all seemed pleased with this, but the mosquito himself dissented.

“Oh please don’t send me to Canada. It is so cold and the blood of the people there is very bland, I’m told. Not hot and spicy blood like I’m used to.”

Mustan spoke. “We are not sending you on leave, Mosquito. We are banishing you for being such a menace here.”

Iqbal pondered aloud. “The problem with sending him to Canada is that he will become a menace there. Surely, after time, he will break down and bite a Canadian, even if their blood is not to his taste. Then the Canadian will try to kill him. He will be in the same fix there as he is here. Sending this mosquito to Canada does not solve the problem.”

“Then send him to Colombo,” said the duck. “The place is full of mosquitoes. Who will notice one more?”

“That is true,” said Iqbal, “but justice is not served by sending him there for surely he will bite a Colombo person and we are back where we began.”

“Then send him to Eravur,” said the deer, looking up from his grass. “The people there are very nice. Maybe the mosquito will not bite them.”

But we are very nice too,” said the mouse. “That didn’t stop him from biting us.”

“True,” said Iqbal, “the mosquito bites good and bad alike. He makes no distinction. Wherever we send him, he will bite.”

“So let us not banish him,” said Mustan. “Let him remain here where we can keep an eye on him, but he must agree to leave us alone. He must under no circumstances bite us.”

“Then what will I do when I’m hungry?” asked the mosquito.

“How about this,” said the turtle. “We will find a fruit whose juice you like. You will agree to eat it and leave us alone.” The mosquito thought this was a very naïve solution but he kept silent. The court appeared to be running out of steam and if he did not agree they’d soon be proposing the death penalty again.

The animals favoured the turtle’s suggestion and even the judges seemed convinced of its merit. But the blood of which fruit would most likely satisfy the mosquito’s needs? That was the question. The mosquito was untied and many different kinds of fruit were brought before him. Wood apple, guava, pineapple, durian, rambutan, jackfruit, papaya, banana, breadfruit. The list went on interminably. He would stick his stinger in and choke back a small sip but most of the fruits were very bland or otherwise disagreeable. The Canadian option was beginning to look more and more attractive. The mosquito decided to change his mind and argue for banishment to Canada. It was difficult pretending he liked the unpalatable fruits he was being forced to sample.

Then the snake slithered over with a beautiful ripe mango in his mouth. This looked rather tempting. The aura of the mango seemed different from that of the other fruits and when he tested its skin for permeability he found there was both a give to it and a resistance, not unlike human flesh. Maybe he could get to like this fruit?

The mosquito pressed home his prod and drank deeply from the juice of the mango. His translucent belly filled up with its deep golden nectar. All the animals gathered around. The mosquito drank his fill, then merrily buzzed off bursting with bright mango energy.

Iqbal and Mustan mounted their camel and headed for the nearest rest house. It made them happy to think there would be no more mosquito bites to worry about that night, or ever again, on Mount Himalaya.

Stephen Osborne is founding editor of Geist magazine, where a version of this article appeared.

If you are interested in helping The Butterfly Peace Garden in Sri Lanka, cheques or money orders should be made out to:

Phoenix Community Works Foundation, marked:
The Garden Path Campaign on behalf of the Butterfly Peace Garden, Emergency Response, and mailed to:
Larry Rooney, Executive Director
2nd Floor, 292 Brunswick Avenue
Toronto M58 2M7
(You will be issued a tax receipt for donations over $35.00.)

Assistance for Paul Hogan can be given by direct deposit made to:
Toronto Dominion—Canada Trust Acct No: 1104 6408 835,
and the money will be transferred immediately to Mr. Hogan. (These donations are not tax-deductible.)

All donations are transferred immediately to their recipients at the Butterfly Peace Garden: they do not go through the NGO process, which tends to get bogged down by political interference.

The Garden Path Campaign is a fundraising and capacity building effort on behalf of The Butterfly Peace Garden. The Campaign’s project partner, Phoenix Community Works Foundation, is a registered charity that assists in the building of local, regional and international communities.  [Tyee]

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