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First off I would like to thank Nicky Lewin for taking the time to put this article together for us, here at Camera Craniums. I would also like to congratulate him on winning the Disaster/Response and Refugee catagory of the InterAction humanitarian photo awards again. So here it is.
After a couple of weeks of this, Steve and I decided to spend a couple of days in Negombo, cleaning up and recouping before flying home. Negombo was relatively untouched by the tsunami so we just planned to rest around the pool and file a few stray bits. However, on walking onto the beach and turning left, we stumbled onto another tragedy. A woman approached and asked me to see her home, or what was left of it. Although nobody died here in the tsunami, some of the fishing community had had their homes and boats smashed by the harbour wave. On further investigation, we were led by the local priest, Father Clement, to a refugee camp housing around six hundred people. Because of the less serious nature of the devastation, these people had been ignored and missed by not only the media, but also the aid and relief agencies. To my amazement they were hungry! How could this be? Millions upon millions of pounds, euros, and dollars had been raised in the West and these people had been totally left to fend for themselves apart from tents supplied by the Sri Lanka Red Cross.
Well that was January knocked out and I prepared to get back to my pygmy project. But this was not to be. A call from the historic French magazine Paris Match saw Steve and me straight back to Sri Lanka. This time we would work in the east coast area of Batticaloa where aid agencies and the international community were seemingly letting down the victims of some of the worst and most terrible disaster zones. At Navalady, a small strip of land about 400 to 800 metres across and located between the ocean and a lagoon, the community of Burghers didn’t stand a chance. They came from Portugal 500 years ago and now they were as good as gone. The survivors have been forbidden by the government to return as the area, possibly one of the most beautiful in the world, has been deemed to dangerous.
The refugees were protected by soldiers and police. These guys were also friendly, playing cards and listening to the radio twenty four hours a day. I have been in many refugee camps over the years and at night they can be very dangerous places. Not this one. Steve and I were never under any threat and treated with the utmost respect. Our processions were never tampered with and we felt totally at ease. At night, by candle light, young students would carry on their English studies. From this point of view, Steve and I were even able to be of some use. I actually felt very sad to leave these poor poor people who had lost everything, yet still had such great dignity and grace.
It was decided to hold the lottery at the refugee camp instead of at the church. Here, there are armed guards and soldiers, and only the local refugee fishermen without homes and boats could enter. The lucky winners of the boat lottery would all receive legal documents for the boats, meaning that they could not be taken from them.
Wednesday 6th April, the first boat took to the sea with it’s new owner fisherman 36 year old Warnakulasuriya Anthony Fernando. Everything was now worthwhile. An estimated twenty people will benefit from this one boat. Over the next month, all thirteen boats will take to the water with their new owners, benefiting directly and indirectly maybe two hundred people. The refugees of Negombo still need boats and homes. But, for these few people, a light has been lit at the end of the tunnel.
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