|Sunday, 6 February 2005|
Tsunami camps in East :
First-Person account narrated to wendell
Solemn Thoughts by Wendell Solomons
You are aware, gentle reader, that displaced people are going through hard times. The notes below provide you with a ground-situation view.
They appear due to a Sri Lankan whose work keeps her in Europe. While on regular home leave, she wanted to travel and went last week to Sri Lanka's East coast. Her notes tell us that tsunami-displaced people treasure visitors.
Consequently, instead of daily over-exposure to "I"- hugging scenery, programmed by Western network TV, these notes evoke constructive thinking outside the box. Organisations can help families volunteering to travel to camps (a) to better distribute donations, (b) to better experience the dimensions of their homeland, and (c) to make creative pathways towards amity after ravage by the one-day Tsunami in the aftermath of man-made, 27-year Open Economy - India was ravaged less by both.
To make things clear about conditions in at least a part of the East, let me take a practical line for you. I'll say first what was required at the Navalady Camps.
Needed are babies' clothes, some of the womenfolk need clothing too, and mosquito nets. The camps are far too congested and sanitary conditions are poor. Needed too are visitors to chat.
We visited three major camps. Rev. Chandran Crispus of St. Paul's Church, Morakkottan Chenai, who took pains to brief us. We were then accompanied to the above camps by an assistant of his.
Wevisited Batticaloa four days ago. The children clung to us asking us not to leave; they did not hide their happiness at seeing visitors though in a material sense we had nothing to provide for large numbers of people.
A different story must be told of Kalmunai. The situation is outrageous. The displaced, especially the women and kids appear to the visitor as beggars for they have no decent clothing and no shoes or slippers; the children look sickly and are just filthy.
The sanitary conditions are absolutely pathetic. I have no words to describe the plight of these people to you. They are sad - it is written all over - yet they smiled and are friendly.
We spoke to the STF at the Vivekananda Vidyalaya Camp where they have 290 people. 32 are kids of school-going age who have absolutely no school clothes or books to resume school life.
There are 28 infants, who need clothing, medical care and definitely some nourishing food. In all, there are 82 families. We were told by one of the refugees that most of the camp people were running a temperature (flu symptoms); he was himself recovering from illness. You must avoid falling ill yourself when visiting.
The STF mentioned that the people are very sad and definitely need visitors to talk with. The sanitary conditions in this camp were awful. The kids were extremely dirty and the mothers too. Being a woman I could peep into the rooms of buildings: the living conditions were horrible and the cooking areas as well.
I must commend the STF who seemed to me to be doing their best to keep the situation under control. They have a problem in organising. That happens to be a major hurdle, which we experienced directly when we went to the Nehru Memorial which is an ICRC dry- rations distribution centre. There are 260 families in the area out of which 96 are children and small ones too.
Families mentioned that the aid they receive comes mainly from private donations. The rations distributed by persons dressed in civvies, are often just thrown to people who happen to crowd outside with no queuing or any kind of order. Alas! We found families inside whose bodies just screamed for want of rations. Often the most needy do not receive supplies whereas others receive more than a fair share.
We were told that people also came from outside for the rations that are being thrown to the standing crowd.
The STF said they are doing their best to keep the situation calm. This is not easy, since they have no authority to distribute the aid or rations in an organised manner. I don't think one needs rocket science or a university degree for this - rather, dedication and a methodical spirit.
We definitely need people who can dedicate themselves and not those who seek glory or merit points. That would compromise distribution and be of limited help to these poor people who are so desperate.
I saw LTTE cadre. Specifically, I saw women cadres at the Wesley College camp who have been sent to maintain order among the people, for example, to reduce drinking and rioting through their disorientation after the tsunami. In this college there are 746 families. The sanitary conditions here are terrible!
There are vast numbers of flies all over, puddles of filthy water and extremely dirty children running around. I spoke to three students from South East Oluvil who are doing some kind of registration for the relief effort and my notes include their supplement. As of 1st February all 746 families will be taken and housed - or rather - given tents in the college grounds.
I examined some of these tents. They have no ground sheets and people with no possessions must sleep at night on the ground be it bare grass or sand - wet or dry. Here too they need school books and uniforms.
Produced by Lake House