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NSKK NEWSLETTER distributed by
The Nippon Sei Ko Kai
(Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan)
 
Sri (Shining) Lanka (Island) Now
Michiko Kikawada, Layperson of Tanabe Anglican Church
 
JAPAN 060403-2
April 3, 2006

Visiting the Site of the Tsunami and an Internal War

[The Nippon Sei Ko Kai - Japan] In July of 2005, 6 months after the Indian Ocean Tsunami I had an opportunity to visit Sri Lanka as a member sent from NSKK. The purpose was a fact-finding mission to determine the damage of the Tsunami. The trip was sponsored by CCA. It takes about 8 hours by airplane to Sri Lanka from Japan.

We visited about halfway around the coast of the country of Sri Lanka within 9 days. In Telwatta, a town located in the southern part, 2000 people were swept away by the Tsunami as well as whole trains. While we were near the railroad, local women came to us. One of these women showed us a stack of pictures and albums. She pointed to them and started talking: “This is my husband, this is his daughter just after she was married. This is our son who just got back from the work away from home. This is our neighbor.” She spoke English and looked to be a leader of the community. She talked and talked in an accusing tone and I felt her anger in her talk. The sympathy money, which should be paid monthly from the government, has ceased and those who beg have been increasing.

When we visited the eastern area, we heard the Tamil tribe, a minority in this country, complaining, “The government does nothing for us.”

There were enormous NGO groups helping Tsunami casualties, but they did not build a closer connection with local people. Also the connection among NGO groups was unsatisfactory. This we heard from local people.

In southern community near Tangalla, a temple was the center of all functions for the community. But most of the temple had been flooded and precious Buddhistic sutras even priests’ vestments were lost. It was being rebuilt when we visited there.

I learned that the area had been very active concerning human rights. It has an ecumenical organization with all Christians, as well as Muslims and sisters of Anglican Communion. They had started before the Tsunami attack and continue to cooperate to restore the community. “They are our future,” One of the tour members told me. I really agreed.

We passed through many check points. As we came closer to the base of LTTE (Separation and Independence Movement of Tamil tribe) located in the northern part, the checkpoint was on a grand scale like a fort. Even in the downtown of Colombo, all soldiers with guns were patrolling in the dark and that made us so nervous.

During the tour, we met a trading company employee from Japan. He was checking the damaged roads and bridges to get a business opportunity sponsored by the Official Development Assistance of the Japanese Government. After we met him we moved to the western part of the country where a shrimp-farming place was located. We realized that more greedy businesses existed there.

People had changed the huge mangrove forest into the shrimp-farming pond for the purpose of paying back the national debts. But because of shrimp diseases, the effect of chemical substances and salt damages, shrimp farming was ended unsuccessfully. Only barren land that grew no grass and a ghost town were left. If the mangrove forest could remain, it would contain good fishing spots, but now it has become a huge barren land where the people cannot even get their drinking water.

It takes enormous cost and time to restore the lost nature to its original form. The cost is higher than destroying it. Those who wanted the shrimp were Japanese, ourselves. We had nothing to do with these changes of farming ponds directly. However, the people of this country already had the debts and they were further burdened with negative assets. I couldn’t contain myself for thinking about it.

The economy of this country has been supported by assistance from foreign countries, migrant workers, plantation farmers, the clothing industry and the cheap workforce. The development of tourism brought many problems including sex business with even children. The Tsunami created additional causes for these circumstances. Are we standing on the people’s side of Sri Lanka or are we on the exploited class side? The response is obvious. The Tsunami was a real disaster. If the so-called developed countries including Japan (Japan has been partly a bearer of the world’s riches) do not change their way of thinking and their structures for assistance, the severe circumstances of Sri Lanka will never fundamentally change.

Sri (shining) Lanka (island) is literally a beautiful and fascinating country. By helping this country become self sufficient, we have to learn so many realities. All that I experienced through this tour.