Sri Lanka 2005

I'm sure the bearded stranger did a very good job when he visited a few months after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, destroying much of the southern coastline and killing 30,000 people.  So much good work had been done by so many people: the villagers helping each other and recovering fast of course; local organisations like the Sri Lankan Red Cross were magnificent; as were those employed by the UN and the fly-in agencies who found out what affected populations needed and who could deliver medical support, food, shelter, employment and more, as appropriate. Responding to disaster situations is a whole 'system'. And the system includes volunteering, which the bearded stranger was looking into.  I am sure he got to know the tuk-tuk drivers near his hotel well as he headed off to ministries, embassies, donor, UN and NGO offices - finding out what could be done better next time. I am sure he heard encouraging tales - and plenty of horror stories. There was a group of Japanese, for example, members of the Church of Christ the Scientist. They had not a word of English or local language between them and their only skill was the ‘laying on of hands’ to cure people. They turned up in a small, devastated community which hadn't enough food for themselves let alone for unproductive foreigners.

 

 I didn't meet the bearded stranger while he was there, but I know he heard about my work. I was not part of the 'system' but I am certain I responded well to the needs of affected populations. Day after day, in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, I sat at the airport. I talked to people arriving with backpacks, people moved by the scale of the disaster, who had got on a plane hoping they could help. I found out their skills and how many weeks’ worth of money they had. I saw carpenters, electricians, architects, environmental specialists, nurses, everything. Using information I was getting from local sources I then allocated them to a village according to the villagers' assessments of the skills they needed and the food they could spare. The bearded stranger is part of one system; mine worked too.

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