Maik Sanarthna and her son Nimah Sasanka outside the wreckage of their home. They are now living in a temple camp.
Maik Sanarthna and her son Nimah Sasanka outside the wreckage of their home. They are now living in a temple camp.

Heartbreak for a young family

By MARK FURLER

in Sri Lanka

NINE months ago, young mum Maik Sanarthna proudly moved into her new home just across from the Indian Ocean.

Together with her husband, a local police officer, six-year-old daughter and three-year-old son, she was proud of how nicely it was furnished and how well her children were provided for.

This week, Maik and her family surveyed the rubble of their home, just like countless families along the coastline between Colombo and Galle who have lost their homes in the tsunami tragedy.

Speaking through an interpreter, with her son Nimah Sasanka by her side, the 20-year-old tells us how she and her children now have nothing but the clothes on their back.

Having put all their savings into establishing their home, she says the family can only hope the government will help in the rebuilding of their house.

But there is little real hope of that given the damaged roads, bridges, railway stations and rail lines requiring government funds.

For the moment, Maik is living in the nearby temple with many other families. Our interpreter tells us the temple camp is very dirty; there is no toilet.

Next door, another pile of rubble tells the story of another six families displaced.

As we leave Maik, thanking her for sharing her story and telling her of APN's appeal to raise $1 million for victims like her, photographer Kevin Farmer quietly hands her some money. It is not enough, but we can't leave feeling we have done nothing.

Earlier in the day, as we pull up to get a photograph of the ruins, a father approaches our car, motioning to his mouth to say he needs food.

But with crowds around, we move on, fearing we may create a riot if we start handing out food.

While aid agencies are primarily focusing their attention on emergency relief, planning is already under way for medium- and long-term projects to help rebuild the lives of tsunami victims. Not only are there thousands of homes to rebuild along the coastline, many fishermen will need new boats so they can again earn a living.

CARE director of program development Ashika Serasundara says field officers with the aid agency are putting forward many proposals to help the rehabilitation of entire communities.

It will be Ashika's job over coming weeks to see how best to use the money coming in from overseas. Priorities in the short term include water purification, improving basic sanitation and projects to particularly help women and children.

Sri Lankans are a tough breed and they are well used to adversity, but as one CARE official warns, there is a real danger of depression setting in if they are left without the prospect of regaining the livelihoods and dignity submerged by the cruel sea.

While TV images beamed back home show flashes of the devastation, its only when you continue to drive right along the coastline that you get a sense of the destruction.

Brooms have become the biggest item on display in the shops along the way. A shop selling kids' toys has no customers. There are far more important things to consider, like safe drinking water, food, clothing and shelter.



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