Last week I travelled in the Ampara district in eastern Sri Lanka where the people have been affected by conflict for more than 25 years, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and earlier this year, flooding.
Life is tough in this part of the world, but the reslience and fortitude of the people inspired me greatly. Here is
A diary note by Mahieash Johnney – IFRC Communications & Information manager
As you drive along the road from Ampara to Pottuvil in Eastern Sri Lanka, one thing that sticks out is, that this is just another rural landscape of the island. Acres and acres of green paddy, men and women equally traveling in bicycles and farmers herding water buffaloes; sights that are very common in these parts of the island.
As a journalist, I did travel the same route in mid-2005. The sight then was very different…. Any direction you set your eyes, all you could see was rubble. Despite it was several months since the tsunami, it was like yesterday. The very few who were on the road had an eerie look in their faces which echoed the hopelessness, which was a sight you hardly forget.
The tragedy that struck left scars in people’s hearts. Wreaking their livelihoods, destroying the very little they had and even taking thousands and thousands of innocent lives. The tsunami that came ashore of Eastern Sri Lanka did changed everything, however failed to wash away the determination and the spirits of people, which is what is evident today.
What the Red Cross did…
When the tsunami struck almost 7 years ago, Sri Lanka lost over 45,000 lives and over 500,000 were displaced.
The economic impact from the disaster stood at over 1 billion dollars in Sri Lanka. The Government launched a 3.5 billion dollar reconstruction drive in which the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) along with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) and other partner national societies committed to over 750 million CHF reconstruction programme in the island.
Today as the Red Cross Movement puts its final touches to operation it has managed to provide support to almost 2 million Sri Lankans who were affected by the Asian Tsunami, in terms of shelter, water and sanitation, health and care, livelihood and psychological support.
The final lap…
The only running project yet to be completed as of now is the Water & Sanitation programme that has managed to give clean drinking water for over 75,000 people in the Eastern seaboard. This feat was achieved by laying over 250.48 kms of pipeline.
I was travelling with the Head of Delegation of IFRC Bob McKerrow who toured the area to monitor the impact of the project. “What I saw inspired me and made me realise as to what we humanitarians do every day does matter. It has indeed been a painstaking and an ardours task of getting this project off the ground. However as we now have reached the final lap, I take in pride to say that we have had the best team of professionals, volunteers and staff in order to get this done.”
We went to the village Kolavil 3 in Akkaraipattu, which is around 45 kms north of Pottuvil to meet several beneficiaries in order to asses our work. By the time, we arrived at the village there were around 30 women, children and men sitting in front of a Hindu temple also known as a Kovil.
Here we met Sushila, a 33-year-old mother of 2. She was also among the crowd that came to the village meeting that day. She was very much eager to speak to us and tell us how glad that she and her family now have access to clean drinking water.
“There were times that we walked miles and miles to the water post provided by the local authority. With my kid it is very difficult as I am the only one at home in the daytime. Therefore, I have to carry him, go, and come back with another pot of water. Life was difficult then. But after the Red Cross took steps to bring water to our village, I thank God for that” says Sushila.
She later had a conversation with Bob and explained their difficulties and problems before water reached their village.
Child to child hygiene promotion
Alongside the Water & Sanitation programme, the Red Cross movement also launched a hygiene promotion programme in order to make sure that not only do we provide safe water but also promote cleanliness and self-hygiene.
This promotion programme mainly ran in schools, encouraging children to be clean and using a child-to-child method where a single student who learns from school will go and coach another student in or outside the school in order to disseminate the message.
We managed to visit over four schools, which the programme was running. For the record, the hygiene promotion programme is running in over 28 schools in the east. We saw toilets in good format, clean tidy and very hygienic. School children were taught the importance of cleanliness by supporting teachers who have managed to adopt the programme even after the official period the programme was running came to an end.
One of the key messages taught in these areas were about safe guarding water. Under a theme Safe water, save lives teaches the students to be concern of their daily habits. From simple messages like washing hands to messages like safe guarding water was taught in these schools.
“We see a significant increase in children’s behaviour since we got water to the school,” says Principal Upali Ravindra who is in charge of the Pottuvil Sinhala Secondary School. “There is a clear difference in children’s attitude. They are more confident, cleaner, and most importantly healthier and the attendance to school has certainly increased. However, you analyse these facts it comes down to one revelation. This was possible because of clean water we have received, and my sincere thanks go out to the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the International Red Cross Movement for taking steps to help the children”
For over 7 years, the tsunami programme of the Red Cross Movement has been running in eastern Sri Lanka. Over 10 million dollars were spent for the project; however, the scope of the work and the impact of the project have spread to more than over a million people in various parts of this island.
For this to be possible there has always been one crucial ingredient. It is our volunteers. For over 75 years in its existence, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society in its entirety has depended on volunteers. Over 300 volunteers alone have taken the task of disseminating and helping out the Water and Sanitation project in the East. The Head of Delegation of IFRC Bob McKerrow stopped by in order to see into their welfare and to thank them for a job well done.
“It’s because of people like you that we have reached the final feat of our project. You have contributed to its success,” says Bob. “I wholeheartedly thank you for the time and commitment put towards the success of this project. Almost over 150 years ago when Henry Dunant first volunteered to the welfare of the most vulnerable he would have never thought that all these years later that volunteers like you would have helped more people who were battered by a tsunami. What you have done is quite inspiring, and all because of you what we do here in the east does matter”
The tsunami operation of the Red Cross Movement in Sri Lanka has changed lives of millions of Sri Lankans. The achievement it gained has always been through various obstacles and challenges. Not everything is perfect, as there are more requests, more challenges and more obstacles at hand as the project moves on to its final phase.
During our visit, we received several requests, the most immediate one being where several beneficiaries requesting the Red Cross to help them to get water connections from the National Water Board by paying the connection charges.
It was always the understanding that the Water Board will provide the connections for a nominal charge however, the rates shot up and the people were not in a place to spend a large amount to gain access to safe drinking water. Hence, the Red Cross managed to advocate and bring down the price so that the people would experience the benefits of this massive project.
The final phase of the water and sanitation project of the Red Cross Movement will be handed over to the public in the latter part of July 2011.