Australia and Sri Lanka - 75 Years of Friendship

Robyn Mudie
March 8, 2022

During the four years I served as Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Australia was making a strong contribution to post-conflict reconstruction. In partnership with international non-government organisations, the Sri Lankan government and local organisations, we funded housing and school rebuilding programs for communities in the north and east of the country.  Our support helped children get back into full time education, supported community recovery and laid the foundations for future economic stability.  

I had the privilege of opening a number of schools in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu which we had helped to rebuild.  These ceremonies symbolised a return to a peaceful and normal life for conflict-affected communities.  On one occasion I met a school principal, who had seen his school destroyed, had lost students, and had seen numerous families traumatised by conflict. He was overcome with emotion as he described how his students had persisted with their studies in open air classrooms in all weathers, even as their families came to terms with devastating loss and destruction. For him the school reopening marked the return of hope for his community, and particularly for the children.  I was humbled by the emotion expressed by this dedicated man as he thanked me for Australia’s help.  

Our programs also had a strong focus on the many female-headed households which had resulted from the conflict. In addition to housing reconstruction, we provided women with the skills and knowledge they needed to become economically independent. In my travels around the country, I met many beneficiaries of our programs.  I will never forget conversations I had with women who had lost so much, but who were determined to rebuild their lives.

In early 2014, at a community centre near Mullaitivu, I sat on the floor with a group of women who had received our support to rebuild their homes. It was the monsoon, and the village was flooded. The unsealed roads were awash with mud, but these women were doing whatever they could to send their children to school every day, wearing their obligatory white school uniforms.  They explained to me that they had to wash the uniforms every day, but, on some days, they were forced to send their children to school in clean, but wet, clothes. The women asked me if there was anything I could do to provide a shared facility to dry the children’s clothes, a practical request that was typical of Sri Lankan women I met. They were always thinking ahead and trying their best to take the initiative and shape a more positive future for their families. This conversation also showed their unshakeable commitment to, and pride in, their children’s education, even in the most challenging circumstances. These courageous women were not content to passively receive our support, they were determined to use it to build a future for their families.

Conversations like this with conflict-affected communities were an inspiring reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, as well as the grit and determination of Sri Lankan people. To me, these occasions also illustrated the depth of trust and friendship betweenAustralia and Sri Lanka.  I was privileged to be welcomed into these communities and to learn about their experiences and hopes for the future.  

For 75 years, Australia and Sri Lanka have shared a friendship on which such trust and warmth is built. It permeates every part of our engagement with this extraordinary country.  I am very proud to have been a part of this story.