Destruction in Mullaitivu
Diane Faires – Sri Lanka
At the end of a long, bumpy road lined primarily by jungle and empty fields dotted with palm trees lies the island of Mullaitivu. This bit of land jutting out of the east coast of Sri Lanka has known plenty of hardship during 20 years of war. It lies within the LTTE-controlled Wanni region, and visitors require special permission from the tigers. It is rumored that the elusive LTTE leader Prabakaran lives in the Mullaitivu area. But two decades of war didn’t match what happened to Mullaitivu in a few short minutes on the morning of December 26.
My companions on this visit witnessed the war in northern Sri Lanka firsthand. They heard bombs falling in their own village during the height of “the troubles.” But the sight of Mullaitivu’s remains, too, overwhelms them. This is far worse than any war damage, they say. At least each bomb has a limited radius of destruction. The awesome power of the tsunami flattened everything in its path for as far as we can see down the beach. Total, instant devastation. There’s not much left now but piles of cement chunks and debris that bulldozers have pushed together.
There are a few reminders of the lives that used to be here. There is a blackened cooking pot resting in the sand on the beach, next to some scattered bricks that indicate there was once a kitchen somewhere nearby. Now, only a handful of crumbling foundations remain of what a fisherman tells us used to be a bustling strip of 2,000 houses along the waterfront.
There is a long fishing net tangled in a palm tree. The fisherman says he lost his wife and child to the tsunami that terrible morning. He was spared because he had taken breakfast to his mother-in-law’s house further inland. This man had already lost a leg to a landmine during the war, but now that tragedy seems insignificant in comparison to the ruins around him. Fate has not been kind to him, he says in a resigned tone. At least now people are beginning to buy shrimp again, although many people are still wary of fish. A small consolation.
Near the cooking pot there is a glowing white cement altar. We are standing in the shadow of a Catholic church – or what is left of it. Nearly everything else around us is flattened, but the frame of the church stands defiantly, along with its altar and small, battered statues of Joseph and Marry huddling together.
There is the metal frame of a small bed, wrapped around the trunk of a tree. This is where one of 175 orphans staying in an LTTE-run children’s home used to sleep. 150 of those children are now gone. A few bits of their clothing still cling to the bars of a window, where the force of the water left them.
There is a waterlogged book lying near the remains of the school. On the side of a wall that still stands, there is a list of names meticulously recorded in fresh paint. I assume it is a roll call of students who will never return. But magically, near the overturned desks, there is one wall that appears untouched, with a clean chalkboard that seems to be waiting for a lesson to be written on its green, shiny surface. Nearby, there is a group of children playing soccer.
Amidst the fragments of Mullaitivu, the ones who are left will somehow keep on cooking, fishing, praying, sleeping, studying, and playing.
Many people continue to ask about sending money for Tsunami recovery efforts. I encourage you to send donations through Global Ministries (globalministries.org) or Week of Compassion (www.weekofcompassion.org), both of which will pass on 100% of designated donations to the church here in Sri Lanka for their projects. You can designate your donation for the work of the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI church, for tsunami recovery. Below I’m giving a summary of a few of the projects.
One large project that will need a lot of funding involves restoring the ability of hundreds of fisherman to earn a living. There is a village of fisherman not far from where I live, whose houses were not damaged; however, they have special permission to fish and keep their boats and nets in a high-security area controlled by the Sri Lankan army. All of their equipment was destroyed by the tsunami, so now they have no way to support their families. The church wants to provide “packages” that consist of one 18-foot boat and two sets of 10 nets. Each package can be shared by up to six families. One package costs approximately US $3,500 – 4,000. There are many other fishing villages that could use similar assistance.
There are a variety of other smaller projects underway, such as helping students with school supplies and families with kitchen supplies (most of these small projects already have funding). And there are many new projects in the planning stages, like starting a vocational center for women in the effected areas, where they can learn skills to support themselves if they have lost their family’s income provider. These skills may also be therapeutic for women, as it will give them something productive to do, and a sense of purpose, as many are currently sitting around in the refugee camps with little to occupy their hands or minds.
If anyone wants more detailed info on all of the CSI Church’s plans, I can forward you the project report put together by the church’s Tsunami Relief committee. There’s a lot of work to be done! Thanks for your interest and prayers.
Diane serves as a Global Mission Intern by the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. She teaches English and participates in community-based work.