26th December, 2005
One year ago, the giant Tsunami waves that crashed onto the Sri Lankan coast carried away the lives of 40,983 people on the island and injured 23,189. A total of 4,846 people are still reported missing. The greatest tribute anyone can make to those who were lost to the catastrophe is to help their loved ones recover their lives that were left in shambles. Sarvodaya has indeed been engaged in this work for the past twelve months, but it did not forget to conduct a few ceremonies to mark the first anniversary of the worst natural disaster to hit the island.
Linking Village to Village
Sarvodaya’s main events to mark the date were religious ceremonies. These were conducted by the movement’s district staff and Shanthi Sena cadres in Sarvodaya villages throughout the affected districts. The events were spread out over three days commencing from 25th December and included almsgivings to bhikkus, bana sessions, pirith ceremonies, Islamic services, dewa pujas, church services, and bodhi pujas.
The religious ceremonies were conducted under the “Village to Village – Heart to Heart” development program of the Shanthi Sena. This is a longstanding program that interconnects Sarvodaya villages, which are located at a great distance from each other. When the Tsunami struck, teams of Shanthi Sena youth from unaffected villages went to the villages with which they already had a link and took care of much of the initial relief action in the areas. This work established the foundation for the post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction work that Sarvodaya eventually launched. As part of the first-year commemoration, the same teams of Shanthi Sena cadres returned to these villages along with other volunteers from their villages. The youth groups traveled from nine unaffected districts to Galle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Matara, and Trincomalee. The visitors took with them lorries of food that had been prepared by the people of their villages and other items necessary for the ceremonies. They collected these things from within their own villages or through fundraising.
Housing for the Survivors
In addition to this, Sarvodaya organized five national-level events to mark the anniversary. Attended by hundreds of Tsunami-affected folk and Sarvodaya well-wishers, these were provided coverage by both the national and international media.
The morning was marked by two ceremonies in Kalutara district to hand over houses that had been built for Tsunami survivors who had lost their homes to the calamity. The first ceremony was conducted in Thalpitiya village and saw the handing over of twenty-two houses to their beneficiaries. These houses were built by Sarvodaya utilizing funding from Certified Financial Analysts (CFA), Sri Lanka, Northshore City Council, New Zealand, Sanofi Aventis, SKM Consultants, New Zealand, the Rotary Club of North Shore City, New Zealand, and Sarvodaya Belgium as well as the Sarvodaya Tsunami Fund.
The Thalpitiya opening ceremony was attended by the Chief Minister of the Western Province, Reginald Cooray, the Western Province Council Chairman, Jagath Angage, and the Panadura AGA, DCLC Perera as well as the religious leaders of the area, the people of the village including the members of its Sarvodaya Shramadana Society (SSS), and people from nearby villages who had come in busloads to witness the handing over of houses.
Sarvodaya was represented by its Chairman, Dr. AT Ariyaratne, Mrs. Neetha Ariyaratne, the Acting Executive Director, Mrs. Udani Mendis, the Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Subhasena De Silva, the Treasurer, Mr. Dharma Gunasinghe, the Finance Director, Mr. Saman Algoda, and Mr. DA Perera. The donors of the project were represented by Mr. Mahinda Attanayake, a member of the North Shore City Council and the Executive Offfice of the CFA, Mr. Dinesh Warusawithana.
Even though a total of twenty-two houses were handed over in this village, only five of them were ceremonially opened. Dr. AT and the other dignitaries cut ribbons in these houses and lit oil lamps according to the religious rituals of the families to which they were gifted. The families were active participants in these rites and the ceremonies were enlivened by the joy and enthusiasm of the children who joined in the proceedings. The keys of the other houses were handed over to the beneficiaries and a number of the dignitaries as well as members of the local Sarvodaya chapters conducted speeches. The beneficiaries were also given packages of kitchen utensils.
The next event was held in Kalamulla where twenty-two houses funded by Jiffy Products, Sri Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. and Sanofi Aventis were handed over to the beneficiaries in a similar opening ceremony. It saw the participation of the same dignitaries as well as the Managing Director of Jiffy, Mr. Sandeeptha Gamlath and two members of the Board of Directors of Sarvodaya USA, David Capraro and Dr. Harsha Jayatilleke. The Kalamulla beneficiaries were also given packages that contained a month’s supply of dry foods, kitchen utensils, and other household goods. Contributed by Jiffy, the packages were so large that the beneficiaries had to hire three-wheeler taxis to carry them back to their new homes.
The Sarvodaya District Coordinator and staff at the Kalutara District Center provided the leadership for these housing construction projects. Over the past few months, these individuals have traveled to these two villages countless times to coordinate the construction and its funding. At the opening ceremony Dr. AT spoke extensively about these efforts and noted that it was their tireless work that had enabled the completion of the projects.
The SSS in the villages were also very much part of the construction process, taking active roles in planning the projects, designing the houses, bringing the required goods, and providing construction help. Some of the Kalamulla beneficiaries said that the houses built by Sarvodaya were the best houses that had been constructed in their village for Tsunami-affected folk because the beneficiaries themselves got to make the decisions about them according to what they wanted. They also noted that since the construction was coordinated by Sarvodaya and not handed over to contractors, it was completed without waster or fraud.
At 9.30 am, the participants of the ceremonies paused in their activities to join the rest of the country in observing the two minutes of silence that had been promoted by the government.
Healing through Play and Laughter
At four in the afternoon, a ceremony was held in the town of Galle to open the children’s park that was built in Dharmapala Playground. This playground is the pilot project in the “Post-Tsunami Healing and Recovery through Recreation and Play” program that is funded by the AJJDC, the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund, and USAID. Coordinated by Sarvodaya, the program will eventually build eighty-five children’s playgrounds in the Tsunami-affected areas. These grounds will provide recreational facilities to children traumatized by the catastrophe and will be a means of psycho spiritual healing and rehabilitation.
Sarvodaya coordinated the construction of the playground with collaboration from the urban council and the provincial council of the area. The signature ground is the first in South Asia to be erected to international safety regulations. Due to the innovative technology and computer facilities that were used in this project as well as its accessibility to differently-abled individuals, it can also be sited as a benchmark project in Sri Lankan construction.
The opening ceremony was attended by the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr. Jeffrey J. Lunstead, the Governor of the Southern Province, Mr. Kingsley T. Wickramaratne, the Mayor of Galle, Mr. Mohammad Ariff, the USAID Mission Director in Sri Lanka, Dr. Carol R. Becker, and the AJJDC representative in Sri Lanka, Ms. Mandy Winston as well as the representatives from Sarvodaya who attended the morning ceremonies. Religious leaders and large numbers of people from the surrounding area, including dozens of children, also took part.
Religious blessings kicked off the ceremony and the dignitaries conducted speeches. Dr. Ariyaratne thanked the funding organizations for placing their trust in Sarvodaya to conduct the playground project. He also spoke about the support the movement had received from local governmental organizations and expressed his gratitude towards them. The ambassador and other dignitaries then opened a plaque and cut ribbons at the entrances to the equipment. There was a light-hearted moment as Mr. Lunstead forced Mr. Wickramaratne to join him in gliding down one of the slides and then twisted Dr.Ariyaratne’s arm into doing so too. Hundreds of children then converged on the equipment and the ceremony was concluded in the midst of their excited laughter. Parents who had accompanied their children expressed their happiness that their offspring could now use playground equipment that they had thus far seen only on the television. They said that the children had been gathering around the construction for weeks and watching the workers put up the equipment in anticipation of using them.
A Ring of Light
The final events of the day were conducted at seven in the evening. Simultaneously conducted in Wenamulla village in Ambalangoda and at the Galle Face Green in Colombo, these ceremonies were organized under the remembrance program, “In Loving Memory.” Conceptualized and designed by a Sarvodaya volunteer, Ms. Sharon, these events saw the lighting of lanterns, which were made by Tsunami-affected women, along the coastline of Sri Lanka in a bid to encircle the island in a ring of light.
Coordinated by the Sarvodaya Women’s Movement, Tsunami-affected women were provided with funding to construct these lanterns, which were also sold in public shopping malls in Colombo. While hundreds of people participated in the two official ceremonies of the program, they is no doubt that they were joined by dozens more who had bought the lanterns and lit them in the confines of their own homes and neighborhoods.
The ceremony in Wenamulla was attended by hundreds of Tsunami-affected women from the area. They lit the lanterns that they had made themselves, closed their eyes, and spent a few moments in silence as they remember the loved ones they had lost a year ago. Dr. Ariyaratne, Ms. Amara Peiris, its Chairman, Kusum Wijesinghe, the Galle District Coordinator, Mr. Upali De Silva, and staff of the Women’s Movement as well as religious leaders of the area joined them in the ceremony.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of Sarvodaya, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne and volunteers from the Colombo business community under the leadership of Mrs. Rohana Jayaratne, led the ceremony in Colombo with the participation of hundreds of well-wishers. Everyone lit their lanterns and placed them on the coast at seven pm creating a line of light along the shoreline that had been devastated just twelve months before.