Sri Lanka Churches Help Rebuild Lives Despite Constraints

One month away from the first anniversary of South East Asia’s devastating tsunami, churches in Sri Lanka are helping to rebuild lives of people despite the presence of many environment constraints.

According to the latest update on the aftermath of tsunami in Sri Lanka from Action by Churches Together (ACT), the Methodist Church in Matara in the south of Sri Lanka has been assisting the survivors in whatever way it could since the right after the tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004.

Regardless of the people’s religion or whether if they are members of the church, the Methodist Church in Matara answered each of their requests. The gifts ranged from small items such as scales for the vendors in the markets, carpentry kits and water containers to large items like boats for the fisher folk, houses and land, ACT reported.

The Rev. Anil Silva of the Methodist Church in Matara told ACT that there has been a long queue outside the church every single day. When asked by the people why the Church was serving them, Sliva replied constantly, "It is my duty as a Christian."

In the predominantly-Buddhist country, such Christian-based humanitarian operations are vulnerable to attack by religious extremists that see the efforts as an attempt to proselytize people. Sliva has therefore sensitively clarified to those who seek assistance to his Church that it does not mean they have to become a church member after receiving the benefits, according to ACT.

The relief work of the Methodist Church has been helping to fill up the gaps of what the government or other non-government organizations could not achieve, such as the problem on housing, ACT reported.

"The problem is that before the tsunami, several families stayed in one house. The owner may now get a new house from the government or an NGO, but the other families who had shared the home get nothing," explained Silva. "The authorities cannot control the situation and [then] many of the affected people come to me."

According to ACT, the Methodist Church will tackle the problem by launching self-employment and income generating projects, so that people can finance themselves to build their own houses.

As a member of the National Christian Council in Sri Lanka (NCCSL), the Methodist Church received funding to finance 15 fishing boats fully equipped with nets and engines. The boats have been distributed. Currently, three families share one boat to earn a living through the fishing business, ACT reported.

In another area of Sri Lanka – Hambantota, a town 240 kilometers southeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo – a similar self-employment scheme has been launched for fishermen by the Christ Church, a member of NCCSL and thus also a member of ACT. Six big nets, each worth $6,500, were given out to the small fishing community.

"It is very important that people get tools so they can earn their own living instead of being dependent of others," the Rev. Upul Fernando of Christ Church said to ACT. "Self-employment is essential."

Currently, in order to tackle the pollution of the harbor by the debits from tsunami, NCCSL is going to finance a cleaning campaign in collaboration with a fishermen training school in Tangalle that also trains divers.

In addition, support has been given to people with other skills or expertise, such as hairdressers, electricians, tailors and vendors, according to ACT. With the basic equipment provided, they are able to earn a living by running their own small business.