Karaithivu Journal: Learning to Live Amidst Hardships

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“You live and learn. At any rate, you live”-Douglas Noel Adams- British English author, comic radio dramatist, and dramatist

Tsunami claimed 35,322 lives in Sri Lanka. There were 21, 441 persons injured; and orphaned 1,500 children according to a statement issued by the Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) in April 2007. The statement further stated that, over 500,000 people were displaced and many more indirectly affected. Around 100,000 houses were damaged or destroyed and over 150,000 people lost their homes 2/3 rds of the country’s coast line was ravaged. The damage was estimated to be 4.5 of the GDP.

Overall in the North and the East, 77,900 houses were destroyed by the Tsunami. 40,696 new houses have up to date been re-constructed. This figure represents 52% of the requirement. Work is in progress in respect to reconstruction of 28,027 houses. This figure combined with the houses already completed totals a percentage of 88% of the houses required to be built.

The reconstruction of houses in Tsunami affected areas of the North and the East has registered a success rate of 88 % compared to the national average of 67 %. 73% of the Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons living in temporary shelters in the North and East have been re-housed in permanent dwellings. Number of Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in temporary shelters as at Decemebr 2005 was 43, 496. Number of Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in temporary shelters as at February 27, 2007 was 11,764.

The worst hit

Ampara district was the worst hit; 10, 500 lives were lost in this district. Resettlement process began in tsunami hit areas, but it was slow in certain areas due to the current political situation in the country. There are Internally Displaced Persons, who are still living in temporary shelters in Ampara district. Their lands come under 65 meters buffer zones, they were promised of being resettled somewhere. But promises made were not met yet. They lost their loved ones, and belongings.

Women sit on sand with their children and play with them in the courtyard; men sit in circles and play cards in the backyard. This was the scene, I encountered when I visited the Tsunami Internally Displaced Persons in Galway temporary shelter in Karaithivu, Ampara district.

There are 56 families-320 family members are currently living here. They were affected by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. Afterwards they moved to several welfare camps, and have ended up here as their “temporary house”. They did not choose to leave their houses, but were forced by the nature. Temporary shelters are made out of cadjan leaves, neither electricity, nor ventilation is available. Scorching sun and rising dust from arid earth make them fall sick quite often. Children have nothing, but to play with sand and hard board boxes available in the vicinity. They are not pleased to continue their lives in the temporary shelter, but left with no choice. Happy to have been born as human beings is not felt by anybody in this shelter due to frustration.

Women whispered; men mumbled. Few of them wondered how a journalist can help them or have patience to listen to their sufferings. After some time they have decided to break their silence and share their everyday woes.

Sanitary problems

There are only four toilets; but have no lock. Women manage to use them; men use the open air toilets in the bushes. Water from two wells is used for cooking ,bathing and washing. No organistion cleans it when they become stagnated. The Internally Displaced Persons pool out money and clean the toilets, and wells.

No help from NGOs

They were initially helped by various non-governmental organizations, but nobody looks after them now. The Internally Displaced Persons feel that, nobody will help them in the future, as almost three years have passed by.

Forgotten community

Most of them say that they have been forgotten by the rest in the society. Tsunami affected people are not taken care of by anybody anymore, as war ravages.

Education disrupted

Parents are worried about the children’s education. It got disrupted due to displacement. Few go to school, more children do not go to school. As parents have lost their daily income after displacement, they cannot afford to send their children to school. The future of these children holds nothing.

Illegitimate Relationship

Women are forced to stay with men whom they did not know earlier, because of limited space in the temporary shelter. It leads to abuse, illegitimate relationship and extra marital affair. The Internally Displaced Persons are afraid of Tamil culture and tradition may disappear due to non-practicing of spiritual activities.

No employment

Most of the men here were fishermen before the Tsunami. They have to compete with the host community in Karaithivu. Mostly they are prevented from working in this area by the host community. If they are luck to work , they earn Rs.170/=-Rs.200/= as the daily income. Some men try to work without the knowledge of the host community, but if they get caught, they are hassled and kept an eye on in the future. “Do not blame us for playing cards. We tried to find a job; but very difficult to sort out the issue with the host community. We have families; but have no income and are frustrated” told me when men were found at the backyard while playing cards.

Jewelleries as an asset

Women either pawned or sold their jewelleries to feed their families. Some of them even sold their “Thaalikodi”-which is a traditional symbol of a married Hindu woman, tied by her husband. Women too find it difficult to work as firewood collectors or pluck weeds in paddy fields, because the host community causes problems for them. Women rarely go to some houses in the neighbourhood to do household work and earn Rs. 120/=- Rs.150/= per day.

Irregular Rations

The rations are not regular. Sometimes they receive 2 kilograms of rice, 1 kilogram of wheat flour, 1 kilogram of sugar and 1/2 a kilogram of dhal. Other ingredients for cooking such as chillie powder, oil, vegetables and fish are met by the Internally Displaced Persons on their own. They do not depend on the rations as it is very irregular.

Happiness Lost

The day they left their houses their happiness was also lost. After the destruction, they were slowly thinking of rebuilding their lost lives. But it never became a reality for these Internally Displaced Persons. Although they were not living the most luxuriest live in their houses before the Tsunami, at least they were leading a normal life without having to think what are we going to do for our next meal? Even during the peak of war, they had dry fish in the kitchen to fry and feed the family, and now they cannot afford to stock foodstuffs. All of them lead a deplorable life.

Lost hope

They are desperate; hope is lost by them about having a better future in the “promised permanent houses”. They do not trust anybody, who promises to help them rebuild their lives, because they feel that they were cheated.

These Internally Displaced Persons say they have learnt to live, while facing numerous hardships behind the cadjan curtains.

“I lost my mother, younger sister and younger brother in Tsunami. I have nobody to play with. I feel very sad when I think of Tsunami. I do not have a mother to love and care. I survive, but I could not safe my mother, younger sister and younger brother” Vasanthakumar Ilamaran (12) sorrowfully shared his bitter experience

They feel forgotten and abandoned

The Internally Displaced Persons have to share their tiny house with their extended family members

Children have no space in their cramped houses to play

“I have no work, because I am relocated here after Tsunami, and the host community does to allow me to work here. They say I am not from this area, therefore they will not let me find a job here. On the other hand, I am not financially fit to move to another place or to my home town to find a job. I sometimes do some day labourer job, but if the host community finds out about it, they hassle me” said frustrated Velupillai Puvanasingham (28).

Parents hardly have money to educate their children

Most of the them have been displaced multiple times in the past due to war

Shabby temporary houses with meagre facilities where privacy is non-existent

A first baby is an incomparable joy for any parent anywhere in the world. But Uma Lingam (34) had to worry about whether her son Thisanthan’s delivery would be a normal delivery or not due to the facilities available where she lives. She says that, there are lot of women who suffer complications during pregnancy, but nobody takes a note of these pregnant women in the temporary shelters

Many have lost hope of permanent houses

Childhood is spent in shelters

“We do not trust the politicians, who make false promises. We are caught up by Tsunami and war. The people who were affected by the Tsunami have already got permanent houses in the South. We are still suffering the cadjan curtains.Nobody cares about us, we are alone to suffer till we die” said by frustrated Edward Anton (33), who is a mason

Many fear the recent escalation in their surroundings

They want to lead a normal life

Options are closed for the Internally Displaced Persons

Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

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