Tsunami relief in the Jaffna Diocese

Tsunami relief in the Jaffna Diocese

Dear Friends,

This is Sri Lanka’s Independence Day. I just read the headlines on Tamilnet, the Internet voice of the Tigers, where I read that black banners have been put up in many places in Jaffna, and at the University of Jaffna banana stalks were tied to the gateposts, a ritual used for funerals. Most Jaffna Tamils consider today a day of mourning because their troubles began with the departure of the British in 1948, although discriminatory legislation was not passed until … I think it was 1956 or ‘57! That was the Sinhala only law.

I am celebrating a day off from school with a functioning computer by doing personal correspondence. Most of my emailing in the last 5 weeks has been tsunami related. Now it is time for the spring mailing of a personal letter from me, sent out by the mission office. Most of you who will receive this letter received my Christmas letter, and many of you have subsequently received my general letter telling of getting my feet wet in the tsunami and a report of what the situation was in Jaffna and how you could help. For the few who may not have received these letters let me summarize.

Last year was one of considerable change for particular friends and colleagues of mine and so it was a time of change for me, too. Ben Bavinck retired in September and I have missed him a great deal, but he is back now for a month’s visit which is lovely. My housemate, the principal of Uduvil Girls’ College, Chelvi Selliah, retired at the end of 2004 and I now have another group of housemates, the Mills family. Shiranee (Cherry) Mills is the new principal. She and her husband, Prem, and their two daughters have taken over the Mission House. Cherry has been a dear friend since my earliest days here though she lived in Colombo. It is lovely to have another intimate to share the house with. Unfortunately, the four-month transition from Chelvi to Cherry was a very difficult one so it was a hard time for many of us at UGC. But all is well now and the school is changing and thriving under Cherry’s enlightened leadership.

In the travel department I had a month in the U.S. in April/May, mostly in Chapel Hill, but I took one trip up north to visit friends. After returning to Sri Lanka I immediately took off again with Diane Faires to India. We had a week in Kodai, enjoying once again the generous hospitality of Merrick and Sara Ann Lockwood, and also saw a bit of Trichy. That was the extent of my travels until I went to Colombo December 19, the day after Cherry was commissioned. Merrick and Sara Ann Lockwood joined me on the 20th, Anna Worlein a teacher at Kodai came on the 21st, and Brian and Alex Lockwood came on the 22nd. The 23rd we took off for Hikkaduwa where we enjoyed the life of foreign tourists and celebrated Christmas.

All our further plans were washed away by the tsunami on December 26. Anna and I were walking from our hotel to the Lockwoods’ and were walking on a part of the road that we surmise was some distance from the beach when the biggest surge hit our area. We never saw any big, scary waves; we just got our feet wet in the last bit of the wave. The Lockwoods were in our van when the water hit and had a scary few minutes but no one was hurt and the van was undamaged so we were able to drive out of Hikkaduwa that afternoon. We found shelter in the last two rooms of a small hotel in Ellipitiya where other foreigners had taken refuge. Not knowing the language we heard only wild rumors, which had us fearful of leaving a place with beds and good food so it was the 28th when we emerged from the area of telephone black out and found that Colombo was safe to go to.

I left the others at that point, as all I wanted to do was to get back to home territory in Jaffna. I traveled here with Cherry on the 30th and got involved in as much of the tsunami relief as I could. The diocese is going through a change of bishops and things are pretty disorganized so we were distressingly slow to get organized to do more than piece meal assistance. However, we have now accomplished that and as of yesterday we have a plan of action. Some of those plans will be implemented immediately with the money that we have received already; other plans will be implemented as the funds that are promised materialize. Many of you will have read about the plans in the Jaffna Diocese through the Global Ministries updates posted on globalministries.org. I hope those of you who continue to wish to contribute funds will do so, as this is a very good plan and will get help to the people of the villages where the church is working.

Most of the villages along the west coast of the Jaffna Peninsula have been very badly damaged and to this date there has been very little government aid reaching them, though NGOs are helping them. Some villages have been washed away so the people need everything. Others have homes but no means of livelihood, as almost all were fishermen. However, many farmers have lost their livelihood too because the salty ocean water invaded their fields. This not only destroyed the current crop but also made the soil saline so it can’t be used for years. Across the northern stretch of coast that curves to the east is an area, which was thought to have been spared. We of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India have found that to be untrue. Waves of less power and size did hit that coast. In the Chulipuram area they did not destroy their homes but did destroy their boats and nets. They have received no help at all because they are thought to be unaffected. These villagers have been displaced by the war and are among the poorest on the peninsula.

It is spots like this that we have looked for, since we were getting going later than most. We felt it was our role to search out neglected areas and we are focusing on two that we have identified. Chulipuram is one, and the other is a pair of villages that are in a sort of no man’s land. Chempianpattu North and South are geographically and technically in the government held part of the peninsula, but they are cut off from the north by a high security zone and the only way to get to them from the south is to go through a small part of Tiger held territory. This means going through the check points and adds greatly to the difficulty of logistics. These villages are among those, which were completely destroyed but have received only basic, minimum aid so we plan to give them as much help as we are able.

Now that the relief work is underway my responsibility will be communication. Otherwise I will be able to return to giving most of my time to teaching school! All of this will finish at the end of June when my 4 years are up, believe it or not! I will take most of July to travel in Europe and maybe Iceland, and then will be obliged to give four months to itineration, or mission interpretation, to use the most recent terminology. I will be seeing a good many of you during this time as I will be visiting in Cleveland, Indiana/Kentucky, Arizona/New Mexico, (and El Paso), and Florida with UCC and Disciples churches. January 1, 2006 is my date for retirement!!! I have many dreams for that time, but I will keep them to myself for now.

I hope 2005 is a meaningful and rewarding year for all of you. God bless you all.

Yours is Christ,

Grace is a missionary who serves with Jaffna Diocese (Sri Lanka) of the Church of South India. She teaches English at Jaffna College and also works with the Uduvil Girls’ School, where she works in the women’s training programs, which includes teaching English & tutoring women and working with women’s empowerment groups