Community Voice

Sunday, 17th April 2005 4th Vaisaakh (Samvat 537 Nanakshahi)

55 Families return to their village after the tsunami and 400 more wait their turn

Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

A total of 55 families affected by the Tsunami have been selected to return to their village tomorrow (Monday), whilst more than 400 families wait to find out their fate. A total of 55 UNHCR tents have been erected on the damaged school grounds. Communal toilets were in the last stages of completion. The plan is for the returnees to work from here and rebuild their old homes with materials that would be supplied to them.

Of a total of 474 displaced families only 112 have indicated that they wish to return to Navalady. The others are opting to either be resettled in Thiraimadoo or to move away from the area completely.

Navalady is currently a deserted lagoon island and strewn with tsunami debris and is uninhabited. The UNITED SIKHS team fear that the returning survivors would be extremely traumatised as only a few of them returned to their village since the Tsunami. As the survivors are Hindus, UNITED SIKHS has arranged for a Hindu priest to carry out a religious ceremony in the afternoon and food packages will be handed out to the returnees.

'We have also decided to stay on the island with them in their tents tomorrow night for one night, if not longer. We hope to be able to deal with any trauma situation,' said Jagdev Singh, UNITED SIKHS team member.

'We visited the island today with the committee members and villager elders and we are hoping to negotiate with UNHCR to move the tents from their current location as we had to respond to villagers' fear that the place is 'haunted',' he added. The returning villagers have nightmares about recurring tremors and earthquakes especially after the recent tremor that measured 8.2 on the Reichter scale.

To overcome this, UNITED SIKHS is looking to setting up a 'warning system' for Navalady so that a message could be sent to the village head's mobile telephone number from abroad. UNITED SIKHS in the UK or US could subscribe to the warning system facility and send a text message to the village head.

'A tremendous need of psychosocial work would have to take place when the survivors return to Navalady as returning to their tsunami stricken village may exacerbate the ongoing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),' said Vickram Singh, a psychology graduate who heads UNITED SIKHS' psycho-sosio work in Batticaloa.

The fifth team of psychologists on the UNITED SIKHS-MHOP psycho-social programme will arrive from the United States on the 24th or 25th. MHOP is a New York based NGO comprising psychologists and psychiatrists. They will continue their work closely with the SHADE group (local NGO we have been working with) by having group therapy sessions and also being involved in training the SHADE group members.

'During our meeting with the people we could sense that the people who have not been selected to move tomorrow are very unhappy and there may be arguments. We approached the UNHCR and they have agreed to set up a further 21 tents within the next few days.' said Jagdev Singh.

UNITED SIKHS is meeting the UNHCR at 8 am tomorrow to discuss shortcomings at the temporary tent site and the urgency to move more families to that site in order to avoid disharmony that will arise if they are left in the camps for any longer.

'Tomorrow we will be purchasing 75 fishing nets and 75 hurricane lamps that had been requested by the people so they could start to earn a living. This afternoon we witnessed a group of fishermen from the camp fishing with a borrowed net and managed a good catch for their dinner tonight. We also purchased basic necessities like soap, coconut scrapers, washing powder etc and this will be sent to the camps tomorrow.

'This evening we had a chance to speak to a fisherman from another village who was fishing on the banks of the lagoon to check the price of the nets. We are reassured that we are not being overcharged by our vendors.' Jagdev Singh said.

The UNITED SIKHS team also spent some time this morning and afternoon with the children in both the Central College and Zaheera College camps and discussed their anxiety about moving back to their village. Most of them were quite upbeat but we could sense the apprehension in some of the children.

For more reports see http://www.unitedsikhs.org/ghanaia/fieldreport.html

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