Rising out of a thick forest about 17 km from the nearest main road, the Madhu Church is a symbol of spiritual harmony and tranquility. When the wind blows you hear the leaves rustle. Other times a solemn silence hangs in the air. Old-timers say that once, almost an entire generation ago, the grass grew six feet high in the church compound, and elephants wandered through it.
The village of Valipunam, 322 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, occupies one of the remotest corners of the country’s former war zone. The dirt roads are impossible to navigate, there are no street lights, telephone connections are patchy and the nearest police post is miles away, closer to the centre of the battle-scarred Mullaitivu district.
It has been four years since the guns fell silent in Sri Lanka’s northern Vanni region, after almost three decades of ethnic violence. Unfortunately peace does not mean the end of hardship for the most vulnerable people here: the women.