People in southern Sri Lanka, with the help of Caritas, are finally recovering seven years after a tsunami killed hundreds of thousands in the region
Today people in Asia mark the seventh anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 that killed more than a quarter of a million people. Sri Lanka is remembering the 35,322 people it lost during the worst natural disaster ever to hit the island nation. Thanks to some timely and long-term assistance by the Catholic Church’s social service arm, Caritas, thousands of people have managed to smile through the tears, and seven years on, they are leading happy and successful lives. Priyanthimali Munaweera, 52, a Buddhist woman from Palliyamulla near Matara on the south coast, was running a grocery store. The giant waves destroyed her shop and almost killed her husband. “We were left with nothing and nobody came forward to help us,” said Munaweera, the mother of four children. When members of Caritas-SED Galle visited her village, she told them about her family’s plight. Thanks to Caritas, Munaweera is now the proud owner of a thriving business printing textbooks. Caritas has helped not only her but also other women in the village, providing them with equipment and necessary training. GP Susila, 44, from nearby Kottegoda still remembers clearly her miraculous rescue from a 10-foot high wave that killed 54 people in her village. When the torrent receded back to the sea, it also took Susila’s sewing machine and her dreams. “We didn’t have any work for two years. Then Caritas came along and helped a group in our village to reignite our work making clothes,” she said. Within two years, five of the groups had opened shops selling women’s garments. Meanwhile, the tsunami left Padmini Gunawardena, 52, a mother of six, homeless. In 2006 Caritas gave her a home under a housing scheme that provided houses for 28 tsunami-affected families. Gunawardena said her new home was a godsend. Father Damian Arsakularatne, director of Caritas SED Galle, says the tsunami did not discriminate by race or creed and his group too did not want to do so either. The three aforementioned women were helped through Caritas livelihood restoration and housing programs, Father Arsakularatne said. The programs have helped 8,834 families in fishery, agriculture and small-scale businesses. Caritas started supporting tsunami-affected fishermen by resupplying lost equipment: boats, engines, nets, mono-filaments and other accessories as well as more grander-scale assistance such a repairing harbors, fish markets and other related infrastructure developments. Caritas Galle in addition to bringing rapid aid to victims, including the erection of temporary housing, has also built over 1,400 new homes and repaired another 800. Caritas introduced different programs in various districts for tsunami-affected people. Father TS Sylvester from Batticaloa on the east coast said some people in the area still feel that they were excluded from tsunami humanitarian programs introduced by the government. Fr Sylvester until last August served as the director of the Caritas branch in Batticaloa, which suffered heavy damage during the tsunami. Since the disaster, Caritas Batticaloa has constructed 6,000 houses in the area. It has also carried out livelihood restoration and savings programs, and provided psychosocial help for children.