GALLE (Sri Lanka): Wearing a donated red T-shirt, pale green pleated skirt and rubber thongs, Waruni Delpagodage, 18, ponders her future in the refugee camp her destitute family has fled to in the tsunami aftermath.
“A year. I think my parents will have to stay here for about a year, that’s how long it’s going to take to rebuild our house,” she said, standing erect with her hair tied back neatly in a long ponytail.
Waruni, a student, is one of Sri Lanka’s lucky survivors. Her father, who works in a betting shop, and her mother, a hospital employee, also lived through the horror of the giant waves that smashed into Sri Lanka on Dec 26.
But she and her 14-year-old brother Vijantha watched as their parents were ferociously ripped away from them in the Asian quake disaster that has killed at least 30,196 Sri Lankans.
“We were so afraid,” she said.
The teenagers spent two hours hunting for their parents, not knowing whether they had survived the wave that destroyed their home, their belongings; and for Waruni, her most prized possessions: her certificates and her two flutes.
“I feel so sorrowful. I lost my certificates, I had 25, and 10 of them were all-island (national) certificates,” she said. One was for second place in a national flute competition.
Lacking water, food and anywhere to sleep, her family and their neighbours – all 85 of them – camped out in a provincial government office on high ground.
Waruni is pinning her hopes on the Sri Lankan government delivering on its promises of help – and on generous international aid.
“The government has a responsibility to rebuild houses for all of us. The president (Chandrika Kumaratunga) said they would take steps to build houses quickly. We think she will do it,” she said.
“But I don’t think the government is able to help everyone. A lot of people’s homes were destroyed, so NGOs should help as well, and international help is needed.
“I think people will help us.”
World leaders are due to meet tomorrow in Jakarta for a summit to help co-ordinate global relief efforts for the Asian tsunami victims. More than two billion dollars in international pledges have been made to help deal with the crisis.
Concrete plans for rebuilding seem a long way off, however, as Sri Lanka grapples with its biggest disaster in living memory. For today, just getting enough food is this camp’s top priority. – AFP
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