In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami the Aid Sri Lanka team carried out direct aid relief work to those affected. This involved a wide variety of activities such as delivering food, medicine and mosquito nets, arranging rubble removal, cleaning schools and cleaning wells. During this time the team posted near daily updates on the website to enable donors and others to see where the funds were being used.
Supplies now coming in and stacking up impressively outside our house. Have heard of a few of our friends to massive relief all round. Still some unaccounted for. Fill the remaining space in the lorry as we hear of a desperate need for baby food. The boys already down there in the van tell of scenes with desperate people besieging them for food.
We found our friends, made sure they were ok and worked out the logistics of the drop for the next day. The lorry filled up further in Colombo and got down to our base in Mirissa by about 2am. In the morning, the heavenly sweep of Mirrisa bay looked as peaceful and placid as ever. If it wasn't for the debris scattered on the beach we might have forgotten the horror that lay behind the coconut fronds.
This morning we arranged drops. We were pretty worried about this as we had seen scraps over food all the way down. Fortunately some local friends in the area rose heroically to the situation and helped us get approximately one supply bag per affected family in the three villages we visited. The hardest work turned out to be dividing the rice into 2kilo packages. It was difficult, because in that situation of course, you never have enough. People were desperate for supplies and you feel fairly harsh at times. Tom and Sam found the shattered remains of their old house but thankfully all the inhabitants are still alive, having all left the house to visit relatives. This village, Polhena, looked like a nuclear wasteland and smelt unbearable. Bodies were still washing up on the shore and many more must be buried in the debris.
Supplied a French lady with medicine in Mirissa who was working as an unofficial nurse, dressing the now infected wounds of the locals. We left at 6pm and our driver, Sarat, who had offered us his services for free, needed to drop a food bundle to friends in Hikkaduwa. The bridge is down nearby and we struggled to find the friend, searching fruitlessly various refugee camps. Downcast we headed back. On the way back we saw the body of a tourist washed 2km inland by a river. To Sarat's joy, we saw his friend's sister and she confirmed he was ok, though their other sister had died. In Unawatuna we stopped off to give some food and a bundle of goods to the guy who saved out friend Pyius's life in Unawatuna. Got back at 6am.
My old house is flattened but fortunately everyone survived. They have also arranged food drop offs in some various villages. We have a bundles of food and essential items like soap and mosquito coils as well as cooking pots and mats. The drops themselves are harrowing; people are desperate. Fortunately people we know help us in making sure the food gets to the needy as evenly as we can. We avoid the main road drops as people need to start on the horrible jobs of clearing away the rubble at their shattered homes.
Slept till 4pm. The other boys stocked up for our trip to the Eastern district of Ampara on Monday. We now have three lorries and a van all ready to go. I go and get £2000 medical supplies nearby. It will barely fill a car boot. By 10pm our house is full of various supplies.
Before the drops, first thing on the 31st, Mark and Ced took the van back up to Colombo to source a second trip. Tom and the lorry followed on and by Sunday our house in Wennapuwa, an hour north of Colombo, was full of supplies. We now have 4 trucks, a van and a small truck, farming vehicle type thing. Filling this convoy involved a massive spend - $10000 in one day - as the goods now needed are more expensive. Thankfully we have Zamzon Mahtia, Anamaduwa Mill owner and trader extraordinaire, to show us the bazaar ropes. Disaster notwithstanding, three dopey sudas (white ones) would have been ripped off in that crazy warren of colourful streets.
Mark has headed of for Colombo in a lorry at the crack of dawn with Zamzan and Kumar to stock up on the items especially requested by our contact co-ordinating relief efforts in Ampara district. We were hoping to be finished and ready to leave by two in the afternoon, but due to the level of activity in Pettah in general today and the quantity of goods we want, the operation was delayed. As dusk approaches the place gets extremely hectic slowing things down further. One of the 'coolies' (the guys who haul your goods around on huge barrows through the tight streets to the vehicle parks) went missing in the crowd with 600 pairs of flip-flops! Managed to track him down eventually.
The rest of the team loaded the other three lorries which were stationed back at the base in Wennappuwa and set off on the long journey to the other side of the country. Overnight stop in Peradeniya, near Kandy, where we met the lorry which had driven up from Colombo.
The convoy is in Ampara as I write (Tuesday). Safely escorted to the coast under police escort. The small truck stayed behind so we can source further goods to be ready for the next trip. It contains, among many other items; 1000 sleeping mats, 1000 sarongs, 500 t-shirts, 500 packets of milk powder, 500 packets of baby cereal, 400 double mosquito nets, 500 kerosene stoves and 5000 clay cooking pots, part donated by the people of Anamaduwa. There is also more rice than we need ever see again. There was confusion when our contact in the area, one Father Emanuelle, started demanding "butter", until we were told that Bata is a well known brand of flip flops...
For many of our team it had been an interesting day already - the area was new to all of them as, being Sinhalese, it had been seen as out-of-bounds for many years due to the ethnic conflict.
From tomorrow we have a mobile clinic operating on the south coast staffed by Dr Pippa from London, Dr Tennakoon from Wennapuwa and their able assistants. The aim of this is to try and reach the villages themselves saving people arduous trips to the aid centres. This kind of localised assistance allows people to begin to start working on clearing the debris and rebuilding their homes. The amount of dangerous obstacles around means people are cutting themselves all the time and of course infections are developing due to lack of any decent sanitation at the moment.
Restless sleep for everyone in Akkaraipattu - the rampant mosquitoes wreaking havoc all night. The team split into two - one group went to visit the refugee camps in the area to assess the needs while the other stayed back with the lorries and separated the goods as they received information as to where they were going to be delivered. Once again, we ask the questions of how we would be able to do all this without mobile phones. It wasn't long ago that there were no service providers in Sri Lanka. We were reassured to see that the people in the camps were not being divided along religious lines. Most of the people were in the camps were Tamil although in one camp there were also ten Sinhala families.
Also worthy of mention was the co-operation between STF (Special Task Force) and the TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation - a political wing of the LTTE). In one camp we witnessed a TRO tractor pulling a Sri Lanka Army water bowser, as well as an army officer who had found jobs for twenty of the Tamil women at a garment factory in Kandy. There were a total of almost five thousand people in the three large camps we decided to help. We would have loved to help more but we decided it would be better to send substantial supplies to three of the camps where they would make a real difference. The whole team spent the afternoon delivering the aid to the camps and looking at the effected coastal areas (see the news section of the site for pictures). We left Akkaraipattu at sunset to start the long journey back to Wennappuwa.
Drove all through the night, arriving back at base in the afternoon. The local helpers went home to see their families. The rest of us catch up on some sleep.
Planning for the next trip. Mark has gone to Colombo to order extra goods before the main shopping happens tomorrow. Sam is still down south with the mobile clinic - we will post some photos from that shortly. The remaining team clean the vehicles for the next trip and update the website, accounts and budgets. Have to get more cash from the bank, which always take longer than you can imagine. Sri Lanka does have a reputation as a bit of a time vortex, as anyone who has visited will no doubt know.
The response to the appeal has been fantastic and we are touched that people have put their trust and belief in us. The people we have helped have asked us to communicate their thanks for the aid in the knowledge that the financial support has come from all our friends and acquaintances in the UK and beyond. For the next drop we are in communication with three camps in the Mirissa region and are planning to buy according to what they are lacking. Again, we want to supply items that are of use in the longer term, outside the camp as well as inside. After the next delivery we will have a team meeting to reassess the situation and decide what the best use of the resources we have left at our disposal is.
Samantha and Sam visit various camps in the morning on a quick 'needs assesment' - becoming au fait with the lingo now...
They identified two camps with particular shortages in the Matara area and talk with the camp heads in both places. They get a list of what is needed. Mark, in Colombo is telephoned and buys the required amounts. Dr Pippa travels to Colombo to meet up with a Maltese group and attempts to procure more drugs from them.
The crew travel down from Wennapuwa with two truck loads of provisions and a van full of people and medical supplies. Various hold ups mean the arrival is delayed.
The evening drop scheduled for that night is cancelled due to a typhoon warning and the resultant mass panic. These people are very scared at the moment.
Two very succesful drops completed and a medical clinic in Mirissa temple. See latest news for updates on this, but we were very pleased with how it went.
The clinic visited a few sites included a small village, poor at the best of times and now Tsunami affected. Dr Pippa reckons that there is considerable malnourishment here. We are looking for a longer term project in a community of this sort of size.
A little burnt out, we took a day off today, though the clinic continued to see people.
Again, we rested. We spent quite a bit of time with the good people from "Goal" the Irish NGO. Very impressed with their projects - simple, sustainable and they get help out quickly and directly to the people that need it. They have a concrete block making plant and a boat repair plant off the ground already in this area.
We organised 30 people to work for us in a cash for work scheme. They agreed to be ready by the next morning. We had already identified two likely formen and spoke to them about what we wanted. We decided to start them off in their own village so they felt the benefits of their own work immediately. Once that was all arranged Tom, Samantha and Sam went off to haggle for wheelbarrows, rakes, spades, thick gloves and other tools neccessary to begin the arduous cleaning process in this area.
The final three in this area were held. Large amounts of people were seen, though Dr Pippa has decided that the need is no longer acute and that many people are being seen daily in this area at least. They will rest over the weekend, before heading off to Ampara district on Monday
After a typically Sri Lanakan start to our project - on arrival at 8am there were no foreman, trucks or workers to be seen - we get off to a great start by 9:30. We eventually had 35 people, split into 5 teams, working different areas of the village. They made immense progress and we quickly realised a new vehicle was needed to move debris once it was cleared. A new tractor and cart were duely hired. We all had lunch together and it was a fun and enjoyable day all round. In the afternoon, Dr Tony and Dr Pippa, held an impromtu clinic on the site of Tom and Sam's old house in Polhena. The elder woman of the house had a pretty amazing survival story. She had been swept up in the wave and was trapped with telephone wires around her head for over 7 hours. Despite being very elderly and having just lost her husband a month or so before - she held on to life and emerged later with only a broken rib. Watching her see her devastated family home for the firast time since she was taken away to hospital brought home to me the shock and devastation an event like this brings to survivors and their communities.
We moved the cash for work prioject to Miriissa and cleaned a lagoon and communal area. The amount of debris left ny the way is quite incredible and this area is attracting huge amounts of flies and smells awful. We discovered the cause was the rotting vegetation in the lagoon and festering rubbish and it is nowclear, making the area a far more pleasant (and healthy) place to be. We had a few too many children working today - so tommorow we shall specify it is adults only, excepting only one orphan kid who never goes to school anyway, who lives "all around the village" and badly needs the cash. The sudas (whiteys) all joined in today - not wanting to like old colonial bosses and we got our hands thoroughly dirty. It felt pretty to do some phyiscal work where the rewsults were immediately obvious, though I am not sure that we are the most effective workers around. Pampered souls that we are.... though a certain Kiwi, on loan from Save the Children, showed us all how it is done.
The clinic arrives in Ampara and heads south. The workers enthusiatically get to work back in their own area. They are now clearing all road ways and public areas in and around their own village. We are really letting them do what they think best - Samantha is from the area too of course and he is directing the cleaning to where he feels it is most needed. Our ideas are very often shot down - we often pick areas that look fility but are then told that it is owned by a rich family and people are not surprisingly unwilling to clean it for them. I think the lesson is that you need to let people get on with things in their own way. We are pleased with the entire project and intend to keep it going for as long as possible. The workers are very enthusiastic and very keen to clear. Their work often inspires owners of adjoining houses to the work area, to begin to clear their own house areas and use our trucks to get rid of the debris. The whole team costs about 100 pounds for a day. This includes lunch and tea for the workers, wages and the hire of tractors and a truck. This is money extremely well spent we feel.
We now split the workers into two teams. Kumar, recently brought down from Anamaduwa to manage the project feels that more work will be done this way. One team is now equipped with a JCB digger in order to get some serious clearing done. The first job for the JCB is to try and knock the Mirrissa lagoon back into some kind of shape. The other team continue to clear paths and roads in the devasted coastal region between Matara and Weligama. Dr Pippa was thankfully on hand to apply tetanus injections to several workers who had injured themselves on rusty nails and so forth.
A new project to clean the beach in Mirissa was implemented. Employing twenty women from the village the team cleared the Weiligama end of the beach. At the same time, our other project in Thalaramba continued with the same revolving team of workers. Today they continued the clearing of pathways and roads in and around their village. Pippa ran a morning clinic in Mirissa. This was the last clinic for Dr. Pippa who, unfortunately, has to return to London to her practice. We would like to thank her immensely for her time, effort and the wonderful work she did by cancelling her holiday and forming the clinic. The mobile clinic with Dr Tony went to Tengalle on its way back down south following the trip to Ampara.
The same group of twenty people were paid to work all day and finish the cleaning Mirissa beach. The people from Thalaramba had a day off after working really hard recently. Sam and Kumar spent the day looking into new projects for our team from Thalaramba as the cleaning clearing work in the village itself is almost done. The clinic went back to Tangalle with Didier back on hand as it had been so busy yesterday.
Team from Thalaramba were back after their day off. Today they cleaned the Montessori school in the village that had been wrecked by the tsunami. Attended by thirty children, nothing had been done previously to clear the debris and lessons were going to continue amongst the mess. The area was completely cleared and left ready for immediate use.
The clinic did two sessions at Mirissa temple today. The morning session was so busy that it had to be extended to the afternoon also.
Indasara Junior School, near Mirissa, was cleaned in collaboration with save the children. The project was overseen by Kumar who is settling in well down south. The school had been used as a refugee camp following the tsunami and it had not been cleaned since people left recently. All classrooms were cleaned and disinfected. The toilets were cleaned properly and emptied and the outside grounds were also cleared. The clinic was active in Mirissa temple today and was gain very busy.
The clinic headed east to Dickwela today. Didier brought along two friends of his to help out, including an extra nurse. The session was held on the roadside and was very busy. We treated quite a few people who hadn't received medical attention for some time and many people who were still nursing sprains and wounds from the tsunami. This was unusual in relation to many of the clinics we have run in other areas where many recent complaints are associated with the problems resulting from living in such cramped, overcrowded conditions.
Down in the south Sam, Tracey and Kumar completed the clearing of a private Montessori school in Thal Aramba. Despite the fact the rubble lies strewn around, and the building left is non too stable, the children had twice been at this site last week. It was cleared, the building secured, and the rubble and debris was removed by our dedicated team. Once the majority of the mess had been cleared, the teacher organised a class and Save the Children distributed activity kits. Another cash for work team cleared a nearby access road and helped some villagers clear their own land with a JCB. This project was funded by Aid Sri Lanka.
The clinic headed out to Tangalle and did a very big clinic practically on the roadside. A message from the guesthouses of Tangalle – "come to Sri Lanka soon!" There is plenty of accommodation that is back up and running.
Back in the north, at headquarters, Tom begins the shopping process for his next trip and Mark and Hanako make the long slog back from Ampara.
Mark and Doug made a trip to the claustrophobic markets of Pettah in preparation for another trip out East. Down south, Sam and Kumar met people of various villages to try and asses the extent of the fishing boat issue. We want to supply people with a means by which they can rebuild their own lives but the scale of the destruction makes it very difficult to know where to start, especially when vicious local politics come into play.
While Thal Aramba is largely clear of rubble now thanks to our dedicated and revolving team of workers, we came across a few other problems worth looking into. These include problems of stagnant water and several pre-schools which were decimated.
The clinic did their usual clinic in Mirissa temple. As it is a regular occurance people are now coming from far and wide to see Dr Tony and the “Medicin Sans Argent” representative; Didier.
Panni, Tom and Doug set off for Ampara. Hanako heads off to Trincomalee to asses the situation over there and team up with some contacts at a Japanese NGO over there.
Sam, Kumar and the local ecology guru, Samantha, examine the site of the stagnant water – or the “mosquito farm” as the locals put it. A plan is formed - though no one knows for sure whether it will work. We need some expert advice. We have tried to stick within the philosophy of “doing no harm” and in this case we could potentially turn what is about 5 acres of pools, some stagnant, some not, into a huge area of stagnant pools, effectively doubling the problem.
Thanks to Mike Bourke at Christchurch City Council for providing us with great advice and reassurance about the water clearing. Having spoken to Mike, we pressed on ahead. The situation was that there are about 10 pools of various sizes in about a 5 acre area. The villagers had created the pits digging for limestone. Three or four of the smaller ones had stagnated due to the salt water influx and, we presume, amateur water engineers that we are, the amount of rotting vegetation now in the pools coupled with all the fish meeting untimely ends. The plan is to connect all the pools together, the still good and the bad, via a series of channels. We clear all the rubbish and dead/rotting vegetation. Finally the water is pumped around the pools by the simple measure of pumping out of one of the stagnant pools and into one of the good pools. In the process the water is aerated by being pumped up in the air. One of the younger workers enjoys this job immensely. This goes on all day. The job is finished when an old man in the team, a fisherman by trade, returns from a days fishing with several buckets full of small guppy fish, which are added to the stagnant pools. It is these fish which they traditionally add to the pools to control the mosquito population. The plan look like it has worked and the local Public Health Officer is satisfied. We decide to return the in a day or two.
While the work is going on we notice a need for a clinic in this area – so one is held in the afternoon, following their morning trip to Tangalle.
Tom, Panni and Doug complete the drop and travel round the coast to Mirrisa to join the team down there.
The final day of the mobile clinic arrives. Dr Tony and Didier do another clinic in Dikwella and finish off in Mirissa for the final mobile clinic stop. Dr Tony returns to begin work in Sheffield in earnest and Didier will continue to offer his services daily, as a now expert wound dresser, to the people of Mirissa. He has been doing this everyday since the tsunami and is a very well known and well liked figure around Mirissa now. We were very happy to have him as part of the mobile clinic. Thank you to Dr Tony for his infectious enthusiasm and tireless work on behalf of the people out here. While some doctors in the UK seem to find it difficult to communicate with their patients, Dr Tony, like Dr Pippa before him, achieved this seemingly effortlessly, despite the language barrier. I think he will be a credit to his profession. It was certainly great to have them both here from our point of view and from what all their new found friends have told us – for the people here too. So the mobile clinic finishes. We did try and keep a record of the amount of people seen and the amount of medicine dispensed but I’m afraid it got too complicated. Needless to say, it ran into the thousands of patients, and that was without counting the malingers and the punters out for free medicine for future use… With thanks also to Dr Tennakon and the other doctors they have teamed up with along the way.
Mark heads out to Trincomalee, the lorry heavy with mosquito nets and other essential items. Dr Tony leaves and Tom and Panni head north in order to follow on to Trinco.
Sam gets a call from a desperate education officer asking if we can clean three more school sites before Monday. We think we can, but Doug, Sam and Kumar head off to asses the sites. Deciding we need 60 people to cover it all, we arrange that for the next day and buy the requisite tools.
The three schools are completed. They have all been used as camps but escaped any tsunami damage as such. They have all been thoroughly disinfected, the rubbish has been properly disposed of and the toilets emptied. We think this was about as a good a use of your money as we could possibly have come up with. The whole thing cost less than £300 and it has meant that children from affected areas were able to return to school at the very least, a week earlier than expected. This means a return to normality and education; something which is valued incredibly highly in this country.
Cleaned some toilets in a school. Took Supen shopping. He was very shy and nervous.
Hana started delivering (2 camps) and Mark stayed behind to separate the goods. Hotel guy gives us hard time for pilling beds and rooms with goods. Hana meets Muna on the ferry to Kinnya. A very clever tri-lingual inquisitive English teacher who helped us out with distribution in the camps. He was in Kinnya on the morning of the Tsunami and having read an article in the “New Scientist” in 1994 recognised the draining of the bay as a warning sign of the Tidal Wave to come and got everyone away inland.
Saw Supen in school today – lovely to see him looking very happy and pleased to be in school. He has moved in with Nimal, the work team foreman. Also arranged for two wells to be cleaned
Meanwhile in Trinco… Hana, out with a bad belly, stayed behind to separate goods and Tom and Mark did two camps. 2 local helpers today, Mona and Wahid. Wahid is the president of the 3 wheel association in Kennyia, who has been Hana’s guide round the camps for the past few days. After a heated conversation in Tamil about the chain of command, it is decided that Wahid is in charge of flip flops, and Mono, toothbrushes and lady pads.
3 biggest camps. The longest and hardest day, thankfully broken up by lunch at Wahids, afternoon tea at Mono’s. Keeping both our new friends happy.
2 camps. Then drive up to Vavunia, some of the worst roads in the country passing through some of the most beautiful areas. Saw 5 separate sightings of elephants on the way out of Trincomalee – briefly stopped to admire – then pushed on to ensure we get a guest house with secure parking for the night.
Exploration of a possible pre-school project in the south.
Cleaned a school in the south.
Party headed north from Vavuniya to the army checkpoint at Omanthai, the last point before entering LTTE controlled territory. Travelling with aid it is much easier to get through both the army and LTTE checks. Were given an escort from the LTTE who showed us the way to Mullaitivu. This was a rare chance for Panni and Jayantha to visit this part of the country as it had been out of bounds for a long time due to the ethnic conflict. Dropped off mosquito nets and medicine in Mullaitivu and had a look around the town, camps and affected areas. Panni put his dictionary to full use in his efforts to communicate with our escort, Mr Jeevan. Return south as the sun sets and continue all the way back to Wennappuwa.
Investigated a proposed temporary shelter project - visited them in Galle.
And on the seventh day they rested...
Re-organisation. People going here and there, a trip to Ampara to plan and some general catching up on admin.
Dropped off two thousand dollars worth of medicine with AMDA, an Asian NGO, doing great work up near Trinco and the entire east coast.
We have decided to stop the diary for the time being. The projects we are now working on are more long term and much less dramatic.
Our day would go something like this: Met and talked with some local people. Met a local politician and drank tea discussing what to do before being sent to meet another and drink more tea. Met some people from other aid organisations. Negotiated for some goods. Met some potenial workers. Went to email. Got on a bus for 5 hours. Kicked around and a few ideas on the phone with the others....
So please look out on the latest news section for all the news of all the new projects. We shall continue to keep you informed of exactly how your money is being spent and we have no plans to slow up now. We have several projects in the pipeline which will be anounced once they are finalised and are going ahead. Of course we will continue to respond to the situation as it develops and as we see it.