Sooriya is a 34 year old woman living in a temporary shelter in the south of Sri Lanka near the tourist areas of Galle in Sri Lanka. Her family was luckier than most --- she and her husband, two daughters, and a son all survived the tsunami. However, they were all displaced by the tsunami and they have been living for seven months in a two room temporary shelter made of metal siding and wood with a cement floor.
She gave Refugees International visitors a tour of her house. While her family was fairly well off before the tsunami, they did lose many of their belongings. They have bought clothes and school supplies and decorated their temporary shelter with posters. However, the family of five is cramped in a two-room structure. They have two beds, a table with the sewing machine, and one cabinet to store their clothes. They have improvised by creating storage areas above and below the sleeping area but their belongings create a cramped environment.
The temporary shelter area that Sooriya and her family live in is several kilometers from the sea. "My husband owned a boat before the tsunami. He is a fisherman but his boat was destroyed by the tsunami. However, it is being replaced by an NGO. We lived on the beach and he could walk out to his boat every day. Now that we are in temporary shelter, my husband has to travel to the sea everyday to make money. It costs us approximately 900 rupees ($9) a month for him to go to the sea. This is a lot of money for us so I sew to make extra money for the family. A Japanese monk came through the area and was giving away sewing machines to families. He gave one to me and two other ladies to share but I keep it here in my house."
Before the tsunami, Sooriya and her family lived in a multi-room house made of concrete in a community on the beach. Their house was only partially destroyed by the tsunami. When asked if she wanted to return to her house if it was rebuilt she was adamant: "We will never go back to that house - even if it were a mansion. We are afraid of another tsunami. We were lucky that we all survived the tsunami. My youngest daughter is afraid of the ocean now. When the wave hit our house, we were all inside it and this saved us. My daughters [who are 17 and 12] have attended psycho-social programs sponsored by NGOs here but my youngest is still afraid of the sea. Generally, she is okay but I worry about her. There is also very little privacy for my older daughter here. She is becoming a woman and she needs her privacy. I am worried about her. A 9 year old girl died here two days ago. No one knows why - she suddenly took sick and died. I am very afraid for my children."
Sooriya took us to her front porch of her temporary house, which was filled with containers of plants and flowers. "We have planted these plants here in containers to take with us when we move to our permanent house. We really want to start our life properly in a permanent house. I don’t mind if we are not near the sea. The government will provide for us. But right now, they have no proper plans for where our houses will be. We have not seen anything from the government that tells us where they will move us and these other families. The rainy season is about to start," she said looking at the overcast skies. "When it rains hard in this house, we get wet."