As executive director of Survivors Associated, which works for the psychosocial healing of people affected by war, Shanti Christine Arulampalam has helped transform many formerly ravaged lives. She and her organization have assisted more than 27,000 people in four districts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. As a Sinhala working among Tamils, Shanti has often been viewed with suspicion, but has won over her critics with her hard work and transparent approach.
After finishing her studies in business management, Shanti Christine Arulampalam taught English and mathematics in the Maldives for two years. She then returned to Sri Lanka to work as a business manager. In 1967, Shanti, who is a Sinhala, married a Tamil, but the marriage was not happy. She was left to take care of her two boys, and she went to work in a premier export house. The event that changed Shanti's life was her gratuitous, inexplicable arrest by the police in 1986. Her surname, which was that of her estranged husband, had led to her being misidentified as a Tamil, and she was imprisoned. In jail, Shanti met many Tamil women and heard their stories of human rights abuses. Her influential Sinhala family tracked her down and secured her release, but her experience decided her life's course - to serve people affected by the ethnic conflict. Paradoxically, she felt that her Tamil surname might actually be helpful. From 1987 to 1989, several refugee camps were set up around her home in Colombo's suburbs. She subsequently worked for the Family Rehabilitation Centre, helping those whom the war had devastated. She developed programs of training and services in psychosocial care, working through young educated persons from conflict zones. They were designated "befrienders" and "counselors". In 1996, she decided to set up her own organization, Survivors Associated, of which she is voluntary executive director. She and her organization have helped more than 27,000 people in four districts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.