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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. 

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sri Lanka: Volunteers at the heart of tsunami recovery efforts

ReliefWeb: 05/05/2006" by Rukshan Ratnam, International Federation, Sri Lanka

Volunteers are always at the forefront of any Red Cross Red Crescent operation and the post-tsunami recovery programme in Sri Lanka is no exception. Almost a year and a half after the devastating Asian tsunami, hundreds of volunteers from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) are continuing to work with affected communities, proving that their skills remain crucial to the country’s recovery process.

When the tsunami ravaged almost two thirds of Sri Lanka’s coastline, more than 5,000 Red Cross volunteers from all over the country responded, helping to rescue people, recover bodies, and distribute food, clothing, tents and non-food relief items.

Today, volunteers continue to be involved in almost all aspects of the Red Cross Red Crescent post-tsunami recovery programme, including first aid and community based healthcare.

In addition, they’ve become involved in several areas that are new to the Sri Lanka Red Cross, such providing psychosocial support to affected community members, monitoring and cleaning wells, purifying and distributing water, carrying out needs assessments and supporting livelihood initiatives.

“It’s hard work, but it is also very satisfying when you see the smiles on the people’s faces when they thank the Red Cross,” says Kathija, a volunteer for the SLRCS, who works on a livelihoods project in Ampara. “To have the opportunity to bring hope and change to people’s lives makes me feel that I am doing something useful,” she adds.

It is not always easy, though, and volunteers are not always welcomed with open arms. Kathija describes how a widow chased her away when she knocked on her door to conduct a household survey.

“The woman said several people had visited her but none had returned to help,” Kathija explains. “I was chased away and told never to come back”.

But Kathija did go back and eventually managed to gain the woman’s trust after repeatedly reassuring her that the Red Cross genuinely wanted to help. “We gave her a grinding machine to make flour and today, she is one of the Red Cross’ biggest fans,” she says.

Many volunteers were directly affected by the tsunami themselves and continue to live in temporary shelters located in transitional camps. For them, working with affected communities provides a sense of purpose and helps them to recover from their own personal tragedies.

Subatheepan, who works with the Danish Red Cross psychosocial programme in Kalmunai, is one such volunteer.

“I lost my mother in the tsunami,” says Subatheepan. “So I find that I can better relate to the feelings of the people we work with because I too feel the loss of a loved one.

“I think that this has helped me in understanding and responding to people’s needs,” he adds. “It has also helped me to cope with the loss of my mother.”

Mohideen Muzamil is another volunteer turned Sri Lanka Red Cross staffer. He was first recruited by the Swedish Red Cross Emergency Response Unit in Pottuvil to assist with translating. A year and a half later, he now coordinates the Federation’s well monitoring and cleaning project in Pottuvil division.

“I lost my house in the tsunami,” he says. “But my work with the Red Cross has given me a fresh start in life and it also gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that I am contributing to the recovery of my own community.”


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