Vakarai, Batticaloa, Armugam Kannagi wiped off the tears in her eyes and hastily walked out of the room. She went to the next room to see some other exhibits that were about different kinds of vocations that people can start.
"I could not stop my tears when I saw the single shoe hanging from the board and the message next to it saying," 50-year-old Kannagi. "I lost everything in the tsunami and had always thought that I had suffered the most, but when I saw the things displayed in the room I realized that some people have suffered more than me."
Kannagi had come with her family and neighbours to see the exhibition put up by Oxfam and its local partners in a government school in Vakarai. She lives in a camp of displaced people, a few kilometers away from the school. This was the first time she got an opportunity to leave the camp and meet with other people affected by the tsunami.
The exhibition was organized on June 26 to mark the six months of the tsunami devastation that left some 31,000 people dead and thousands homeless. The theme of the exhibition was "We will wipe the tears caused by the tsunami".
Broken tea cups, family pictures, utensils, a sewing machine, parts of radio and television sets, shoes, school bags, grocery bags and household items that survived the killer wave on the Boxing Day were on display in the one section of the exhibition. Each of the items had a message pinned next to it explaining why it had been brought there.
"This pair of shoes, my daughter liked most" an inscription pinned next to a single shoe read. "My son carried this bag to school," read another. Long winding queues were outside all the three different sections of the exhibition. Some 2,500 people - men, women and schoolchildren - who visited the exhibition, were keen to see what was on display.
Dressed in his Sunday best 10-year-old Kajan spent a long time in the Public Health section trying to understand why the life-size model of a woman beeped. "The man demonstrating the model told me that if the model gets any impure water it beeps," he said. "It was fascinating, I had never seen such a thing."
"It's a part of the healing process," said Shanti Sivanesan, Oxfam GB's Gender and Protection Project Officer, who organized the exhibition with the help of partner organizations and volunteers. "We wanted the people to come out of their camp environment and spend some time with others who have also been affected by the tsunami." Most of the people affected by the tsunami have been holed up in their camps and never got an opportunity to spend a day away from the camp environment.
"I never expected such a huge response to our invitation," said Karim, district coordinator of Sarvodaya, a local partner organization. "For the past one week we have worked round the clock to set up this exhibition. It seems to have paid off very well."
Visitors were asked to write their impressions on a saree that was produced by the tsunami-affected weavers in the neighbouring Ampara district.
"Like Oxfam distributes water and quenches our thirst, this exhibition will heal our wounds," wrote M. Mooraj.
"The exhibition makes me feel that I was not the only one affected by the tsunami. It gives us confidence that we can overcome hardships and rebuild our lives," read another comment. "Thank you for holding the exhibition," wrote Jagadees. "This exhibition strengthens the confidence of the people," read another comment.
"This exhibition gives us peace of mind, it seems this exhibition will bring us out of the tsunami situation," wrote Jude from Vakarai.
Oxfam has been working in Vakarai, one of the poorest divisions in Sri Lanka, for the past 10 years. "After the tsunami we enlarged our programme in this area and now we have provided assistance to all the 6,000 families affected by the tsunami,'' said M. Yogeswaran, Oxfam's Batticaloa Programme Coordinator.
Along with the partner organizations, Oxfam GB has built 176 transitional shelters all over the district. Some 150 are under construction in Eralodai village in Vakarai division. Oxfam is working in 12 camps, providing people with 135,000 litres of drinking water everyday. Also the residents of these camps are given cash grant to start their own businesses as well as they are involved in Cash For Work programmes undertaken in the area to clear the debris.
"Several livelihood programmes have been implemented,'' said Raghurama Murthy, Assistant Programme Coordinator. "We are going to distribute boats fitted with outboard motors and fishing gear to some 40 fishermen, who have been identified by the Fisheries Department." Providing livelihood grants and raising the living conditions of the people are the key components of Oxfam GB's tsunami response programme in the country. (OXFAM)