Some Good News
Good news from Weligama. It took much longer than I expected, but I was able to help resettle seven families from the little enclave of Sathniwasapura, next to the place where I was swimming on the morning of Dec. 26 when the tsunami struck. As I clung to a fishing boat, I could hear the screams of villagers drowning in their homes on the other side of the road.
For weeks after the tsunami, the survivors were living in tents on the ruins of their former houses. Although the government promised to provide permanent housing for all tsunami victims within six months (by the end of June), nothing has happened yet. It's still not clear where people will eventually live, as the government has imposed a ban on any new building within 100 meters from the sea.
The solution was temporary housing. With funds raised in the U.S., I was able to help pay for the construction of 15 wooden huts on land provided by a Buddhist monastery at the edge of town. The work was supervised by Kapila Jayasekera. According to Sascha Gerbracht, the son of a local organic farmer, the remaining seven families from Sathniwasapura moved into the huts in mid-April, in time to celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year.
"Sathniwasapura is deserted. Only ruins and memories remain," Sascha wrote last week from Weligama. "Most Sathniwasapura people seem very happy, even though their possessions consist of little more than their clothes and a few personal items."
Normally an occasion for raucous celebrations, the New Year festivities were quiet and subdued this year, Sascha reports. The people who run the refugee camp handed out parcels of Singhalese sweetmeats to celebrate the occasion, but there was no singing, dancing or throwing of firecrackers. Traditionally, New Year is a time when relatives get together to celebrate, rather like Thanksgiving in the United States. But this year, everybody's thoughts turned to lost loved ones.
-- Michael Dobbs
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