It had been a while since traversing the east coast all the way from Panama in the south to Kayankerni, which is a bit south of Vakarai, to check on the tsunami-related construction and other works that we had been involved with since those days in December 2004 when much of that coast was reduced to rubble. The soldiers manning the checkpoints appeared to be a tad more paranoid than they were when we last visited, a month or two before – perhaps due to the impending LTTE celebration of their heroes past and present. It was also evident that there was a considerable reduction of ‘Karuna offices’ along the way – with the armed children that frequented them, and on the whole, the east had a more settled look with no evidence of the numerous refugee camps that were once so in your face.
The work is, for the most part, done. Close to a thousand homes rebuilt, nine ‘Social Centers’ all the way down the coast, (consisting of kindergartens and facilities for vocational training programmes of different types, computer classes and educational and vocational training equipment for children, youth and adults), ‘tsunami-shelters’, roads and drainage systems in the settlements, water and power supplies (some of the latter through solar-generation), have all been accomplished and should be audited and ‘done’ by the end of this year. The only project still in the process is a school in Kalmunai with over 1,750 students, which began late due to the dithering of those in charge.
Looking back at the process that made this all possible is like a hazy dream, full of events and incidents that generated fear, frustration, apprehension, anger, happiness and a feeling of accomplishment – amongst other emotions. Realization that this disaster, with all the incredible loss and tragedy it caused to so many, could well have been the way out of the dilemma that still faces the country in terms of the rehabilitation and development of the North and East and the restoration of dignity to those that live there, was a chance in a million that was squandered by those in power due to nothing less than greed and incredible selfishness. And not just in the North and East, the chance to develop our infrastructure – roads, railways, telecommunications, power and water supply – could all have been upgraded to modern standards by the massive amounts of aid and expertise that was offered in early 2005. Instead, the government of the day, with its myopic and self-centered view initiated such shameful processes that even imposed taxes on aid in the form of medical supplies and other essentials. Unbelievable! And we still pay the price – and how!!
The circuit of the ‘tsunami-projects’ was also a chance for some donors and others from the parent organization based abroad to look at the accomplishments that had been achieved by the organization based in Sri Lanka. The quality of the finished projects, the sense of stability and security that replaced the aura of insecurity and loss, the realization of having contributed in some small way towards the well-being of those less fortunate, were all acknowledged in their amazement at the transformation that replaced what they witnessed in those early days.
So, all in all a successful few days on the road – tiring, but inspiring nonetheless. It also brought back sharply into focus our present plight and what a different country this would be if only those power-hungry entities on both sides of the divide that, for the most part, keep the conflict going by appealing to the crass emotions of ethnicity and nationality, find some way out of the morass.