STORY AND PICTURES
BY PETER TEO
VALAICHENAI (Sri Lanka)
-- Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) of The Methodist Church in
Singapore has given 16 fishing boats to families affected by last
December's tsunami in the eastern provincial district of Batticaloa
in Sri Lanka.
The boats are for 16 fishing communities, each comprising 42 families, living in the villages of Kiran, Kalmadhu, Kalkudah and Pasikudah. This fishing livelihood project will benefit 715 fishermen with a total of 2,390 dependents.
Each 5.5-metre (18-ft) fibre glass boat, costing $2,100, comes with fishing nets and other equipment. The total costs for the boats and equipment come up to $148,520.
TRAC President, the Rev Wee Boon Hup, giving his address at the boat presentation ceremony.
Standing next to him is the Rev N. Arulnathan, the interpreter, who is standing next to Mr S.
Jeyanandamoorthy, the MP for the Batticaloa district.
The boats were presented to the families by the Rev Wee Boon Hup, President of TRAC, at a ceremony at the Methodist Church in Valaichenai in the Batticaloa district of eastern Sri Lanka, on July 1.
The Rev Wee was leading a five-member TRAC team to the Batticaloa and Ampara districts also to see the relief work that had been carried out by TRAC in January and February, and to identify two sites to build low-cost houses for the tsunami victims. With him were his wife Catherine; the Rev Juliette Arulrajah, Chairman of the TRAC Board of Missions and an executive committee member of the TRAC Crisis Relief Taskforce; Mr Andrew Lim, a member of TRAC Board of Missions; and myself.
The TRAC Crisis Relief Taskforce had sent seven teams totalling about 50 people early this year to minister to those hit by the tsunami in the north, south and eastern parts of Sri Lanka in its initial response to the disaster. They provided trauma counselling, medicine, food, clothes, bedsheets, mats, water pumps and educational kits, and assisted in clearing debris and cleaning up houses, churches and beaches.
TRAC has now earmarked Kalmadhu in Batticaloa district and Komari in Ampara district as the two sites for the building of low-cost houses for the tsunami victims. The TRAC Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief Committee will work on this project in collaboration with The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka.
At the boat presentation ceremony in Valaichenai on July 1, the Rev Wee told the gathering: "When we first heard of the tsunami, we asked our brothers in the Sri Lanka Methodist Church what their needs were and how we could help.
Re-housing of tsunami families a grave
"Through our brothers, we heard of your need for fishing boats and fishing nets, and today we are helping to meet your needs.
Ten-year-old P. Keerthana and her mother, Mrs P. Vasanthi, who will be sharing a fishing boat with some other families.
Mrs Vasanthi lost her husband in the tsunami disaster.
"Suffering comes to us at all times. The people in Sri Lanka suffer; the people in Singapore also suffer. But your suffering is much greater than ours in Singapore. We thank God that we can play a part in helping you and for sharing in your future," added the Rev Wee, whose address in English was translated in Tamil by the Rev N. Arulnathan, circuit minister of the Methodist Church in Kiran, who expressed his gratitude to TRAC and The Methodist Church in Singapore for providing the fishing boats and relief aid to the people of Sri Lanka.
Earlier, the Rev Wee sent greetings on behalf of TRAC and Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, who could not come as he was attending the British Methodist Conference in Torquay, England. The Bishop sent letters of greetings to the Rev Noel Fernando, the outgoing President of The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, and the Rev W. P. Ebenezer Joseph, the incoming President.
Three other similar fishing boats were also given to the villagers by UMCOR, the relief agency of The United Methodist Church.
The Member of Parliament for the province, Mr S. Jeyanandamoorthy, said he was very grateful to The Methodist Church in Singapore and UMCOR for their donations of the fishing boats.
The villagers, initially shy and uneasy, broke into joy when they went to take a look at the boats after the ceremony was over.
Miss Chrishanthy Fernando, 20, who saw her mother swallowed by the tsunami waves at their hotel fronting Kalkudah beach, told Methodist Message: "Thank you very much for coming to help us. This is the first form of help I have ever received since we were struck by the tsunami.
"For the last six months I have had no income, and I couldn't get another job. I have been living on my savings, and they are running out."
Miss Fernando, whose family operated a 10-room hotel for more than 20 years, will now persuade her family's former employees to turn to fishing to share a living. "Until I get a job, this is what I'll do. I'll get our former hotel staff to help me catch fish and sell them, and live from day to day."
Mrs P. Vasanthi, 40, who lost her fisherman husband to the tsunami, would now have to learn to fish under the tutelage of her younger brother, Mr V. Premakanth, 30.
Expressing her gratitude to "the good church in Singapore", she said: "Now that we have been given this boat, I must learn how to row the boat out to sea to catch fish.
"Even my 10-year-old daughter will have to learn how to fish."
Mrs Vasanthi has an elder son, Jeprathpan, 20, who is studying in a college. He would now have to come back on weekends to help the family catch fish.
"Keerthana, my daughter, is in Primary 6, and I hope she and her brother can continue with their studies," she added, with tears welling in her eyes.
The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka has been doing marvellous work bringing the love of Christ to the families affected by the tsunami through its relief and rehabilitation programmes.
Now that the relief phase is over, perhaps the programme with the greatest impact is that of providing vocational training to the people which aims to lead them to the job market.
Another area of grave concern to The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka is the re-housing of the tsunami victims. Currently, almost all of them are housed in refugee camps in squalid conditions.
Camps run by Methodist churches are better managed and have built in chapels and nursery schools. However, The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka needs assistance of all forms. It needs resources -- human, financial and material.
Through TRAC, The Methodist Church in Singapore is doing its bit to help the people of Sri Lanka. Local churches and members who are keen to render assistance of any form can contact the Rev Juliette Arulrajah at tel: 9760-6735.
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.