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The morning of the 26th of December 2004 dawned bright and clear. Two hours after a powerful 9.0 richter scale earthquake devastated Aceh, Indonesia, as the Tsunami approached Sri Lanka with the speed of a jet plane, many watched in wonder as the sea receded before a wall of water rose and moved inland with the unimaginable force of the ocean. Those who were to survive ran in terror to higher ground and stayed there, while the unfortunate ones returned to their homes to find loved ones or to collect their possessions. The second wave, which was even bigger and more destructive, swept away those who had returned to their homes or could not reach higher ground in time.
Since 1983 Sri Lanka had been living with civil conflict. The hope at the time was that the Tsunami would provide the opportunity to progress the peace process. We all hoped that the island would unite in the wake of this natural catastrophe. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case: the security situation deteriorated, claymore attacks, suicide bombing, open exchanges of fire and abductions resumed. As the international news reported the increasing military activities, it became more difficult for German homeopaths to justify leaving their families to come to Sri Lanka. HOG faced the dilemma of how much they could risk the safety of their members. In October 2006 the homeopathic clinic in Pandirruppu closed.
I chose not to leave, and continued my work with the Visions of Hope Project , HOG left not only its good will but also its medical supplies, so I could continue the homeopathic clinic in the Visons of Hope children’s centre.
Pictures are the memories of the children, painted as part of an art therapy project.
The Tsunami catastrophe struck Sri Lanka hardest at the town of Kalmunai on Sri Lanka's east coast. In the municipality of Kalmunai alone some 7,000 men, women and children perished along with thousands of homes and much of the town's infrastructure. In minutes the Tsunami had irreversibly changed their lives.
Thousands were left suffering with no or minimal counselling or social services, sharing their grief, surrounded by the grief of others. Many bodies were never found. Mass graves were dug for those that were recovered. Some bodies were identified while others were buried with their names unknown.
Those who survived lost many of their friends, relatives, homes and possessions. They were eventually housed in temporary shelters, the Tsunami camps. People sat in these temporary shelters, sweltering hot and cramped, without adequate sanitation, bathing or toilet facilities and with little room for the grieving.
The sheer number of losses, the loss of homes and the structure of their community did not allow for the traditional grieving process. The men turned to drinking and all the social problems associated with cramped conditions and traumatised people mushroomed ominously.
Those with acute physical ailments crowded the local hospitals. Mobile medical clinics visited some of the camps, where overworked doctors and nurses saw streams of patients, with the limited facilities and time, often unable to give clear physical diagnoses. With even less time to assist those with mental and emotions disorders, the doctors prescribed new Western medicines donated to the Tsunami as best they could.
Despite the unparalleled loss of life and property in Kalmunai, international relief efforts tended to focus upon easily accessible parts of the island, especially in the South.
In February 2005, Homeopaths Without Borders Germany (HoG) came to Kalmunai on the east coast of Sri Lanka in response to the Tsunami. Volunteer homeopaths flew from Germany and travelled by vehicle from the west to the east coast to reach this relatively remote part of Sri Lanka and render their services to the victims of the Tsunami.
These professional homeopaths, having their practices and families in Germany, generously gave up their holidays giving two to six weeks at a time. HOG was funded by many well-wishers including Knorr-Bremse Global Care who chose to help Tsunami survivors of Kalmunai and neighbouring Pandiruppu to rebuild their lives individually and collectively.
The HOG Team.
For the first months the homeopaths slept on the floors of grateful local homeopaths in the Muslim area of Kalmunai town. They set up a base clinic where patients could come for treatment and mobile clinics that visited the Tsunami camps. Local translators were employed, translating in the homeopathic consultations and giving invaluable insights into the local culture which is so different from the homeopathic practitioner's lives in Germany.
After helping Homeopaths Without Borders with the Tsunami camp clinics, they asked if I would join them as their long-term presence and inland co-ordinator. This enabled us to set up our own volunteer house.
With a permanent presence in Sri Lanka and our own accommodation, visiting volunteer homeopaths could take some comfort after working long days helping the traumatised. We were able to co-counsel, train our translators, maintain regular clinics in the Tsunami camps and girls' hostels, and establish a permanent clinic where members of all ethnic and religious groups could comfortably come to seek treatment.
We treated over 5,000 patients, maintained a free clinic, visited numerous camps and two girls' hostels where 160 of the poorest, most vulnerable children received the benefit of experienced homeopaths.
What wonderful work.
Tsunami Camp clinic
Our perment clinc.