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Methodists continue tsunami work in Sri Lanka

 


Methodists continue tsunami work in Sri Lanka

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by David Sadoo

Sri Lankans clear a beach of debris left by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

May 26, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—Before they could fish again, they had to clear the beach.

That's what the leaders of 28 fishing societies in Sri Lanka told representatives of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka when asked about their needs following the Dec. 26 tsunami. The disaster devastated part of the country's coastline and killed 40,000 Sri Lankans.

For David Sadoo, the fishermen's joint effort to regain their livelihood was a prime example of the resilience of the Sri Lankan people. Sadoo is an UMCOR staff member who lived temporarily in Sri Lanka from early February to the end of April to help coordinate the tsunami response.

Assisting the fishing societies is just one aspect of UMCOR's focus in Sri Lanka. In April, the agency's directors voted to allocate $8 million for a future housing and community services project in five districts and granted an additional $500,000 to the Methodist Church for its emergency and rehabilitation work in the eastern region of the country. Overall, UMCOR has received $32.4 million for its work in countries affected by the tsunami.

But the recovery work is complicated by a number of factors, many related to the country's history. "Ethnicity and religion play a huge role in Sri Lanka," Sadoo explained.

The country's majority population, the Sinhalese, migrated from North India between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., while the Tamils came in two waves, in the fifth century A.D. and during the 1870s, when the British brought them in to work on the tea plantations. The second wave of Tamils was considered to be a much lower caste, Sadoo said, and that population was stripped of its citizenship when Sri Lanka became independent in 1948. Eight years later, Sinhala became the official language instead of English, further alienating the Tamils.

About 70 percent of the population follows Buddhism, which became the official religion in 1972. Of the remaining population, 15 percent are Hindu, 8 percent Christian and 7 percent Muslim.

The formation of the Tamil rebel movements, including the Tamil Tigers, occurred in the mid-1970s, and the current civil conflict dates back to Tamil riots in 1983. Although a cease-fire has been in place since 2001, there remain 340,000 internally displaced persons and 130,000 refugees, mostly in India.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by David Sadoo

Workers from several Sri Lankan fishing societies work to restore their coastline.

After the tsunami, another 511,428 people were internally displaced, Sadoo pointed out. An estimated $1.5 billion is needed for the country's recovery.

UMCOR's partnership with the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka—whose 30,000-plus membership includes people from all ethnic groups—has helped facilitate relief efforts. Having a "legitimate local partner" gives the agency an advantage over some of the many other nongovernmental organizations doing relief work there, he said.

The Sri Lankan Methodists, Sadoo explained, "excel at peacebuilding and reconciliation" and have excellent relationships with both the government and the Tamils.

Still, like other minority Christians, they "have a very delicate place in Sri Lankan society" and must carefully maintain those relationships, he added.

Together, the Methodist Church and UMCOR were able to coordinate with the 28 fishing societies, comprising mostly Tamils and Hindus, in Kieran for the beach clearance project.

The societies presented lists of the heads of households who would do the manual labor and set up a work schedule. UMCOR paid what was considered a fair wage of 250 rupees (about $2.50) a day, provided additional tools and bought the food that the societies would cook together for lunch.

The beach project took a week, with workers from two to eight societies cleaning together each day. Sadoo said he was impressed with their dedication to the task, even on a couple of cool rainy days.

Continuing issues for the fishing societies include the need for boats and nets. "Because so many fishermen lost boats, there is a huge demand," he explained.

Another issue is how the fishing societies share their profits. "The system is not equitable," Sadoo said. "The Methodist Church is working to change this system."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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