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South Asian Disaster
News Update from Youth for Christ
Update on the Relief and Rehabilitation work in Sri Lanka
June 2005: The First Six Months

Our first response after the tsunami struck was to work with existing relief agencies like World Vision, LEADS and the Evangelical Alliance. They had the funds and the expertise, we had the staff and volunteers.

As we began to receive funds ourselves, we decided that our major focus would be on the age groups that we normally work with: children and youth. We decided that our next phase would be to help children get back to school and help schools get back to normalcy. For three months this was YFC’s primary work and we suspended most of our other normal programmes. About 500 staff and volunteers were involved in our relief operations.

YFC had projects in all of the affected provinces with seven teams working simultaneously.

Our first major project was to distribute back-to-school packs to school children. By liaising with the co-ordinating group for relief in the area, we worked with various schools where we supplied children with the basic material things they needed in order to go back to school. Our staff personally visited each schools and the packs were made based on the lists provided by the schools, with the names and ages of children who had been affected by the tsunami.

We had different packs for girls and boys, and each was tailored to meet the needs of each age-group. For about two whole months the Colombo team worked late into the night purchasing, packing and sending off the supplies to the areas where they were needed. Each day between five and twenty volunteers worked at St. Luke’s Church, Borella, where the packing was done - many came after a hard day’s work and often worked late into the night. In addition we gave packs to a few teachers affected by the tsunami.

  • The packs had stationery supplies, underwear, uniforms or cloth to make uniforms, shoes, a lunch pack and water bottle, all put inside a school bag.
  • 36,000 packs in all were distributed in 210 schools nationwide.
  • In the Trincomalee district 500 smaller packs were distributed in 8 schools.
  • 224 teachers’ packs were distributed.
  • Seven teachers in Mullaitivu were given bicycles.

It became apparent to us that that the schools we were working with had many other needs that we could help meet. As some of our staff workers are skilled in construction and metal work, which is done in our vocational training programs they were able to give immediate hands-on attention to some urgent needs.

  • Two schools were equipped with lavatories and we will soon restore another eight damaged lavatories. One school was equipped with a bathing area and a changing room as the refugee camp nearby did not have sufficient water for the people to bathe. Children take a shower in the morning before going to their classes.
  • Three schools were equipped with children’s play parks with swings, see-saws etc. Five schools were given sports equipment with five more to be supplied soon. One school has asked us to organise their annual sports day, which we will do.
  • Two schools were given public address systems; two schools are having their libraries restored, each receiving a grant of $3000; three schools will get funds to purchase water tanks; one school got a new sign board; one school was gifted the material for its reconstruction process but did not have a way to transport this material to the school, so we provided funds for the transport; broken cupboards were repaired and painted in one school; we constructed pillars to hold a water tank in one school and we painted school buildings in another.

For many years one of YFC’s major programmes has been to assist poor children with their studies. Few children from poor backgrounds finish high school successfully. They do not have proper facilities to study and some parents try to stop them from going to school because they cannot afford to send them. This aspect of our ministry was intensified after the tsunami.

  • The immediate need was for notes and text books for children who are preparing for public exams. YFC sponsored photocopy services in the south and the east where the best sets of notes we could find where taken and photocopied and given to students who had lost their own notes. Wherever possible we also purchased books which would help the students prepare for their examinations (e.g. examination packs), and distributed these.
  • YFC has a programme of giving scholarships to needy students who would otherwise drop out of school. The scholarship assistance would provide sufficient funds to purchase clothes and school equipment and stationary and also help with funding their food needs. We have commenced giving scholarships for tsunami affected students, initially with the promise of funds for two years. Presently 93 students are being helped with 90 more identified as needing help. Soon we will take on many more students depending on how much funds we have after the other projects are completed.
  • Most YFC centres in Sri Lanka are converted to study centres in the evenings so that students who do not have proper facilities to study at home can study. This work has been greatly expanded since the tsunami. We have started two new centres and expanded one since the tsunami. These presently cater to 23 students, but we hope this will be greatly expanded soon if we are able to secure funding for the setting up of several new study centres.
  • In refugee camps in Batticaloa and Kalmunai we have started free tutorial classes to augment what the students receive in school, which is considered inadequate to pass the government exams.

While computers are still a peripheral feature of the mainstream education system in the country, their importance is being increasingly recognised, and schools and communities are working at making computers accessible to students all over the country. YFC has also been involved in this and are doing a few computer related projects in tsunami affected areas. In Mullaitivu we provided computers for a youth centre, and we hope to set up a computer centre there as well as have computer related programmes in schools.

Over 35 people we came into contact with have been helped or will be helped get back to their vocations. This has included a blacksmith, carpenters, masons and electricians who have been given funds to purchase the tools of their trade. We hope to give sewing machines to a few tailors and seamstresses, and to provide six catamarans and nets for some fishermen. A few people were supplied with bicycles.

The tsunami left many people badly traumatised and our usual methods of counselling were not appropriate. When we shared this need, YFC Australia came to our aid and sent three well qualified and experienced counsellors to teach trauma counselling to our workers. We held three-day workshops in Colombo, Batticaloa and Jaffna training over 600 people.

In the northern tip of Sri Lanka, Point Pedro, we tied in with the government’s plans to serve those who had been traumatised. They recognised our training and gave some additional training to 16 of our trainees. They appointed them as caregivers to help in five schools in affected areas. They now go regularly as government-approved care-givers to these schools, funded by YFC.

A few of our projects served adults too.

  • Immediately after the tsunami our staff and volunteers were very busy cleaning debris in many areas. This was a demanding task as there were great volumes of debris.
  • Drugs gifted to us were handed over to government hospitals where there were shortages and to a ministry working in the medical field.
  • Mozambique YFC brought a group that gifted and installed a large water purifying plant in Mullaitivu.

Several YFC staff and volunteers or their family members were affected by the tsunami. We presently have a list of 50 such persons. Some have already received assistance and others will be helped soon.

For our part we are so grateful for the privilege of helping the hurting people in the land we love so dearly.

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