Kokkeliya is a poor farming village located in the southern part of Vavuniya district. Some 155 families have now returned and resettled there permanently, after being periodically displaced over the past 25 years as a consequence of the conflict.
The village is predominantly Sinhalese in ethnicity and lies in close proximity to several Tamil villages, with which it has had strong social and trade relations historically. As a result, Kokkeliya villagers are largely bilingual.
But in recent times Kokkeliya farmers have had limited contact with their Tamil neighbours and the intra communal ties developed over generations have gradually withered due to their long displacement. This has been compounded by the destruction of a bund access road that connected Kokkeliya with the Tamil villages in the days of the conflict.
Since June 2010, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with funding from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), has been working in Kokkeliya to rehabilitate the main irrigation system (anicut) that was used to retain and channel water to the paddy lands used by the farmers. The anicut was heavily damaged during the conflict, rendering most of the paddy fields fallow.
IOM is also reconstructing the bund access road to facilitate the regeneration and strengthening of commerce and social relations between Kokkeliya and the neighbouring villages.
On the 30th of April this year, the villagers of Kokkeliya came together with their neighbours from Nochchimotai, Santhasolai, Maharambikulam and Karupanichankulam to celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
The event was held in Kokkeliya and was the first of its kind in the area, bringing about the biggest community gathering in over 60 years.
The celebration was attended by most families from the five villages. Over 300 people attended, with adults and children taking part in 25 activities, including a ‘marathon’ race, pillow fights, greasy pole climbing competition, pinning the eye on the elephant, fancy dress for children and many other games.
“It was truly wonderful to see so many Sinhala and Tamil families coming together and happily participating in these group activities and we hope that this is the beginning of many other productive joint activities that will mutually benefit all communities in this area” said IOM Field Officer Jemeen, who attended the event.
The celebrations were a resounding success and the local community leaders, together with IOM officers, hope to continue the development of social and trade linkages in the coming years to ensure a speedy recovery and return to normalcy for all the people in the region.