January 1 2005
"No joys of childhood on their faces"
Latest news from the SOS Relief Programmes in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia
01/01/2005 - Victor Painadath, coordinator of the emergency relief programmes in South India, sent a report yesterday about the first children who became orphans by the tsunami and who are being cared for at the SOS relief camps. Emergency teams from SOS Children's Villages tell of the current situation in the heavily affected areas in eastern Sri Lanka and the emergency aid provided by the organisation. Co-workers in Indonesia should reach the province of Aceh within the next four days.
The following message, sent yesterday by Victor Painadath, coordinator of the emergency relief programmes in South India, describes SOS Children's Villages efforts following the tsunami, which comprise, amongst other relief activities, 16 camps for displaced and orphaned children:
"In a few hours it will be New Year's Day, a day to celebrate wishes and hopes. However, for many children in these coastal areas of eastern India it is very, very different. They have many wishes: if I had my father and mother, if I had my home, if I were in my school. But hopes are in short supply. I see no joys of childhood on their faces, no rays of hope in their eyes. And the New Year for them is nothing to celebrate. I met Renuka at Thiruvaroor near Nagapattinam. She is 16 years old and is a student. She lives in a camp with her three younger sisters. Both their father and mother were washed away by the gushing waters. I asked Renuka what her wishes are, she told me, 'can you get me a job?' She wants to leave school and take up a job to look after her sisters. They have an aunt who wanted to have some time to decide on our offer to look after all the four children in an SOS Children's Village.
Little Mina is 1 1/2 years old. Her father had died some time earlier and she was being cared for by her mother. The mother had left her with an old woman and went to work at the fish harbour. When the monstrous waters came, she would have run to the rescue of her daughter, but the waters were faster than her. She was washed away into the depths of the ocean leaving Mina alone. We found Mina with a woman who knew her mother. We brought her to our care centre today and soon she will have a mother, a family, a home and opportunities in life. She still sometimes says Amma (mother) and she needs a mother again.
We believe that there will be more children like Mina who will need long term care at an SOS Children's Village. The Government of Pondicherry has already identified 20 children and requested SOS Children's Villages to look after them. As we continue with our programme of relief to children in distress at our Child Relief Centres, we will know more about how many such children there are."
SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka took immediate action to provide relief to the refugees in Batticaloa and areas to the north as a first step in providing aid to those affected by the tsunami. Having made contact with Father Crispus, who runs the SOS Social Center in Morakkatanchenai, and established the immediate requirements, a first lorry loaded with dry-rations consisting of rice, dhal, sugar, tea and milk powder as well as feeding-bottles and nipples, bottled water, salt, candles, match boxes and medicines made its way to Batticaloa on 28 December.
3,000 packages were made with the help of SOS co-workers and volunteers at the SOS Social Center in Nuwara Eliya, which is being used as a collection and co-ordination centre for the eastern and south-eastern coastal areas. The SOS co-workers and neighbours of the SOS Children's Village Nuwara Eliya donated the clothes. Relief supplies were also donated by concerned citizens and friends of Nuwara Eliya, as was the truck used to transport the relief packages.
On reaching Morakkatanchenai north of Batticaloa, Father Crispus joined the team to visit Vakarai, a small village just south of the designated 'un-cleared' areas under the control of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). The SOS Relief Team was the first to visit this village, considered to be a high-risk area due to the active pressure mines that had surfaced due to the effect of the waves. However, the team was confident and reached the area without incident.
Around 225 families that had been displaced were taking refugee at the Alankulam Tamil Vidyalayam (school). The number of refugees was increasing steadily, as the affected families poured into this refugee camp, having no alternative centre to go to. All the inhabitants of this camp were provided with dry rations and clothes. The dry rations that were provided were sufficient to last for the next two days. The SOS team was followed by the Dutch NGO, ZOA, which also handed out aid. There was little sign of assistance at the other camps visited.
Karuvankerni was the next village to be visited where 150 families were taking shelter at the Vigneshwaran Maha Vidyalayam (school), where the numbers were increasing steadily. Here too, items sufficient for two days were distributed.
Pudukudiruppu Tamil Maha Vidyalayam (school) was the next centre to be visited, where 425 families were taking refuge. This was one of the largest camps and here again the numbers were increasing so rapidly that on completion of distributing our items there were 555 families - an increase of 130 families in a matter of a few hours.
The relief team spent the night at the SOS Social centre at Morakkatanchenai and the following morning visited the Eastern University, Batticaloa, where over one thousand families were camped. However, these refugees had received sufficient rations as this camp is situated at the main road of Batticaloa and was easily accessed by local agencies.
The final distribution took place at the Vandaramulla Vishnu Vidyalayam (school), where 215 families and about 200 children were sheltered. Here too, food items sufficient for two days were distributed. Most of the feeding bottles were distributed at this camp due to the large numbers of infants.
A small stock of food items were retained at the SOS Social Center in Morakkatanchenai. This centre is providing cooked meals as immediate relief to arriving refugees. This effort had begun with the help of the Anglican Church and some donors before the SOS team reached the area.
All the refugees in Alankulam Tamil Vidyalayam, Karuvankerni Vigneshwaran Maha Vidyalayam and Pudukudiruppu Tamil Maha Vidyalayam are from Vakarai, which is a small fishing village about twenty five kilometres from the SOS Social Center at Morakkatanchenai. 5,480 families were living in Vakarai and all of them have been affected by the tsunami. At present more than 40 makeshift camps are functioning in the Batticaloa district.
The refugee camps lack sufficient water and sanitary facilities and consequently hygienic conditions are in a very poor state. In addition, the refugees are in need of kitchen utensils, medicines, toiletries, clothing, sanitary towels, mats and bed sheets, etc.
During the interviews it was revealed that the refugees are not sure whether they want to return to where they came from, as they are scared that they might be subject to another tidal wave and also due to the fact that they have lost their dwellings and possessions. They were not in a proper state of mind to decide what they should do. Some of the refugees, however, were fishermen and keen to get back to their regular profession but only once they had a roof over their heads and the required fishing equipment.[Report by Divakar Ratnadurai, project director of the SOS Emergeny Relief Programmes in Sri Lanka, 31 December 2004]
Additional information on the emergency aid in Sri Lanka
According to SOS Children's Village President Helmut Kutin, who is to stay in Thailand for the next few weeks, co-workers of SOS Children's Villages in Indonesia will be reaching the province of Aceh within the next three to four days. Nearly nothing is known so far about the fate of thousands of children in this worst-hit area in Indonesia.
An estimated 300 to 400 children in dire need can be admitted to existing SOS Children's Villages in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Helmut Kutin said.