This was December of 2004. The tsunami devastated Sri Lanka and many other countries that stood on the path of the angry sea. It was something people knew nothing of. The vengeance capabilities of nature that destroyed with such ferocity. People died and entire towns vanished. Washed by the waters that came and swept in huge waves that stood at time as tall as trees.
The aftermath was a tragedy no one knew how to cope with. Bodies floated to be collected and buried in common graves. Roofless houses silhouetted the beach-front, their broken walls and door less frames looked like skeleton sketches of an artist who had drawn in a hurry and forgotten to paint and complete. Fallen coconut trees with rotting leaves blocked the paths. No one to remove them, no one had a reason to walk amongst the ruins except to look for their lost loved ones. Everything and everyone got washed away by the waves, leaving in most cases no trace of their existence.
People died, people got revenged and rabbled. Lives got lacerated in a manner that it could never be the same again. Such was the cataclysm that crushed the people and what they had painstakingly built through the years to call their own.
CandleAid (knows as AFLAC International at that time) did what it could. We moved into over-drive and collected funds and planned and executed projects in double quick time. It wasn’t easy, too many complications and too many people suffering. Projects had to be planned fast and executed faster and funding had to be raised to match the expectations.
The total cost of the tsunami project conducted by the CandleAid came together to approximately LKR 105 million.
1. Construction Projects
CandleAid built houses through the Individual Housing Schemes – Kalamulla 19 houses (LKR 12.6 Million), Siribopura 20 houses (LKR 13.8 Million), Panadura 30 houses (LKR 24.1 Million) and distributed them to people who lost their homes.
CandleAid built a three storey school building at Shariputhra Vidyalaya, Matara at a cost of LRK 10.2 million. This building was needed to house students whose schools were badly damaged by the tsunami.
CandleAid also built two new preschool buildings. One in Kivula (LKR 1.4 million) and the other in Potuvil (LKR 2.5 million) once again to accomadate little ones whose school were washed away with the wave.
2. Children’s Project
CandleAid commenced by sponsoring 240 orphaned or displaced children along the Eastern and Southern coastal areas for a period of one and a half years. The total cost of the project was LKR 9.9 million.
Here is a story of a little boy –
There was a little boy, perhaps eight. He had two younger siblings tugging at his oversized shirt, a little Pipe Piper without a flute. His father had been a three-wheel driver who had brought someone to the market in Kalamatiya on that fateful December morning.
That is how he died. His vehicle was found on top of the bus-station, crushed and pulped into a grotesque shape. The boy’s mother lost her mind when she heard the news. She started roaming the village muttering meaningless words to herself. The little boy was facing the world alone with his little brother and sister clinging on to him.
He said all this to the CandleAid evaluator, an uncle who was sheltering the family. The uncle worked in a small shop that sold dried fish, himself barely scraping a living.
The stories were the same, tragically woven together in a tapestry of ravaged lives. The innocent and the helpless victims made vain attempts to come to terms with their traumatised new lives. The magnitude of the tragedy was difficult to comprehend. It was not houses that had no roofs and stood bruised with broken walls, it was broken people.
3. Livelihood Project
Candleaid donated boats and fishing gear to fishermen who lost theirs. The project spread from Trincomalee clockwise to Moratuwa. The total cost was LKR 6.3 million. Many other smaller projects were carried out to help individuals rebuild their lives, such as building a few individual houses and conducting livelihood projects at a total cost of LKR 3.9 million.
CandleAid’s international representatives and their respective donors and sponsors actively participated in raising funds to enable CandleAid to carry out its relief efforts. Corporate giants such as HSBC, J P Morgan, Pepsi, Capital Group, Give2Asia and Covenant World Relief made substantial contributions to fund the above mentioned projects.
All the Tsunami accounts along with our general accounts were audited by B R De Silva and Company, a renowned audit firm in Sri Lanka and were displayed on the website for donors to know what happened to the money they entrusted to CandleAid.
4. Swim for Safety Programme
A new programme was born from tsunami relief work – Swim for Safety
The Tsunami has tragically brought to light that many lives were lost because of a fear of water and an inability to swim. In a land surrounded by a coastline and blessed with many inland waterways, over 90% of the population is unable to swim and consequently very fearful of water.
The primary reason for this inability can be attributed to the unavailability of pool facilities for children and the general public. Existing swimming training programs are geographically limited to Colombo and surrounding areas and financially limited to the more affluent citizenry.
As a response, CandleAid has designed its “Swim For Safety” programme to teach the underprivileged children to swim. CandleAid constructed our own pool at Moratuwa at a cost of LKR 8.2 million to train children to swim.