In May 2009 Sri Lanka’s long and dreadful civil war was finally brought to an horrific end. Ruthlessly driven to a small strip of land on the tip of the island’s north-east coast, tens of thousands of innocent civilians died, smashed by artillery, killed by snipers, denied medical treatment and starved to death beneath the baking sun.
This ferocious battle consolidated and highlighted the terrors of the preceding twenty-six years of war, characterised by vicious murders and desperate acts from both sides, where civilians were bombarded, kidnapped, raped and tortured with impunity.
In such a vicious war, was there any room for humanity?
Para Paheer’s story could be one of tens of thousands, except that he lived to tell the world of the horrors; but more importantly, to record and pay tribute to those, often courageous, people without whom he would probably not be alive. He was thirty-one when he was rescued from the Indian Ocean while sailing to Australia to seek asylum. While in Christmas Island Detention Centre, Para became penfriends with Alison Corke, a member of the Apollo Bay branch of Rural Australians for Refugees, in Victoria. On his release from detention in 2011, Para moved in with the Corke family.
“From our first letters, exchanged while Para was in detention and trying to improve his English,
I knew he was an exceptional young man, with an astonishing tale to tell.
I am proud to be helping him share his story and to find and thank those people who helped him survive,
often against massive odds…Time and again, Para and I agreed that it is the little things that matter most –
those small, often unremembered acts of kindness that can change someone’s world.
We all have the power to do something; only we can choose whether to use that power for the good.”
– Alison Corke