At the Lake House Welfare Center on the grounds of a school in Matara in southern Sri Lanka, M.K. Darmadasa seems marooned. He is a fisherman and boatmaker by trade, but finds himself still displaced from the seaside by the December 26 tsunami. The Sri Lankan government has imposed a 100 meter "buffer zone" along the coast in which construction is forbidden, and although the restriction is being ignored by hotel owners and other private businessmen along the southern coast, displaced Sri Lankan fishermen are languishing in camps several kilomters from the sea, awaiting a government decision about where their permanent homes will be built.
Mr. Darmadasa is a vigorous 54 years old and exudes energy. Although he is unable to fish regularly, he has re-started his boat building business on the camp grounds. He lost his grinders and drills in the tsunami, but has been able to buy some basic tools. His boats are elegant --- made from fiberglass, very narrow, shaped like a thin canoe, with "double hulls," enclosed hollow spaces at either end that keep the boats afloat. He jumps into the boat he is currently working on and shows his visitors from Refugees International how easy the boat is to bail.
With so many boats having been washed away in the tsunami, demand for Mr. Darmadasa's services is brisk. Materials for a single boat cost about $200 and a boat sells for $350. It takes 10 days to build each boat. He does the work himself.
Mr. Darmadasa's entire family --- his wife, two daughters, and two sons --- survived the tsunami. When asked if his children would continue the trade, he was emphatic: "My oldest son should do something else, not be a boatmaker. It's a hard job. It's painful at the end of the day. I usually have some 'arrack' (coconut liquor) at the end of the day to ease the pain."
Mr. Darmadasa would benefit from a loan to buy new machine tools, and Sewa Lanka, the local non-governmental organization working at Lake House Welfare Center, is considering the possibility of initiating a small loan program that might include him. Apart from the question of assuring his livelihood, the main issue facing his family is where their permanent home will be located. If it is too far from the sea, even Mr. Darmadasa's boat building business will be in jeopardy.
Vice President for Policy Joel Charny and Advocate Sarah Martin are in Sri Lanka assessing the situation for conflict and tsunami displaced.