Prakash Louis, S.J. (Consultant to JTRRB, Colombo)
The devastation and destruction caused by last December's tsunami in Sri Lanka were unprecedented. But equally unprecedented and historical was the humanitarian aid provided by various segments of the population both national and international. The Jesuits also understood the nature and extent of the tsunami wreckage. Hence, they provided emergency relief and initial support to the affected families to the best of their ability.
Right from the beginning, the Jesuits kept in mind the fact that we cannot address comprehensively the Tsunami created problems island-wide. Hence, we decided to concentrate our efforts on three main affected areas where, at present, Jesuits live and work, viz., Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Galle. It was also decided that some specific relief and rehabilitation needs of other areas will also be undertaken whenever appropriate and necessary. In all the 3 zones, zonal offices with zonal Coordination Teams that have been setup are functioning. To coordinate all these efforts a Central Coordination Office has been setup in Nirmala, Colombo. All the work will be monitored and guided by the Jesuit Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Board (JTRRB) consisting of 8 members, Jesuits and lay people, from various walks of life. Fr. Maria Antony is the legal holder of the entire project and Fr. Anton Pieris is the coordinator of all the programs, but since he has a full time job we will have to look for somebody else to become full time coordinator. Both administrative and financial mechanisms have been worked out to carry on relief and rehabilitation for a long period of time.
The JTRRB is planning to phase out emergency relief work. This does not mean that if people do not find provisions at this disastrous time, no relief would be provided. Meanwhile mid-term and long-term rehabilitation interventions are being planned. While this is being done, one needs to also respond sensitively to day-to-day needs of people to a possible extent and plan and execute long-term rehabilitation works.
All of us are aware of the fact that if we had our educational institutions, it would have been easier for us to carry out many more activities. But as history goes, the Sri Lankan Government nationalized all the schools in the year 1960. We handed over our schools in 1970. This has totally done away with Jesuit presence in schools. Due to this we cannot have easy access to schools. But this cannot discharge us from our duties as citizens of this country and as people that have made an option for the poor or in the post-tsunami phase with the most excluded and marginalized victims.
The next option is to carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction to affected people through parishes, associations, village councils, technical and educational institutions. Since parishes, associations of fishermen and village committees are broadly based and address the needs of all the local people in that village and region, they are better than the support provided to any work by other centers/associations. Many places have such organizations or are establishing them. In some places pre-schools can be run under the parish or with the community supervision. If not we need to form such associations.

Areas of concerns
Keeping in mind the massive impact of the tsunami in focus and our own lack of personnel and finances, it is necessary that we decide upon some areas of interventions, both in terms of location as well as the needs of people.
Since there seems to be inaction or not enough action from the government and the local administration, it is necessary that we decide about our intervention, both for day-to-day needs and long-term needs. In the words of Jayatilleke De Silva, "These politics of tsunami has made the victims of tsunami more helpless. While the natural tsunami took away 40,000 lives, the tsunami of politics threatens to wipe out the future of even those who were fortunate enough to escape death." We need to criticize the policies of the government and the politicians. But that is not enough. We have to creatively engage in providing relief and long-term rehabilitation to the affected people.
Moreover, since we want to address the requirements of the really needy, the marginalized and people in remote places, it is necessary to engage in a serious manner. This calls for a commitment that is long standing and demanding.
Further, since the rehabilitation and reconstruction would demand long-term involvement, it is essential that we forge ahead in a united manner. At this juncture we cannot afford to have different interests, objectives and opposite modus operandi.
Keeping the massive nature and impact of death and devastation, we need to address the rehabilitation of, at least, a sizeable portion of our population. The paragraph below indicates the volume of work to be undertaken by Jesuits, if we want to meaningfully and faithfully respond to the devastation and death brought by the tsunami.

Areas of Assistance and Programs
Our main areas of support are: Galle, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.
* Providing Educational material, like books, uniforms, school bags, shoes etc. Students: 5,000
* Constructing & Running Pre-Schools for children affected by Tsunami: 6
* Constructing and Running Orphanages: 3
* Constructing and Running Technical Institutions: 3
* Providing Tuition fees for the Students: 10,000
* Trauma Counseling to students: 4,000
* Trauma Counseling to families: 550
* Legal Services - Families: 850
* Support to differentially challenged or physically challenged persons: 80
* Special provision to women heads of families: 80
* Household Furniture - Families: 1,700
* Repair of Houses - Families: 950
* Livelihood Services: a) Fishermen Associations: 300
* Livelihood Services: b) Artisan Communities: 1,100
* Livelihood Services: c) Three-Wheeler Driver Families: 100
* Livelihood Services: d) Those that lost jobs in fish and construction works: 2,000
* Social support for funerals, weddings etc. - families: 1,200
* Construction of houses - families: 310

Some Proposals
What is offered above is not a final or exhaustive list, but it shows present programs. As we proceed, we need to look at other issues and areas of concerns. Out of the total of 70,000 houses fully destroyed we can only help in the construction of 310. This is nothing compared to the massive wreckage. But even if we accomplish this at the end of 2 years we would have justified our struggle to be part of the affected people who are mostly poor, rural based and without assets but are the backbone citizens of this country.
At times it appears that we are not affected or gripped by the death and devastation of tsunami. This is due to our own inaction or even wrong actions. Every step by us at this juncture has to contribute to the reduction of the pain and suffering our people are subjected to. For a country affected by ethnic conflict for decades, tsunami brings in the urgent need to work according to one single purpose. Our option for the poor demands from us, at this juncture, to be part of the marginalized and of those excluded from relief assistance. Like the politicians we cannot be engaged in tsunami of politics.
By joining thousands of conscious citizens, both national and international, to address the issues of the people affected by the tsunami, we have made a political option that we are part of our fellow men and women irrespective of their caste, class, creed or religious affiliation. This commitment has to be converted in concrete action at grassroots levels by responding to their needs and plans.
All of us are aware of the fact that rehabilitation and reconstruction will have to be carried on for 2 to 3 years. If the Jesuits make a commitment to be part of the struggles of the tsunami affected people, this has to be concretely expressed by engaging or allotting more personnel, finances, time and energy in this work. The logical outcome of this would be to spare more Jesuits to carry on this task. Lay people will do their job but it is also necessary to make available more Jesuits. How could this be done should be collectively pondered over and answered.
Indian Jesuits have offered themselves to come over here for few months to join the Sri Lankan Jesuits in their effort to respond to post tsunami relief and rehabilitation operations. This proposal needs to be seriously considered. Since there is personnel crunch and the needs are urgent we should explore this possibility of engaging more Jesuits.
An issue that has come up for discussion repeatedly is the need to register as a NGO so that we could carry out development works and social action. If we do it at this time, it will not be difficult to engage in relief and rehabilitation works. Most of the donor agencies keep asking us if we have the personnel, expertise and infrastructures to carry on committed, massive work of this nature. We cannot continue to live in our "glorious past" but have to search for newer and meaningful ways of addressing the issues of our people. Starting a NGO or social action center is one such measure. The JTRR Board members have also made such suggestion. Some suggested names are: Sri Lanka Social Institute (SLSI) or Sri Lanka Social Organization (SLSO).
It may be timely that we Jesuits of Sri Lanka come together to take stock of post tsunami scenario and also review and plan our interventions. This exercise will also give us an opportunity to mourn with our people and express our solidarity to them, engaging together a united relief and rehabilitation effort.
These thoughts are based on my own experience of being here for a month, living with various people at the post-tsunami site doing relief and rehabilitation work. If these reflections are of any use, please, consider them and do not throw them to the dustbin.
Sri Lanka 14. 2. 2005
Excerpts from Jesuit e-mail magazine HEADLINES, Special Issue on Tsunami, Feb. 2005.
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