Tsunami Disaster & Tamil Eelam
Witnessing First Hand the Devastation of the
Suresh Sriskandarajah, Canada
5 February 2005
Suresh Sri - A Taste of N.E. Sri Lanka]
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
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
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.