Tsunami Recovery: It’s the people that matter

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

This is a truth that some of us forgot in the tsunami recovery swamped by statistics. We got side tracked by numbers – the 100 metre no built zone, number of houses being built, amount of cash grants, goods dispersed etc. We failed in many instances to value our own compassion and to recognize and support the tough resilience of the survivors. The handful I kept in touch with and met repeatedly said they are driven by one focused need – to see that their children get a good education. This is a first look at mothers and a grandmother who are striving to do that with an abiding love for their offsprings shining through.

A Grandmother’s Love

She was shielding herself from a hot sun under a black umbrella but the gentle face the buxom figure clad in a traditional cloth and jacket instantly reminded me of my relatives of yester year from the South. In her hand was a “pan malla” – a bag woven out of grass reeds growing near rivers and marshy water ways.

Stopping her in the middle of the road and starting a conversation with her was easy. Her smile was wide and warm her name was a grand Sinhala name Leelawathi. She was on her sales round selling treacle – coconut sap extracted to make a sweet dark honey used widely to make sweets. She also had in her bag dried gamboge a sour fruit dried and used extensively in fish curries like the famed “ambul thiyal” of the South.

Returning after her delivery round she invited us to see her rebuilt house with LKR 100,000 [approx. US$1000] given to partly damaged households within the buffer zone. The house has been rebuilt and she had to take a loan of LKR 60,000 [approx. US$600] in addition to the money she received from the government to complete the repairs. A mother of four sons and two daughters she lost her husband early in life. Her memories of the good times she spent with her husband fills her face with a tenderness bringing tears to her eyes. She recalled how at New Year’s festivities she laughed and played the Sri Lankan version of draughts with cowrie shells with her husband.

Two of her grandchildren Trevin and Eshanie plays peak-a-boo with us

For Leelawathi now life is a struggle to help her children bring up the grandchildren. One daughter is sick with a nerve debility preventing her going out to work. Tears flow freely as Leelawathi recalls that horrible day when she lost a son.

Another grandaughter Shenelka comes out to listen to her, and seeing her Leelawathi wipes her tears, and the slow smile spreads across her face lighting it up. “Now my main objective is to support my grand children and help them to find good employment opportunities in the best way I can,” she says.

A mother spins her love to create a cosy home

Shirani keeps her new two bedroomd house in Wellabada, Sri Lanka spick and span. She lost everything in the tsunami, and lived in a temporary shelter for one year and is rightly proud of her new home.

Her brand new house was built in the same location of her tsunami destroyed house with Rupees 250,000 [approx$2500] from the Sri Lanka Government’s owner driven housing program, topped up with co-financing from Austria.

Pre-tsunami Shirani had an additional income that came from spinning softened fibre from coconut husks into rope, a popular cottage craft in the Southern coastal belt. As most other families did she too lost her spinning machines and has not been able to resume that work. He husband‘s daily wage as a laborer is their main income now. The children Thanusha and Raveesha missed school for about 4 months after the tsunami but are back in school and as most mother’s repeatedly told us Shiranee’s one priority is also ensuring that her children study well.