Hema Goonatilake

Yesterday early morning, Susantha & I left for the South in our car intending to go at least to Matara. We stopped many times from Moratuwa onwards to speak to people who had been rendered homeless. After Panadura, it was raining hard with thunder & lightening. Galle Road from Ambalangoda to Hikkaduwa was closed because of broken bridges & also it was around there the train carrying over 1,000 passengers was hit (almost all dead). So we took a detour via Meetiyagoda, Baddegama & reached only Galle. We could not stay the night & proceed further since we had to return to Colombo even very late at night in order to dispatch collected supplies to the East.

Early morning yesterday Gamini Perera who has been active in the Panadura area from the day of the disaster told me that on Monday, there was too much of cooked food & the temples had turned into refugee centres. He also said that except for one church, all other churches in the area were closed.

Everywhere we went, we saw it was the Buddhist monks that had taken the leadership to get the survivors to their temples & schools. Buddhist monks were seen on the road almost every ten minutes in lorries loaded with food items. In Beruwala, the people around the massive mosque were actively involved with the survivors who were accommodated in a nearby school. Most of them were Muslims. There were also Sinhalese families. Food for them was being cooked in the mosque premises. There were also a few churches which accommodated victims.

Many of those housed in temples & schools were not to be seen in the day time. They were out trying to rescue their belongings from the rubble. They returned only late in the evening to eat & sleep, we were told. We saw on the way back right from Ambalangoda up to about Panadura (we returned via Hikkaduwa, Aluthwala (only yesterday knew of the place because of the detour), Kuleegoda) men & women carrying 10 kl rice bags, dhall, milk food etc distributed from lorries & vans even in the interior. These distributions were made by just normal Buddhist monks and laypersons. The Buddhist sprit of Dana is engrained and has come out.

All sea resorts & hotels right through were closed up & the majority of tourists had left for Colombo. The only tourist hotel that functioned was the one on a hilly place in Galle, the Light House, (only BBC team & foreign journalists were resident) where we managed to get a cup of tea at 5.30 p.m. Restaurants even in Hikkaduwa had finished all their food. When we looked for a place to eat, every one directed us to the nearest temple. Finally, we managed at a grocery to buy the last two cream cracker packets & cheese.

Along the Galle Road, there were only stretches with electricity.

Most striking & exemplary thing for me was the resilience of the survivors. It was amazing – they went about with dignity, looking for whatever they could recover from the rubble, never begged for money from us. In many places, the survivors were clearing up the rubble of their houses while govt. labourers were clearing up the roads. Village men were directing & facilitating traffic all along the way.

The Galle town was like a war zone – the Pola & the bus stand totally destroyed. One of the main comments many people made was that because the disaster hit on a Poya day, many people who usually come to town were either in their homes or temples & saved their lives. Fishermen were not in the sea, although many were washed away with their families & houses. Some ran away & survived.

The bottom line in my view is that our Buddhist spirit of Dana & Metta has survived & the close link between the Temple & people is strong as ever. Most of the monks – at least the ones we saw on the way (& others whom we know personally) continue to perform their historical role of community leader & relief worker. (A good friend of mine, a Taiwan Bhikkhuni & Ven. Bodagama Chandima arrived early this morning & they are going to the South today)

It is with this background that I want to write and correct the false picture ending with salutations to “God” that was forwarded with due concern by Daya to Ramani and others. It was sent by Kumudu Kusum Kumara" whom I knew <> . I hope that mine is a correction to the pro-xian account. (I asked by phone many others around) a few churches have accommodated survivors (in contrast, on earlier occasions, we had seen Christian priests all over in the East & North eclipsing all Hindu presence). Even in times of disaster they want to denigrate the locals.

More News

1. Ven. Madoluwawe Sobhitha Thera is mobilizing monks to go on pindapatha to collect money to build houses for the disaster survivors.

2. I also forgot to mention that University Students Unions (monks included), Sudents Buddhist Organisations were found distributing dry rations food items in the South.

3. Some Sri Lankans in the US have been collecting funds for house construction in the South - these funds will be channelled through their personal contacts in the South. The ages of youngest Sri Lankans who have been raising money are 5-12 years - they are going around with pin keta among their school mates and neighbours (two children of my niece (in Missouri) and nephew (in New York) are 5-8 years - they have raised already US$400 some thing)



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