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Impressions from Sri Lanka/Tsunami &
Sarvodaya Organization

Part I

1) *One of Sons of Sarvodaya 2) Lotus flower, symbol of Sri Lanka
3) Dr. A. T. ARIYARATNE, Founder & President of Sarvodaya Organization

Dear Friends,

 Greetings from Sri Lanka!

 As most of you know, I have been in Sri Lanka since January 15.

First, I would like to satisfy your curiosity regarding 17 boxes and 220 kg of aid Turkish Airlines carried from New York to Bangkok.

Sri Lanka Airways was overloaded in Bangkok because of the high volumes of aid coming from other countries that would take weeks to carry to Colombo. Therefore, Thailand Airways carried the aid from Bangkok to Colombo with the help of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Bangkok and in New York. However, it took more time than anticipated to move boxes from Bangkok to Colombo and to get them out of the Customs. Especially, because of the application of new legislations passed by the Sri Lanka Government, which took some time, and at the end of its process, Moratowa based SARVODAYA Organization received the 17 boxes which contained a mix of first aid from New York Turkish-American community.

* * * * * 

Sarvodaya Organization had been established in 1958 by Dr. A. T. Ariyatratne. There are more than 2,500 public benefit organizations in the country. One thousand of them are regarded as small organizations. Five hundred of them provide multi-dimensional services such as contributions to social and economic welfare and development processes. In 2,500 of non-governmental public benefit organizations, SARVODAYA is regarded as the number one. They have more than 10,000 volunteer workers; more than 2,000 employees working either full day or half day, and branches in all over the country. They have internationally sponsored regional projects with 5 to 7 years plans that answer the basic social, economic, agricultural, health care, and development needs of that region. Moreover, they apply these projects through out the country.

Sarvodaya performed the most effective and equal aid distribution to the regions in need devastated by the Tsunami disaster. It also immediately organized a team for the "relief effort." It has been widely praised for its efforts by the international organizations and it has growing support for the "Improvement, Reconstruction, and Reawakening" projects.

SARVODAYA Organization has partners in America (WWW.SARVODAYA.ORG), Europe, and Japan. It also has a branch in United States. Sarvodaya's Headquarters updates the last minute developments and news in their Web site WWW.SARVODAYA.LK. Its news are effective and from the first hand.

There are two reasons why I summarized the information regarding Sarvodaya. If you want to send donations/funds your own, send it directly to Sarvodaya via on-line. I can assure you that your aid will attain its purpose and it will be distributed effectively. You make your donations from above websites. This way, you can assure that your donation will be directly distributed to the aid regions devastated by the Tsunami and to the specified rehabilitation projects.

I also joined the effort led by SARVODAYA team for "distributing water" and "family package" in GALLE, AMPARA, and KALMUNAI. I took some photographs and videoed the effort. Before the Tsunami, I was preparing documentary series project consisting of 6 episodes: "Peace Process of Sri Lanka." After the Tsunami, this documentary will include footages of SARVODAYA Organization and their relief efforts related to the Tsunami disaster. Next weekend, at 4:30 AM on February 6, we will travel to the northern part of Sri Lanka by an aid truck loaded with "family package" (such as rice, lentil, canned food, toothpaste, and soap) and water. This is almost 10 hours drive. Again, as I did in Kalmunai, I will have the opportunity to see the Tsunami's aftereffects and Sarvodaya's rehabilitation efforts on site and to video them for the documentary.

One of the best news in Kalmunai was that the Sarvodaya Organization and the government have started working on building a school. On the other hand, the food distributed to the families who live in camps was enough for only 2-3 days for each family. One thousand families received “family package (non-perishable food, basic cleaning supplies like toothpaste/soap for each family)” and food for two consecutive days. Yet, the aid was just enough for only the half of the Tsunami victims and people with food cards and coupons. Most people couldn’t get the food package and they had to be content with the 2 or 5 liters of bottled waters.

Although the problems are identified and they are under control, they can be solved only with thorough and extensive work.

Meantime, I was informed that the government was also distributing food in Kalumani. I wondered how much the food distributed for each family was, how long it lasted, and how frequent the government distributed the food. The answer was troubling: It was distributing a package consisting flour, sugar, and rice in every two weeks. However, that package lasted less than a week!

People who could get food in every condition or who could benefit from the water tanks installed by the Sarvodaya Organization, the government, Red Cross, and USAAID were the lucky ones.

Some of the camps I saw in Galle were composed of tents that had only the top for sun protection and they were open on the sides. There was no food, no basic kitchen utensils, nor mattresses. Some camps were better equipped regarding kitchen utensils. However, toilets and hygiene were in very poor condition. If a person had a toothbrush or was able to brush her/his teeth, then she was lucky.

* * * *

Sri Lankan authorities and health officials was worried about possible outbreak of diseases. As I learned from a meeting organized by Sarvodaya in Anaradhapura, this did not happen. A Sri Lankan Doctor said that Sri Lankan people were very lucky. He said that only three people dead from diseases and they lived in camps where homeless people were placed in and where the living conditions were very poor.

* * * *

In Kalmunai, I met a high school student whose house was just across the Sarvodaya's distribution office. I walked with her and her friends to see the ocean and the areas destroyed by the tsunami. When they saw the ocean, they stopped me and they fearfully repeated, "tsunami, tsunami." I told them that they could wait here but I wanted to go further. They were afraid and in panic. They neither left me nor went further. I difficultly persuaded them and went forward about 100 meters but they stopped me again. They told me that a local man approaching me was a thief. I wasn’t sure if the man was really a thief but I gave up insisting on. When we returned to Sarvodaya’s distribution office, I witnessed another unpleasant incident. A woman grabbed my arm and dragged me inside. First, I didn’t understand what was happening. When I went inside, I saw that there was a fainted woman. They wanted me take a picture of her. However, batteries of my camera were dead. I tried to understand what happened to her. She had a hearth attack because of waiting for a food package under scorching sun. Shortly, she was taken to the hospital by a 3-wheel vehicle. An old woman was crying for her. I've never learned if she was saved.

In Kalmunai, I also witnessed two incidents in an aid-queue. Sarvodaya was authorized by the government to distribute the aid packages to people who had government-issued-card and coupon proving that they were affected by the tsunami. There were many arguments in the first two hours. It was very hard for Sarvodaya officials to distribute the aid packages and they couldn’t even start the distribution, for half of the members of each family did not have “food card and coupon.” When I asked why, they told me that they live in camps because of the tsunami and the government was late for preparing food cards and coupons for everybody. This caused increasing arguments and complaints since people couldn’t get their food packages.

Meanwhile, a young man who had food card and coupon, showing his food card and with lucid English, said, “I have my food card and I am affected by the tsunami like all these people but I won’t take food. These people are between life and death and they need these packages more than I do.” He was an English teacher in a school with 1,500 students. The school was destroyed by the tsunami. Then, it was moved to other regions but no student wanted to attend the school. Because they were impacted both psychologically and cerebrally. In a hopeful manner, he asked me if I need any Tamil interpreter. I sadly told him my budget was limited. 

* * * * * 

In a hospital that I visited in Kalmunai, Sarvodaya distributed mosquito nets for the newborn babies. At that moment, I realized there were many newborn babies. As after-tsunami babies, they will be the first representatives of a new generation. 

I wondered how many babies were born in Sri Lanka right after the tsunami and how many of them had a healthy family environment. When I asked this question to Sarvodaya’s coordinator, he told me he would compile the information and let me know. However, since his local work and research continued in Kalmunai, I couldn’t get any statistical information for the whole country.

* * * * *

In Galle, in particular the conditions of the camps which I have seen, did not give me much hope for those victims and their children’s future. It seemed that they will have very harsh time to get out their camps with in healthy condition and able to establish a new life from that point on. 1.5 hours south of Colombo at the west coasts, where the devastating damage took place, as a result of children and people’s trauma and their combine effects for the short and long term  still cannot be define and measured! The major train accident which caused by tsunami waves had killed in one-half-hour over 1500 people. Now, the country is in rehabilitation and reconstruction process which is considered that might take near to 10 years.

The exhibition I saw on January 17 was very effective and thought provoking. At the same time, it was a very positive "rehabilitation" work.

On West Shores, more than 1000 students lost either their mother or father by the tsunami. In a very short time, Cultural Ministry of Sri Lanka started a rehabilitation project for these. The Ministry distributed crayons, colored pencils, and papers to these children to let them draw and transform tsunami’s effects. The exhibition was between January 16 and January 17. Over 850 children participated in the exhibition. The government gave a certificate to all children who had a painting in this exhibition. It also gave a prize for their education cost.

I would like to congratulate the Cultural Ministry for starting and concluding such a constructive and healing project like this for the students. It was very clear in students' eyes that the Ministry prevented a possible trauma from occurring by transforming children's pain into a project like this. They were happy to be alive and they were hopeful. This also helped to have visual illustrations of the tsunami from the perspectives of the children and youth. In Sri Lanka, thousands of flowers of hope are already emerging from such a tragedy.

After the tsunami disaster, Sri Lanka is in "reawakening" period now. In the long term, this may be a strong foundation for a "peace period."

* * * * *

I read earlier and learned from Sarvodaya authorities that Tsunami partly effected Negombo as well. Negombo was my first stop when I came to Sri Lanka two years ago. Therefore, I was wondering Negombo and went there on January 30.

The negative effect of Tsunami at Negombo is barely visible compared to other towns and cities. The most visible effect was empty beaches and streets although the entire touristy infrastructure was intact.

With loves and reflection of the cultural richness and dazzling flowers from Sri Lanka...

 Bircan Ünver
Februbary 1, 2005 - Negombo

* One of Sarvodaya's special program titled, Sons of Sarvodaya. Under this program, secondary and high school studuents stay, intern and trainlng on special projects for 2 weeks at the Sarvodaya Headquarters in Moratowa.

-- Translated by Pelin BALI

- Visits to Sir Arthur C. CLARKE - Impressions Part 2
- Reflections from Sri Lanka & Tsunami
For Media Release- A Power Point Presentation
Date: May 2, 2005 @Turkish House, New York

-- http://www.sarvodaya.org

@Bircan Ünver, The Light Millennium, Inc., 2005.
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