Over the past several weeks The Navigators College Ministry has been helping the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, especially in Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia, in various simple yet effective ways. Most notable has been Navigator Ravi Balaraman who is working on setting up a brick-building factory in Sri Lanka to give the fisherman new homes and also to generate income for the village.
Balaraman, who came to Christ through Navigator's International Student Ministry, returned from his "exhausting two week relief effort," and he wrote a long letter describing the pain and the resilience he saw and also thanked all the contributors for their continued support.
"Mothers came running to us and cried out in their own language. No interpreter was needed - their cries ran deep in my heart," wrote Balaraman, who made the trip late last year starting in Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city, and from there, Balaraman and a friend, Sunil Salve, went to more remote areas to help.
"It is difficult to describe the devastation we saw: houses torn off the foundations, families who have lost everything, children afraid of the sea " he stated.
"The government has prohibited these people from rebuilding their homes where they were because it is too close to the beach. They have lost their land and no compensation has been given. What do you say to people who will have to rebuild their lives from nothing?"
The two also thought to start a small business and order boats to help these people.
In this "chaotic land" where "the government has not [yet] come up with a concrete plan" and "efforts are so slow," Balaraman and other Navigators are trying to "build homes for people and build a brick making factory," he told The Christian Post.
"They have all the natural resources out there, and so we just need the equipment so that the bricks can be made there." Then, the income generated from the brick factory can be used to build a bigger building where they can house a learning center.
The team is also looking to buy boats for the village, but there are some political and social issues with that project. "We have talked to a boat maker in Sri Lanka in Colombo, and now we just have to make some arrangements on how to get them there," said Balaraman.
"You can't just give one boat to one fisherman. The other fisherman will get jealous and ask why does he get a boat and I don't?" In addition, "Most fisherman do not own their boats - the landlord does. When they have a catch, three-fifths of the catch goes to the landlord," Balaraman told the Post.
The proposed solution is to have local churches own the boats, while villagers can then support the churches with a portion of their income.
Navigator is a "life on life" ministry that seeks to testify and witness Christ through friendships built up over the years, around the world. From a comfortable relationship, the Navigators teach the friends they've made about the "basics" in faith: prayer, Bible studies, and other activities.
Balaraman plans to bring a team to the village once before the summer, and again during the summer.
His story is reprinted below with permission.
Greetings from the ravaged beaches of Asia.
My name is Ravi Balaraman and I work in the computer department at Navigator headquarters in Colorado Springs. My country of origin, however, is Malaysia, and when the tsunami hit Asia late last year I decided to gather supplies and funds and make a trip to the area to see what I could do to help.
Before I tell you about my trip, I want to thank you for your continued support of The Navigators. In times of emergency and in times of routine, your consistent giving makes an enormous impact.
I traveled with a friend from Colorado Springs, Sunil Salve, who has family in India. Our first stop was Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city. We traveled from there to more remote areas to see what we could do to help.
It is difficult to describe the devastation we saw: houses torn off the foundations, families who have lost everything, children afraid of the sea . . .
The government has prohibited these people from rebuilding their homes where they were because it is too close to the beach. They have lost their land and no compensation has been given.
What do you say to people who will have to rebuild their lives from nothing?
We visited a town called Batticolore. In this remote village we were introduced to three pastors. Our main contact was a man named Davendran, or Dave. He works among these poor people, and he and his wife and three children live in a home of cinder block and mud floors. The warmth of his family lifted our spirits. We gave gifts to the children and it broke my heart to see little ones get so excited over a pencil and a notebook.
The pastors took us to a fishing village that was pretty much wiped out. The wells were contaminated with salt water; I am not sure how they were getting clean drinking water. We bought rice and sardines, and left some money with the pastors to get more supplies for the village the next day.
Dave traveled with us back to Colombo, and we had time to plan how to help them further. Once back in Colombo we bought Dave a water pump so they could pump the salt water out of their well. Then we gave him money to buy two acres of land to house about 20-25 families. We are in the process of designing a home that will be made out of plastic bricks and can be put up in a few hours. In order to stimulate the economy and give these people jobs, we are looking into manufacturing the units locally.
We also told Dave to buy an eighth of an acre in front of his home so he and three other pastors could start a small business. Dave was stunned. They plan to build a 20' by 20' building that will have a phone, fax machine, copier, and stationery so they can continue helping the people of that area.
We also visited the local boat maker, and we are in the process of ordering boats so the fishermen can start making a living again.
After we left Sri Lanka we traveled to India and Malaysia. As difficult as it was to witness such suffering, I was honored to represent all the people who helped in this effort. With their help, we were able to give hope to these people who have lost so much.
Your Brother in Christ,