Universal lessons: Canberra experts fight alcohol, domestic abuse in Sri Lanka
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Universal lessons: Canberra experts fight alcohol, domestic abuse in Sri Lanka

Dr Kamalini Lokuge​'s heart broke when she heard how a Sri Lankan preschool child told his teacher that "his dad always drinks and his mum runs around the house at night saying she's going to kill herself".

His teacher was telling the senior research fellow at ANU, who recently set up a preschool education program in Sri Lanka targeting family violence and alcohol abuse, how the once cheerful, fast-learning boy became a destructive, inattentive student when his father returned to the family home.

Dr Kamalini Lokuge recently returned from Sri Lanka where she started an education preschool program for family violence and alcohol abuse.

Dr Kamalini Lokuge recently returned from Sri Lanka where she started an education preschool program for family violence and alcohol abuse.Credit:Graham Tidy

Dr Lokuge was part of a team of Canberra experts that set up the program aimed at educating teachers about domestic and alcohol violence and connecting them to support services in an effort to break down the stigma attached with seeking help.

A woman is raped every 90 minutes in Sri Lanka, according to women's rights pressure group, Women For Rights. The group's research showed a steady increase in domestic violence reports, increase in child abuse reports and higher economic dependence of women.

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Dr Lokuge (right) with people she worked with in Sri Lanka: Mr Gamini (back, social worker), Mr Aponso (front left, local community member/organiser), Mrs Aponso, (local community member/organiser), Dr Thinini Rajapakse (psychiatrist) and  Mrs Laxmi (preschool teacher).

Dr Lokuge (right) with people she worked with in Sri Lanka: Mr Gamini (back, social worker), Mr Aponso (front left, local community member/organiser), Mrs Aponso, (local community member/organiser), Dr Thinini Rajapakse (psychiatrist) and Mrs Laxmi (preschool teacher).

The United Nations found alcohol contributes heavily to domestic violence in Sri Lanka and that disorganised and scarce intervention actions by legal, police and medical systems produce a barrier to legal proceedings.

And the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, at about 20 per 100,000 of the population, the World Health Organisation reports.

The Canberra team, which included Dennise Simpson who ran the Domestic Violence Crisis Service in the ACT for decades, believed early intervention was the best way to help alleviate the problem as Sri Lankans highly value education.

"Most of these people are spending nearly all of their money on educating their children so we have this message not to stop violence just because it the right thing to do but because it is what you need to do to help your kids learn," Dr Lokuge said.

They also hope to learn universal lessons that will help in any setting, including back home.

"Some of the work we have done has shown there is not a lot of evidence for what works in terms of family violence in low-resource settings, even in Australia," she said.

"So we are working with local government, with psychiatrists, with social workers and mums and dads and will train people at different levels to provide information about what impacts family violence and alcohol abuse.

"If you can show that this works in a low-resource setting and you are doing it within existing low infrastructure, nobody has an excuse to say it is too hard or too difficult in other settings. Once people have the knowledge, power and the tools, they will respond in any setting, including in Australia."

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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