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Sunday 18th December 2005
We travelled from Colombo to Unatawuna along coast road. We knew that we would see evidence of Tsunami damage we had of course seen it on the TV, however we were not prepared for what were to experience first hand.
As we drove out of the city into the suburbs onto the costal road we came across a few temporary wooden shelters next to houses that were obviously being rebuilt. Piles of bricks and stone were neatly stacked and it appeared that people were rebuilding their lives and there was some sense of order.
Further on a few more shelters followed by a small village of them, now both sides of the road for as far as the eye could see. We came across numerous signs that were telling us which charity was sponsoring the rebuilding of villages and schools and so it went on and on. The enormity of the destruction was unfolding before us endless and unrelenting; it was easy to understand how so many lives had been lost.
We stopped to take photos of tumbled down houses, foliage now growing over rubble, the water marks where the wave reached still clearly visible, a chair left in the kitchen, roofs totally ripped off, abandoned houses everywhere an eerie silence, out of nowhere the owner would appear point to the rubble to tell us this was what was left of their house. They described how they had lost their wife, husband, child, father or mother some were still on crutches from injuries they still seemed shocked even after a year that they still could not believe what had happened to them, we could of course completely identify with them.
Outside one small cluster of shelters three women and a small boy were twisting string into bundles on a wheel. They told us they were not allowed to rebuild their houses where they originally were because the government has said all homes must now be built 200 meters away from the beach in case there was another Tsunami. They did not want to move inland, their husbands were fishermen, the lucky ones that had survived they needed to live close to the sea. Because they had not moved they had been told it would now take up to three years to re house them. Drinking water was provided in containers by the Red Cross, sanitation a squat outside, their kitchen an open fire outside. We gave the children some sweets and moved on.
Monday December 19th 2005
We visited a turtle hatchery situated on the beach in the district of Galle. It had been completely wiped out by the tsunami. He told us the wave was 30 feet high and it just came with no warning.. The restaurant and souvenir shop gone, the containers the turtles were in, everything. Because the owner lives inland and his home was not damaged he did not qualify for any compensation from the government to rebuild his business. He is not allowed to rebuild his restaurant again because it is on the beach and now has to be 100 meters away. Of course it has to be next to the turtle hatchery for the tourists.
So he was scratching a living as best he could, his employees who had survived the Tsunami were working as volunteers. They had salvaged the tanks and started to build up the hatchery again, one adult turtle was rescued and had lost both front flippers in the Tsunami he would not be able to be released back into the sea. I asked to go to the toilet he apologised that there was only one which he had just built, there used to be six.
The women were selling souvenirs in a makeshift wooden hut, desperate to sell; of course you felt that you had to buy turtle t shirts that you knew you would never wear! It was all we could do to help and we felt so inadequate. Our guide had lost his father and his home in the Tsunami; he was living with a friend. His leg had been broken by the wave, he knows that the owner of the turtle hatchery could not pay him so he worked anyway because he loved the turtles they were his life, we gave him some money. The situation was just so very sad it was obvious that the turtle hatchery business will never thrive as it did; however it will survive as long as tourists continue to go.
Tuesday 20th December
The train that was derailed in Galle by the Tsunami killed nearly everyone onboard. People climbed onto the roof for safety when the first wave came and then drowned as the second wave engulfed them. Some carriages remain on their side rusting, the track looked like a toy train track that had just been tossed to one side, a stark reminder of the horror of that day.
As we walked towards the train we were quickly surrounded by a group of mostly women some carrying young children. We were pulled and tugged by the women who pleaded with us to listen to “their story.” One women showed me a photograph of a beautiful bride with five bridesmaids, the bride and the two youngest bridesmaids were now dead.
A women asked Graham if he would like to see her newly built house so he went with her and the other women crowded in after him, she pleaded with him to help them. She explained that it was mostly the men who were fishermen and small children who were on the beach and could not save themselves that were killed when the wave came. She said that once the people of this community had had a good life, now the men that had survived had lost their livelihood and they were reduced to begging from tourists.
She showed him her Tsunami ration book and death certificates of her husband, children and grandchildren she was obviously not an exception. The new houses were clearly inadequate, there was no kitchen this was an open fire outside, she said that before she had a kitchen with electricity. They were desperate and angry with the government who they felt had abandoned them.
Luke and Laurence were also surrounded by the women, children linking arms with them as we endeavoured to make our way back to the van. We had sweets which we decided we would give them but as soon as we tried to hand them out it was complete chaos.
We tried to distribute them fairly however this proved to be an impossible task, we gave them all away and decided that we needed to leave, before there was mass hysteria. We drove away with children tapping on the windows pointing to items we had in the van and women with hands clasped together in prayer saying “God bless you” an extremely humbling experience.
Wednesday 21st December 2005
In Galle alone 3,500 people were killed in the Tsunami leaving over a thousand parentless children. Boossa is a small village close to Galle where the Rosie May Home will be built.
We intend to build a small family type home for ten children with house parents. The children will be Tsunami orphans, boys and girls so that siblings can be kept together.
Today we went to visit the site of the home which is owned by the People In Need Foundation an indigenous charity founded when the Tsunami hit last Boxing Day.
Dr Jayesena opened up his ancestral family home in Galle to displaced people when the Tsunami hit and with the help of a German doctor they quickly established a first aid post which has now developed into a clinic offering free medical care.
Over the last year PINF have established a Child and Youth Development Centre at this site. We visited the pre-
The plot for the Rosie May Home is on the 3 acre site and will be the first of several similar homes built. The orphans will benefit from the facilities of the centre and will be educated at the local school. Parentless children cannot be registered as orphans until 12 months after the Tsunami so that opportunity has been given for the children to be adopted by surviving relatives. Unfortunately during this time these children are open to abuse, neglect and exploitation, many have not returned to school since the Tsunami.
On our return to Colombo we will meet with Dr Jayasena and the architect to finalise the plans for the Rosie May Home. The orphans will be sponsored at a cost of about £20 per month by families in the UK through the Rosie May Memorial Fund. Volunteers will also be able to go and work at the centre through the RMMF and offer their skills.
We feel this project has given us a glimmer of light after the last two years of darkness and despair. Rosie May can never be replaced however we can now help children in desperate need through the legacy of our beautiful daughter. Rosie May was at only ten years of age always aware and concerned for the welfare of other children less fortunate then herself, we know that she would be the first to help the Tsunami orphans.
Thursday 22rd December 2005
Everyone here has a story to tell about the Tsunami and they are always willing to talk to us.
We met a man today in Galle who had lost his daughter and granddaughter when the wave came. Before the Tsunami he was working as a tourist guide and was high up on the fort when the wave surged inland. He watched helpless as the horror unfolded below him, the wave took everyone and everything in its path. As we stood talking to him in the busy streets it was easy to understand how so many were killed in Galle. There is a market which lines both sides of the roads, a bus station, a train station, a cricket stadium and bumper to bumper traffic and people. He told us if we had been here in the street when the Tsunami hit we would have not stood a chance.
No tourists came for the first three months after the Tsunami and even now there are very few. Whilst we were in Galle we saw no other Europeans at all. The man told us there has been no work as a tourist guide since. He showed us a photo of his surviving grandson who is now two years old and said that he had not been able to give him any milk for the last four days as he had no money. We offered him money but he refused and said that if we wanted to buy milk for the baby he would accept it as a gift. We went and bought enough milk to last the baby two months he blessed us and rushed off to take it home.
We have been received by the people of Sri Lanka so warmly, they are happy to let us take photos and tell us they have had a lot of help from British charities. It is their own Government that they seem to be disappointed and angry with. There is evidence of many charities working on projects rebuilding communities from different countries and British Red Cross containers filled with drinking water are in most places.
We are however shocked to see families still living in frame tents and wooden temporary shelters a year on and it appears that many people have not had help to regain their livelihood and provide for their family again. The Tsunami has quite clearly had the most devastating effect on the poorest of the poor. Now it is even harder for them to survive than before. Our experience is of course only a glimpse of the vast destruction caused by the Tsunami. However a glimpse of children living in poverty is heartbreaking for us knowing that our own child who we were able to provide for was denied a life and that we were denied the opportunity to give it to her.
Boxing Day 26th December 2005 (First anniversary of the Tsunami)
As we made the 2 hour drive to Hambantota the devastation caused by the Tsunami was apparent. Some areas of the coastline clearly affected more than others, once again the scale of the damage is huge. As we get closer to the town of Hambantota the temporary shelters and tented camps increase in number a stark reminder of how many people were displaced here.
We met Rev De Silva and his wife on the main road and followed them to the centre we felt quite nervous as we were unsure of what to expect. The image of the children waiting excitedly in the doorway with the two youngest clutching palm leaves (a traditional Sri Lankan gift) will always stay with us. As we accepted the gifts they kneeled and touched our feet we felt very humble.
There are now 16 Tsunami children aged 5 to 12 years who attend the Smile centre everyday. The children have not been back to school since the Tsunami, some of them have never been at all even before the Tsunami. The most devastating effect has quite clearly been on the poorest of the poor. We presented a plaque and photograph of Rosie May and Rev De Silva prayed for Rosie May and our family and dedicated the centre in memory of Rosie May. He asked me to say something about Rosie May and so I told the children that she loved dancing, singing, other children and most of all she loved life. As they sang and danced for us we looked at the photograph of our darling daughter looking down smiling at them and we smiled too.
The Rosie May Memorial Fund has made an initial donation to the Smile centre for the maintenance for the first year. This includes provision of domestic staff a teacher and a trauma councillor as some of the children are still frightened of going to the beach or near the sea. The Smile centre provides a safe haven for the children where they can have a nutritious hot meal and have the opportunity of an education.
Our sons Luke 18 years and Laurence 15 years handed out gifts that we had bought for the children and chaos broke out with the sheer excitement of it all.
The boys raced outside with their balls wanting my boys to play catch and volley ball with them. The girls clutched their soft toys protectively; an older girl gave hers to a younger girl to hold whilst she marked out hopscotch with a stone in the dirt. Then tugging at my skirt they beckoned me over to play, of course I knew instinctively this is what Rosie May would have played with them if she were here right now so I threw the stone and hopped with an ache in my heart.
One boy has only one leg and uses a crutch which he zooms around on at a terrific speed. His parents sent him out begging until he came to the Smile centre everyday.
Another boy five years old, tiny for his age and completely adorable, does not have a home but lives with his parents in the road which they clean everyday and then bed down for the night. One of the girls is eleven and does not attend the centre everyday as some days she is left in charge of her younger siblings so that her mother who is now a single parent can go to work. A ten year old girl lives with her grandparents now her two other sisters are in a children’s home in Kandy too far away to visit and so the tragedy goes on.
The cook had prepared a special meal for us of rice and chicken curry followed by Mango ice cream obviously a rare treat judging by the total silence that fell as the children scraped every last spoonful out of their bowls. After lunch once again we caused complete mayhem as Luke and Laurence handed out what we thought were just lollipops but were also whistles much to the children’s delight! Eventually the teacher managed to calm the children down and they stood in line to say goodbye. One by one they kneeled and touched our feet with their hands clasped in prayer, the older children took the younger ones home.
We were asked if we would like to walk into the village and see where the children live so we walked down the dusty road and were met by some of the children from the centre. They had changed out of their clothes that they had worn at the centre and were now wearing dirty ragged clothing. The houses were basically one or two rooms, dark and dingy with a few plastic chairs and a selection of pots and pans in the corner. As we walked into the village the collection of children that gathered around us began to grow. Our video camera a source of amazement as they clamoured to see themselves on the screen.
The future for these children has been made brighter by the Smile centre they will now have a better start in life. The next stage is to open a pre school at the centre and this time next year to start to build a children’s home which we will fund as Rosie May Home 2.
As we travelled back in the dark the candles placed along the beaches had been light for loved ones lost in the Tsunami it was an extraordinary sight to see the flames flickering as far as the eye could see. Each flame representing a life that had been snuffed out in an instant and without warning. This of course we can identify with. After the last two years of darkness and despair we feel that the Smile centre has given our family a glimmer of light just like it has for the Tsunami children.
To View the BBC Report and Listen to our Audio Diary CLICK HERE