Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam > Witnessing First Hand the Devastation of the Tsunami - Suresh Sriskandarajah, Canada, 5 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam

Witnessing First Hand the Devastation of the Tsunami
Suresh Sriskandarajah, Canada
5 February 2005
[see also Suresh Sri - A Taste of N.E. Sri Lanka]

Before Boxing Day, I was scheduled to go on a foreign aid mission in northeastern Sri Lanka along with a group of students from all over the world. The group included 11 UW students and was set to be in Mullaitivu, one of the regions most affected by the tsunami. However, our plans were postponed at the last minute due to heavy rain experienced in the area the night before.

Immediately after we learned about the tsunami, we all wanted to do as much as we could to help. A few of us were able to reach the affected regions with money and supplies shortly after the first wave hit. It was an unbearable scene to see truckloads of human bodies being carried out.  Survivors were placed in schools which were used as refugee camps. In these camps, we saw hundreds of children who had lost their parents as well as parents who had lost their children.

The day after, our entire group split up to work with the various refugee camps. We were able to purchase a few items with the money we had, including food and clothing for children.

Other than that, all we were able to do was to comfort the survivors by visiting the classrooms and assuring them that the international community would come to help in their time of need.

During my time there, I saw very little help being provided to those in need. The only organization present was Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, which was looking after the displaced people in the refugee camps. I also saw many members of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam assisting with clearing bodies in the Mullaitivu area. In terms of media, there were no foreign media present in the northeast for the first few days after the tsunami.

Even after the first couple of days, there were only a handful of media agencies that had come to the region. At this point, I started working with the foreign media which were coming in. I spoke about my experience and offered to guide them through the affected regions. Even the media that came, however, completely missed out on the initial aftermath of the tsunami.

The lack of aid in the northeast bothered me to a great extent. I did not see much coming from outside during the two weeks I was there. The aid received from other countries and international non-governmental organizations was being redirected to other regions by the government of Sri Lanka due to the political tension with the Tamil people in the northeast.
Regions of the country conflict-free and controlled by the government received ample aid due to media coverage as well as reporting by the government.

Thousands of children were forgotten and ignored simply for being born in the "wrong" region of the country. I did not know what I could do personally to help these people and nobody else seemed to hear their cries. There are so many stories that I've heard and witnessed during this trip that disturbed me to a great degree.

Going back to the northeast for the second time this year, I was looking forward to visiting the children of Senthalir Illam. These are the children that became deeply attached to me during my last trip. I had about half of my suitcase packed with chocolate and toys to give to the 170 children at this orphanage. Unfortunately, only 30 of these children were able to survive the tsunami. I went to the location where this centre was situated and could not bear to look at the scene. I saw pieces of children's clothing hanging on trees, and broken toys on the ground. Hearing the stories of how some of the dead bodies of these children were found stuck to trees and under bridges nearly killed me. My memories of playing with them, eating with them from the same plate, sleeping on the same mat on the floor, singing and taking photos together all came back to me. It was extremely difficult for me to just leave this seemingly desolate location where the sound of children's laughter used to ring in the air. Yet, I had to leave, to contribute as much as I could to help the people who had survived this horror and required assistance.

When I came to back to Canada, I was shocked to see the amount of help that was provided by Canadians. It made me proud to be Tamil Canadian to see the amount of media coverage the tsunami was given. Unfortunately, there was not enough of this media coverage in the northeast to witness and report the devastation.

This is when I decided that I needed to explain the horror I witnessed and the lack of aid being given to the northeast part of Sri Lanka. During the press conferences held immediately after our arrival, I explained the situation to various media outlets. My plea was to go and report on the devastation of the northeast as well. These are people who had been neglected during the war and treated as subhuman even during a time of such devastation. I urged the Canadian government, along with the rest of the international community, to put in place an effective monitoring mechanism which would ensure that the aid sent by Canadians are in fact being distributed equitably to all the affected regions of Sri Lanka.

Our duty does not end by just giving a donation to look after the immediate needs of these people. We must continue to monitor the areas the aid is going to, to ensure that it is properly received. Furthermore, we must look after their long term needs. We need to start working towards rebuilding their long term infrastructure. Please take a moment to reflect on everything I have shared here and spread it to friends and family members.

It is important to work on long term rebuilding projects with organizations such as TRO. Students can also be engaged in knowledge transfer projects which would aid in the restructuring of the community.


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