Wed, Jan 05, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Aid workers tell of suffering and love in Sri Lanka

DISASTER RELIEF Three members of World Vision Taiwan recounted their experiences in Sri Lanka providing aid to survivors of the tsunami disaster

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A staff member of World Vision Taiwan displays a long list of donations from the public to help relieve tsunami-devastated South Asian countries. Five boxes were needed to hold the massive amount of transfer slips gathered in just one day.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

A team of three World Vision Taiwan staff members returned from Sri Lanka yesterday, where they were providing aid to survivors of the tsunami that has brought widespread destruction to South Asia.

Miriam Young (楊嘉琪), Jerry Lin (林政杰), and Joy Shen (沈柏喬), set out for Colombo on Dec. 27 from Taipei to bring supplies to tsunami survivors who desperately needed outside support to stay alive after the disaster.

"On the second day, we left Colombo for Galle, a harbor in the south and one of the worst hit areas. As we approached the coastline, the images that met my eyes I have only seen before in World War II movies: Houses and ships were totally wrecked, and ruins were everywhere," said Lin, a marketing and resource-development manager.

The stench of rotting corpses could be detected from some distance off, and decomposition posed a public health concern.

"Given the average temperature of 35OC to 36OC, if the bodies are not processed soon enough, decomposition will take place and contagious diseases may follow," Lin said.

The team brought along staple foods purchased in Sri Lanka with money donated by Taiwanese, and distributed the goods to families in the area. Each ration, which included items such as rice, tea and canned fish, was enough to last a single family three or four days.

"During the first stage of relief efforts, the goal is to get the supplies and food to the victims. After the first 10 days comes the second stage, in which the reconstruction of infrastructure begins," said Shen, an international ministry program officer.

"Many victims simply threw out their damaged personal belongings after [Taiwan's 921] earthquake, but not the Sri Lanka victims. After the disaster, they went back to their devastated homes to pick up whatever remained -- you could see people drying off drenched books," Lin said.

Young said that there were three things survivors looked for when revisiting tsunami-hit places: missing family members, a place to stay for the night and food.

A 85-year-old grandmother whose family was torn apart by the tsunami told Yang of a horrifying experience: On Dec. 26, her daughter had just stepped out of the house to get her some water, when the tidal waves came crashing down and nothing has been the same again.

The grandmother's son-in-law suffered from a spine injury and had been hospitalized, and her daughter was missing.

Each day, she took her grandchild along to the shores looking for her daughter.

As the grandmother was narrating her story, her eyes filled with fears.

"At that moment, I was touched and offered the grandmother a hug. Unexpectedly, in return, she gave me the most heartwarming hug I have ever received. While we were hugging, she broke into a sob so heart-wrenching that I felt she was relieving herself of all the sorrows that have been stored up in her life up till that point," said Young, an editor.

Although they did not share a common language, "it really dawned on me at that moment that love transcends all languages and cultures," Young said.

The aid workers said the Sri Lankan survivors were surprised to see foreigners at first, but quickly recovered and welcomed them.

"They greeted us and kept asking if we were tired," Lin said.

Relief efforts also went beyond national, religious and organizational boundaries.

According to Shen, all aid agencies worked through the Sri Lankan government and with one another, and the spirit of team work became evident in their co-operation. All medical supplies from abroad had to be stored at government-owned warehouses, from where they were distributed by NGOs and medical teams to various shelters.

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