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DR. SUSANTHA GUNATHILAKA'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE EASTERN PROVINCE AFTER THE TSUNAMI


By Susantha Gunathilaka 25-01-2005


This is some brief description of the two-day visit to the Eastern Province. The towns visited were Pothuvil, Ulla (Sinhapura), Tirukkovil, Akkaraipattu, Ampara, Uhana. The initial trigger for our visit was to visit the village Sinhapura (Ulla) in Arugambay with a view to join in the construction of the school totally washed away by Tsunami and the construction/repair of the houses. It was Jayantha Wickramasinghe who drew our attention to this and our intention was to join Jayantha & the Ananda College OBA in the reconstruction efforts.

We had also got a request from a SL group in USA who wanted to rebuild a damaged school. On Saturday 15th January, we managed to reach Arugambay in time to take a boat to the village past the bridge plunged in water. Three young men from the Canadian Air Force were operating rubber dinghies flown from Canada.

At Sinhapura Sinhala Vidyalaya, we saw around 100 men putting up 4 large temporary sheds to replace the damaged buildings. They were from the STF (Sri Lanka Police ) Sahana Seva Balakaya, (Relief Services Force). The latter predominated. Principal\'s house was standing with only minor damages. The children who attended this school came, not only from the village of Sinhapura, but also from nearby villages. Though located in a far-off place, being a State-run school, it was a building complex of 20 rooms relatively fully equipped lab. The school complex needs to be built anew and equipped. We heard since our visit that the school had reopened in the temporary sheds we saw being put up. A total of 225 inhabitants belonging to 64 families were affected. The totally destroyed houses (53 of the 64 houses) need to be built anew while 11 houses could be repaired. The cost of the school construction has been estimated Rs. 1.5 million.

We visited several tents (with the label US AID) occupied by villagers. Inside one tent was Nagesh (Tamil) sharing the tent with Sirisena (Sinhalese) who have known each other for a long time. Nagesh\'s wife had vanished in the tidal waves. We saw few children in the village at the time we visited. On our way back to the boat, we met a group of women with children coming back from Mudu Maha Viharaya. Some of their children had been awarded scholarships by SUCCESS for their studies.

We met also on the way back a husband & wife with an infant bringing back to the village, an 8 year-old daughter. The 8 year-old was terrified of the waves & had stopped talking, except screaming \"Sea is coming\". She still looked terrified. At the Mudu Maha Viharaya there were around 50 persons (mothers & children) at the temple being treated to tea & biscuits. The incumbent monk said that they were his dayakayas & came to the temple often.

A few hours after we returned to Colombo around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Jayantha informed us that the school began to function on that day. We felt that the volunteers from JVP who worked on the construction of the temporary school buildings were determined to begin school soonest with the intention of motivating the children to get back to normal life.

We spent the night at Ampara & proceeded to Akkarapattu the following morning. Together with our friend Dr. Anusiya Senadiraja, a senior lecturer at South-Eastern University (originally from Jaffna), we drove to Thirukkovil along the coast. There was extensive devastation. All the camps were for the Tamil and Muslim people. At camps run by the STF western nurses & doctors were conducting medical clinics.

We spoke to Ven. Panaluwe Pannarama of the Vidyaravinda Pirivena, Homagama getting ready to distribute goods garments from a lorry and Tamil Hindus were queuing up for them. One of the water bowsers for the camp was from a Sinhala benefactor from Polonnaruwa. As we were leaving, we saw a busload from the National Bhikkhu Front & another busload from the PNM coming towards the camp.

Senapathiya Ananda Thero (24 years old) of 23rd colony at Uhana had done yeoman service from the day the Tsunami struck. By the evening, he had alerted his Negenahira Sinhala Sanvidanaya activists. They received the Tamil refugees coming away from the coastal areas. They were housed in different temples and fed by the Singhalese. The Tamil mothers had said \"Hamuduru mahattaya apiva bala gatta\". Immediately after meeting with us that afternoon in Uhana, Ananda Thero was proceeding to Trincomalee on the motor bike that Shanti Zoysa had donated him. Samantha rides the motor bike for him with which he runs around on the pillion.

The Tamils helped by the monks included some of the inhabitants from the very Tamil villages which had attacked Sinhalese villagers. CNN had footage of how the monks from Arantalawa area helped the very villagers that had killed the young monks in the 1980s.

The govt machinery has kicked in. Food, dry rations etc is now coming in regularly. With the wave of mutual sympathy between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims, here is a golden opportunity to strengthen national unity. Some monks, JVP volunteers, police, STF have made direct humanitarian inroads into Tamil and Muslim heartland in the East.

LTTE humanitarian activities were minimal, TRO refugee centers were much smaller than govt ones. The main cleaning up of debris etc was done from circa day 2 by principally police, army together with JVP volunteers who were joined by many locals in the area. The JVP according to police sources had fielded over 400 volunteers in the Pottuvil area and 361 volunteers in the Akkaraipattu area. In addition, there had been 1,100 volunteers from Gampaha that had camped out for ten days and had returned on Friday. These were not exclusive JVP members but included those who joined them such as schoolteachers, workers, farmers and clerks and so on.



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