On the 26th of December Tsunami caused large scale destruction to many countries in asia including Sri Lanka.I had the opportunity to go to Sri Lanka immediately afterwards and help the people affected to rebuild their lives.After landing at the airport I went to the North of Sri Lanka where more than 30 thousand people lost their lives,wells contaminated,houses and schools destroyed.
It is not necessary to go into detail about this Tsunami as there was wide media coverage including the video footage showing the damage and devastation caused by the Tsunami.The intention of this hub is to highlight the work done after that.Emotional aspect of the disaster and the political conflict in the country at that time are deliberately left out as those factors will be a distraction to the reader.
Most of the survivors were housed in the schools which survived the destruction.446 schools were used to house over 500 000 people.The rehabilitation programme was set in motion immediately.To prevent the spread of cholera,the people had to be moved out of schools into camps as soon as possible. Because of my construction background I was assigned to the Development work.The priority of development work was as follows.
*Clean up the contaminated wells.
*Create water supply and sanitation facilities.
*Create temporary camps using tents supplied by united nations and other donors.
*Build temporary housing .
*Construct permanent housing.
Clean up wells
1. Contaminated wells were located and shown on maps using GPS .
2.Water tested for contamination.
3.Wells cleaned up.
4.Water tested and passed or abandoned according to the test results.
Participation of Charities
Number of charities took part in the operation.The charities are responsible for different activities.They were:
*Oxfam -Water supply
*World vision- Construction of temporary housing
*Save the children-School construction
*World Health Organisation-Diecease control
Many organisations took part in a co-ordinated effort.
Many other charities including the united nations agencies took part in the operation.
My role was mainly to execute setting out and construct camps at all three stages in North and East of Sri Lanka.I spent over six months and made an impact in the lives of those affected by the tsunami.A typical village was designed to have the following:
*Individual Temporary houses
*Common toilet facilities
Each village consisted of 250 houses with 500sq.ft floor area.The experience of constructing these villages were challenging and unique experience.Challenging because the schools have to be vacated so that the schools can open on the scheduled date.
The village which I was in charge had volunteers from Germany and uk. Our first task was to construct toilet and tents for the use of volunteers .The volunteers insisted on staying at the site and therefore we had to finish the facilities in a day.
The temporary houses had to be constructed using the locally available materials. This was due to the fact that transporting materials from other parts of the country was not feasible at that time.Main components of the house are:
*Floors-sand cement mix
*Walls-half with sand cement blocks and top half with materials from coconut leaves.
Post and Roof frame -Jungle timer
Roof- Coconut leaves.
Smaller groups were formed to achieve maximum efficiency.The groups were:
*Sourcing of materials
*Making of sand cement blocks
*Making of thatch roofing material
My experience of working in developing countries and united kingdom was very valuable in this particular instance.There were set backs from time to time and we had to revise our methods to overcome these problems.One such situation was the delay in roofing.To overcome this we had to invite the beneficiaries to undertake the work in their own house.This approach proved to be successful.
We co-ordinated with the other agencies and completed the project in time so that the village was handed over to the occupants.
This was the construction of permanent settlements.We faced more serious problems during this phase.There was lack of enthusiasm in the part of the beneficiaries to take part in the construction of houses.We realised that their participation is essential for the success.We requested the assistance of the Govt Agent and had regular meetings with the people.
The interest from the volunteers was also fading at this stage of the work.We had to give the work on contract to expedite work.The beneficiaries assumed a role of consultants and started finding fault in the work.At this stage it was realised that the people have to be supported in gaining employment.At this point other support groups started training in boatbuilding and other vocational training. Equipment and other essential items were supplied so that they can resume fishing.
A friend of mine who is a brick layer joined me to train brick layers.Unfortunately he fell ill and had to return to London.That was a set back.
Now I realised that my role as a volunteer has come to an end.I was offered a paid job which I did not accept.Working as a volunteer is a very special feeling that only volunteers will understand.Some people I invited gave excuses for not taking part and promissed to join me next time. I left the country with satisfaction that I have done my share of work to the community which is a victim of nature's disaster .
Disasters happen in different parts of the world every year.I volunteered to go and help the people affected by the cyclone in Burma.I will discuss my experience in Burma in another hub.
The latest on the series of disasters tsunami in Japan and now flooding in Chennai.To rebuild the lives of those affected will take number of years.The governments provide only temporary relief .
I am interested to see a long term improvement to the lives of these people,providing at least the second phase development where people are provided with basic facilities including hut with cement floor,half brick wall,cadjan roof,toilet ,water supply and electricity.
I intend to go to India in the near future to see whether I can contribute to improve lives of poor.