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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. 

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reaching out after tsunami

The Academic: Associated Press, Fri July 29, 2005 03:55 EDT . When Pat Smith helped rebuild a Sri Lankan village in March, he was struck by the thousands of tents that dotted the coastal landscape.

"We drove for two hours down the coast to get to the site, and it was just total devastation on both sides," he said.

Seven months after a deadly tsunami hit South Asia, those tent cities still stand.

So Smith hopes to join 300 volunteers from Kentucky Habitat for Humanity this fall to put the people from an entire Indian village back into homes of their own.

From October to December, six teams of 50 to 60 volunteers will work two-week shifts in Killai in southern India to build 111 houses. They'll also build a health clinic, a community center and a school.

Smith said that since the tsunami, aid workers have mostly focused on temporary housing for those who were displaced. It's time to start rebuilding whole communities, he said.

"Trying to acquire the land, getting government approval -- it's a bit of a logistical nightmare," he said. "The government doesn't want them to rebuild right on the coast. The fact is, it's their property. We can come in and build safe houses for them."

Habitat picked Killai because the land acquisitions and government permits are almost ready, Smith said.

The houses will include sleeping and family space, inside kitchens, and attached toilets with exterior entrances. Each will be equipped with electricity and piped-in water. And they'll be elevated so sand won't blow in.

The Kentucky volunteers will work on the first long-term project in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Habitat for Humanity International hopes to build 2,000 houses.

Since the Dec. 26 tsunami displaced more than 5 million people, 30 teams of 12 to 15 volunteers from around the country have gone to South Asia and spent one to two weeks rebuilding. Habitat's goal is to put up 35,000 homes in the next two years.

Charlene Stone, volunteer coordinator for the Kentucky project, said she hoped airlines would give discounts for anyone who travels to India to help rebuild. Otherwise, volunteers will have to pay full fare. She said round trip from Lexington ranges from $1,700 to $2,400.

Kentucky Habitat organizers are trying to raise $100,000 for construction costs.

"It's such a good feeling to go over there and give a little bit of sweat," she said. "When you think of how much these people need, it's really not that much to give."

Volunteer Ed Todd said seeing the devastation in Sri Lanka in March was enough to make him want to go to India this fall.

"Your heart just goes out to them," Todd said. "They had to get some kind of shelter, so they just staked their claim on their foundation with wooden shacks. It's nothing a good wind-wouldn't blow away."

Brian Smith also worked in Sri Lanka. He said the smiles from people moving into their new homes encouraged him to want to return.

"These people are not wealthy," he said. "At the dedication ceremony, their friends and family brought us food and drink, stuff you know they don't have to give."

Brian Smith said lack of construction skills shouldn't keep anyone from volunteering.

"If you can push a wheelbarrow or carry water, there's certainly something to be done," he said.

"The need for people is great. It takes a couple weeks out of your life, and that's a big thing to give up. But when you consider these people need help in such a desperate way, it's not a big sacrifice."

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