South Asian Disaster News Update from Youth For Christ Update on the Relief and Rehabilitation work in Sri Lanka
February 2005 Youth For Christ (YFC) has projects in the north, north east, east and south of Sri Lanka. One of their main aims is to distribute school packs, containing books, stationery and clothes to at least 20,000 school children so they can continue with their education in the aftermath of the tsunami.
While the government has been working to get the infrastructure ready for the distribution of aid, there has been some disillusionment from people as they are yet to receive from the authorities tangible relief to their suffering, which makes the work of organisations such as YFC all the more vital.
YFC has a team of 35 people - staff and volunteers - working in the south of Sri Lanka at present. They are divided into three groups and are working tirelessly in three different regions. When the YFC Director, Ajith Fernando, visited them earlier this month, several told him that they had been preparing school packs till 3am the previous night, so that they were ready for the next morning's distribution. There is a determination amongst the workers to get as many children back to school as soon as possible. The distribution of school packs is just one element of their work. These are some of the stories that have come from the team in the south.
1. Teachers in one school said children, especially girls, were not attending as the refugee camps only had sufficient water for consumption, not for bathing. But the school itself had good stocks of pipe-borne water. So the YFC team built a bathing area in the school, including a soakage pit to take
in waste water. They also transformed the room next to it into a changing room. Now children come to school early, have their shower and attend lessons.
2. Two schools with over 500 students had just one lavatory each. These were little rooms of about 5 feet by 3 feet with a squatting pan. One of these schools, a girls' school, shared their only lavatory with the Police station next door. The YFC teams are building two more lavatories in each of these schools.
3. Many people have shown gratitude for the clothes and underwear they have been given. One mother came to a school and told the team that her daughter would not come to school as she had nothing to wear or take to school. The YFC pack had all she needed, but the policy is to give the packs to children – no one else. So the mother went home and brought her daughter who gratefully received the pack. Not everyone is as grateful. One mother said that her daughter was refusing to wear the shoes she was given, because she did not like the style - teenagers!
4. Many people have commented on the fact that the YFC teams have not been advertising themselves as they go about their work. There is no mention of YFC on any of the school packs and no signs with the YFC logo. Everywhere the teams go, people have commented on the completeness of the packs.
5. Some villages where the main road is not close to the sea had received no relief at all. YFC staff went to one village which had been terribly affected and asked the monk at the Buddhist temple (who would
functionally be the chief official of the village) whether they needed school packs. He said that there were almost no children left in the school. The only children that survived were those who had gone to a nearby town for tuition classes on the Sunday the tsunami hit.
6. School principals are asked for lists of students affected by the tsunami, so teams can give the children school packs directly. However when the teams go to the schools with the packs, they are finding that some of the neediest students' names had not been included on the lists, as the school authorities
had not known about them at the time the lists were compiled.
7. Many children remain traumatised. Often when the names of little children are called out, they do not respond. Teachers have to go and tell them that their name was called. Many children (and parents) are suffering from insomnia.
YFC’s Associate National Director, Satchi, will be travelling to Jaffna, in the north of the island, with hundreds of relief supply packs in the second week of February. It will be a tedious journey. They
expect to have to remove all the goods from the truck three times for security checks. The team are hoping and praying that the goods will be exempted from the usual tax that is charged when they pass through the rebel-held area.