Mission - Resources - Stories

Helping them to live again

Shelter is not merely having a roof above one’s head, it is also an expression of an individual’s concept of life, it reflects his ambitions and hopes

In the morning of the 26th of December 2004, when the fatal waves suddenly struck the Southern and Eastern coasts of Sri Lanka with the unimaginable ferocity that only nature can unleash, our people were physically, mentally and psychologically unprepared to meet the consequences of that calamitous event.  It was holiday time in Sri Lanka.  The seaside hotels were full.  People were strolling on the beach.  Traffic was active on the coastal road.  A packed train with a thousand passengers was speeding to its destination.  Fishermen had returned from their night’s catch, their boats tethered on shore.  Tens of thousands were engulfed, crushed and drowned.  Buildings were swept aside, roads torn up, railway tracks uprooted and mangled, bridges destroyed, that unfortunate train was derailed and suspended.  The bodies of little children were found on trees.  The dead number 30,196.  The injured number 15,683, those missing number 3,846.  88,022 houses were totally demolished, 212,223 families have been affected, 834,849 persons have been displaced, 789 camps have had to be opened to accommodate the displaced persons.

While the material needs are being looked after, only a tiny fraction of these displaced persons have had access to one of their most urgent needs.  It is ironical that such emotional scars caused by seeing their homes and loved ones being swept away by the sea should now be compounded by an additional threat of being preyed upon by sex vultures who roam these camps, targeting the most vulnerable, at a time when they most need to be comforted and protected.

The worst affected by emotional and physical abuse in these overcrowded camps are of course women and children.  The National Child Protection Authority, the Social Services Department, the Protection and child Care Services, UNICEF, and the Provincial Councils in each of these affected areas are working round the clock.  While the biggest challenge facing all those currently compiling data on child survivors of tsunami is to actually locate them, identifying them and their families poses an equally daunting task.  Once they are located answers will have to be found to equally important questions such as: Who are these children? From where have they come from? Where are their homes? Who are their relatives? How many of them are languishing in camps? How many in homes of friends and relatives? How many have been forcibly taken on the pretence of adoption? And most importantly, where will they go from there?  We have to put our first priority towards the orphaned children because they are the most vulnerable.  Also we must ensure that children are protected from exploitation.  In a tumult like this, when families are broken apart, when incomes are lost, when dignity and hope are in short supply, children are more vulnerable to abuses.  Our relief efforts must be conceived and carried out in a way that reduces these vulnerabilities and helps restore children’s trust.  Also we must help them to cope with their traumas by getting them back to school, in as quickly a time as possible.

Our task today more than ever before is to rebuild the country which was destroyed by the tsunami.  We are fortunate to have received a large amount of foreign aid for emergency relief and for the reconstruction of the shattered areas.  Shelter is not merely having a roof above one’s head, it is also an expression of an individual’s concept of life, it reflects his ambitions and hopes.  Our people have shown their commitment and willingness to forge ahead to build a nation.  They now have to be given dedicated and committed leadership.

After a very prayerful consideration, we sisters of St Margaret came together as a team by the name of ‘HEN’ - Health, Education and Nurture.  Our target is to help twenty-five families without any religious barriers.  We came together as a team in order to facilitate in some ways to bring love and care to those who are affected.  Our aim is to create a new society where justice prevails.  God is indeed so powerful as to draw good out of evil and it is our hope and prayer that our Land will emerge stronger from the tsunami disaster and be a ‘Dharmadveepa’ for all her citizens in the years to come.

Communion in Mission 2006
Sister Chandrani Peiris, January 2005