Former ECSF reflects on her visit to her homeland of Sri Lanka after the tsunami

Brahmy Poologasingham sent the Center the following letter on the 6-month anniversity of the tsunami

June 26, 2005

Hello from Sri Lanka,

I have been here for over a week now, and although this is a shorter trip than I would have liked to have planned, a lot has happened since I've been here.

I thought I would send all of you a quick e-mail seeing as this is the six month anniversary of the Tsunami and I, along with my dad and some family friends, just got back to Colombo from visiting the Southern most areas that were affected by the earthquake and tidal waves (Galle, Hambantota, Kudawella, Weligama, to name a few. We are also hoping to visit the Northeast areas around Trinco). I don't really know where to begin describing everything I've seen, the people I've spoken to, and the current political situation. But, I do want to share some memories with you and tell you some things I've noticed over the last few days. I know most of you are far away from Sri Lanka, but I hope I can bring you a little closer with this communication.

Even after six months, there is plenty of evidence of the devastation--you can still see the demolished homes, and through them the most dramatic views of the Indian Ocean that rose up to destroy so many lives not so long ago. Also, etched in my mind is a chaotic mass of mangled metal that is part of a train in which 2,000 people perished, and to this day it remains on the train tracks as a reminder of the force of the Tsunami (you may remember this train wreck as one of CNN's main stories). A multitude of pictures, clothes, people's personal items, toys, fishing nets and parts of boats are strewn about on the ground and have melded into the broken brick and the dried up palmera trees, providing a backdrop that only Mother Nature could stage.

What amazes me the most about this country of mine, is despite the suffering, people still have not given up hope. People were not shy to come out of their makeshift homes to talk to us-everyone from young children, to grandmothers, to displaced fishermen. Everyone we spoke to, had lost someone or had an amazing story of survival to relate. I don't want to be unnecessarily dramatic, but it is incredible what these people have been through together, and what they are doing to exist on a daily basis. They have been beaten down in so many ways, and yet they envision a better future, if only their basic needs can be met.

The biggest real problem right now, outside of one's future livelihood, is the building of homes. To give you all an idea of the need-the southernmost area of Sri Lanka needs at least 3,800 homes to be built of which 350 are finished thus far. The total need around the country for homes and basic shelter is at about 90,000! There are after all 1 million people who have been displaced (40,000 were killed). Currently, there are many temporary tents with the UNICEF, Red Cross and many other European nation's, and NGO logos, but people have very little room in them, as many times multiple families are crammed into one tent. Medical aid, water, and food rations have been distributed, but people are still lacking basic food and water on a daily basis. The reconstruction phase is under way, but must really gather muster now if the people's futures are to be stabilized.

As for the current political process, without going into too much detail (as I could definitely talk your ear off on this subject), there is currently a joint Tsunami mechanism proposal to distribute the aid money with the help of both the government and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This mechanism would allow the billions of dollars in aid that has not yet been released to be distributed to both the South and the Northeastern areas most affected by the Tsunami, as they are in desperate need of this money to start the 10-year reconstruction process. It is a 2-year proposal that will hopefully cause all parties to work together for the sake of the victims and perhaps pave the road to future peace initiatives in the country.

I realize this e-mail has taken on enormous proportions, but I wanted to update all of you Sri Lanka lovers and generous donors, on the ongoing Tsunami relief efforts-a cause that is near and dear to both my heart and yours. Thanks for taking the time to read my notes, and I hope this e-mail finds you and your loved ones well.

As you can imagine, it has been very emotional and fulfilling to be here, and I look forward to discussing my trip with you.

All the best,