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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. 

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sri Lanka: Help Still Needed in Aftermath of Tsunami and War

Christian Today: 15/12/2005" by Jennifer Gold

Sri Lanka’s coastal communities continue to reel from the devastation of last year’s Boxing Day tsunami. Help is still needed, however, not just for the survivors of the tsunami but also for survivors of the country’s protracted war, reports Action by Churches Together.

Wanni, which is made up of Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu districts, is just one of so many communities along Sri Lanka’s coast torn by the tsunami but also two decades of war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and successive national governments of Sri Lanka.

Not only the tsunami but also the war has left this region in ruins but it is the scars of the war that remain most deeply in the people.

Rev. S.D.P. Selvanal of St. Mattias Anglican Church in Thanneerootu, says that as terrible and destructive as the tsunami was it was essentially over in three minutes. People in Sri Lanka have suffering under decades of war “and nothing compared with that”, he said.

“Every day we knew people would die, just not how or when,” said Rev. Selvanal. “Every day we expected death. When a plane flew over, we knew someone would die.”

According to Rev. Selvanal, while only a small percentage of the people in the Wanni region have been affected by both the tsunami and the war, the vast majority of the people are survivors of the brutal conflict.

We were starting to rebuild after so many years of war,” he said. “Then the tsunami came and destroyed even more.”

Rev. Selvanal ministers at one of several churches which are members of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), itself a member of ACT International. Together NCCSL and ACT International have been assisting people in the regions who are suffering from both the tsunami and war.

Rev. Selvanal stressed how vital it was that anyone involved in humanitarian assistance not create divisions in a community already so deeply traumatised and fragile.

“There are so many people affected by the war,” he said. “Now we have people whose lives are affected by the tsunami. We cannot afford to only help people affected by the tsunami.”

Assistant parish priest, Father Thirumaguan, said: “This is a good time to help people affected by the war as well,” adding that those affected by the tsunami and those affected by the war should “all be treated in the same way in order to avoid possible tension and economic imbalances”.

Rev. Selvanal also warned that the recipients of any assistance should also make many of the decisions regarding how it is to be used. He said he could not believe that “instead of giving people a voice, we are only giving them something. Just because people are at the end of the line does not mean that they don’t have a voice”.

Rev. G. Manoruban of the Anglican Church was wounded in Batticaloa during the war when he was only 13 years old and also experienced the horror of the day the tidal wave roared in from the Indian Ocean, killing some 3,000 people in the region and injuring a further 6,000.

“It was difficult,” he said. “People were already affected by the war, had lost their loved ones, [although] not in a few minutes.”

He added: “Then, the tsunami. It affected people mentally.”

Rev. Manoruban was one of many survivors rushing to the beach to help wherever he could, using his motorbike to transport clothes and food from his small island parish to the survivors on the beach. Despite crashing his bike in the rush to get back to the beach and suffering injuries he continued to help.

His small parish has been working alongside the local fishing communities through NCCSL and the support of ACT’s members around the world, which donated bicycles, boats, catamarans and fishing nets, and helped to set up four local newspapers in the community centres in the numerous temporary camps.

NCCSL and ACT in a joint effort replaced a total of 55 boats, 25 traditional catamarans, 500 fishing nets, 30 out-board engines for the bigger boats and 250 bicycles in the district, which have not simply restored people’s dignity but also allowed them to become self-employed once again.

The local NNCSL and ACT-related churches in the region have a long history of collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church, which helped the NCCSL-ACT distribution of boats, catamarans and bicycles.

jennifer@christiantoday.com


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