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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Man-made trouble in wake of tsunami

Tsunami in Asia - MSNBC.com: By Kari Huus, Reporter, MSNBC, Updated: 12:56 p.m. ET June 17, 2005
In the wake of the tsunami that devastated villages and killed tens of thousands in Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, there was a second wave of well-meaning volunteers rushing to the region to help rebuild.
It was in this pandemonium, MSNBC.com has learned, that an American with felony convictions for drug trafficking, sexual assault and check fraud surfaced to run an orphanage in Sri Lanka for more than two months. The judo master from San Diego, with a trail of aliases and deception, raised tens of thousands of dollars at the children’s facility before fleeing the country in the face of an investigation.
The man, Daniel Curry, 37, is actually Daniel Wooley, 41, and is also known as Daniel Taze — the latter a registered sex offender in California. He used the name Fogg while serving time in a Mexican prison for drug trafficking. Somewhere along the way, presumably after his release from prison in March 2003 he linked up with Michelle Curry, a computer professional in San Diego, and started using her surname.
No formal charges have been filed against Wooley, according to Harendra Da Silva, director of Sri Lanka’s National Child Protection Agency, who communicated with MSNBC.com by e-mail. But the agency is looking into several “major concerns”: “A man on a sex offenders list being in charge of an orphanage; fundraising in the name of tsunami for a non-tsunami orphanage; the Criminal Investigation Department has been informed of possible fraud.”
Michelle Curry, who is about 30, remains in Sri Lanka — banned from the orphanage along with all other foreigners for the duration of the investigation. She says the probe is completely unwarranted, sparked by backbiting among aid workers and corruption in Sri Lanka. As for her partner Daniel’s checkered past, she says: “He has completely turned around... He is putting everything into helping people.”
While no one disputes that the orphanage has been transformed in recent months, donors have distanced themselves from the project since learning of Wooley’s past. Volunteers who took part in that transformation are devastated by the scandal, worried both for themselves and for the children at the orphanage who are cut off from help.
Contacted by phone in the United States, Wooley denied any wrongdoing in Sri Lanka, and stressed the improvements made at the orphanage. In an angry harangue, he accused his critics of child molestation and child pornography, and said he was pursuing legal action for slander. He also threatened to sue this reporter for libel. Though Wooley agreed to a formal interview, he did not answer his phone at the scheduled time or return calls to reschedule.
Aggressive paceCurry and Wooley arrived in Colombo on Jan. 18 from San Diego, where she had been a free-lance computer professional with experience raising money for aid projects. He had a marine services business in the city.
When they first visited Ruhunu State Receiving Home for Children in the devastated coastal city of Galle, the children were neglected and the facility was squalid. Curry said they produced an improvement plan based on her experience at a similar orphanage in Nicaragua, and formed a partnership with the government to improve the home. Wooley was to oversee construction work, and she was to raise money and take care of logistics, she said.
Ruhunu became a magnet for tsunami volunteers and donors who were looking for a place to contribute. Of the 40-50 children at the orphanage, only one was actually orphaned by the tsunami, visitors were told, but the need was glaring. Wooley and Curry set about hiring new staff, and writing up complaints against workers they judged to be incompetent or negligent.
The children were treated for scabies, staph and impetigo. The home’s leaking roof was repaired, its well was fixed and a fence was built around the facility.
The work generated a whirl of publicity. The musician Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, an ambassador for UNICEF’s national committee in Britain, visited. Sting made a personal contribution, the American Red Cross contributed aid packages for the children and a local paper carried a glowing account of the couple’s work.
Donations poured in.
Tension in the ranksBut the atmosphere at the home was uneasy. There was a steady exodus of volunteers put off by Daniel and Michelle.
Local workers referred to Wooley as “King Daniel” because of his imperious attitude.
“They were basically running it like a plantation in Civil War days,” says Debbie Nordstrom, a 46-year-old financial consultant who volunteered at the orphanage in February. “(Daniel) would line up the local workers every morning and say ‘You, you and you … and then yell, ‘the rest of you, get the hell out of here!’”
“He treated them like slaves,” she says. “It was horrible.”
“I was a hard-ass,” Wooley told MSNBC.com in one phone conversation, “but I had to be to make things happen. I stopped people who were stealing from children every single day.” He says he hired and fired to weed out workers and volunteers who weren’t working out.
Some of the volunteers kept their distance.
“Nobody really liked Daniel, but what (he and Michelle) were doing seemed really positive,” says Karen Helms, a volunteer from Utah who worked with the children for two weeks in February. “Kids were definitely getting better care. We saw so much improvement in the short time we were there.”

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