SRI LANKA: WHITNASH COUPLE SAY THE REAL WORK HAS YET TO START
Six months on from the tsunami disaster the real work in Sri Lanka has yet to start, say a Whitnash couple.

Nicki and Jonathan Farthing, of Goldacre Close, visited to deliver aid donated by Warwick district residents.

During the trip in May they found the Sri Lankan people still optimistic despite a depressingly slow trickle of aid.

Sri Lanka: Whitnash couple say the real work has yet to start
Six months on from the tsunami disaster the real work in Sri Lanka has yet to start, say a Whitnash couple.
Nicki and Jonathan Farthing, of Goldacre Close, visited to deliver aid donated by Warwick district residents.

During the trip in May they found the Sri Lankan people still optimistic despite a depressingly slow trickle of aid.

"No pictures or television footage could have prepared us for what we witnessed," Nicki said. "Where there was once coastal communities there is nothing except a few tents, everything's been completely wiped out. It blew us away."

After months of fundraising the couple landed in Colombo, the capital, with nine suitcases of goods and 1,900 to donate.

They spent two weeks travelling around the obliterated coastal areas from their base in the southern town of Galle.

The Farthings stopped in schools, camps, villages and even by the road to hand out food parcels and other items.

One teddy bear still had a note of support written in the Midlands pinned to its chest when it was handed to a delighted child.

"Despite the hardships school pupils turned out in immaculate whitest of white uniforms," said Jonathan. "They spoke English well and thanked us for everything. Despite their ordeal they still found time to be hospitable."

Nicki, 42, and Jonathan, 37, gave money towards equipping children with uniforms and stationery.

They also paid for scholarships, made donations to new housing for the displaced and purchased fishing boats and nets.

Jonathan said: "It's catch-22 for fishermen. They've got no money to buy a boat, and don't have a boat to make money."

The couple's contacts included international charities, local dignitaries and their driver, who acted as a guide.

He was still traumatised at being unable to reach people crying out for help as he clung for life in the water.

Guilty at having survived, he has worked tirelessly to do all he can to help, taking entire families under his wing.

But his story is just one of many.

In one camp the couple met a tsunami widow and her baby, born just two weeks after the disaster.

"She was so strong, but her story was terrible and it reduced me to tears," Nicki said.

Many of the shelters consist almost completely of women and children living in chaotic, tortuous conditions.

Many of their male relatives, who made a living fishing at sea or selling their wares near the seafront, were swept away.

While aid agencies were active little of the 1.75 billion reportedly mired in Sri Lankan bureaucracy could be seen, the couple found.

Jonathan said: "Some of the people in the camps are living in corrugated tin sheds. They describe them as ovens by day and sieves by night. The rain gets in through the gaps and whatever they have just gets completely saturated."

Nicki added: "Whenever we handed out supplies in refugee camps we got mobbed. As soon as they sensed we were going back to the car their voice levels started to rise. You gave to some people and upset others, it wasn't easy."

But the couple were lifted by the generosity of the people they met, such as the man who shimmied up a tree to pick a coconut for them as a gesture of thanks.

"We were given garlands when we went to visit schools and treated like VIPs," Nicki said. "We visited a Muslim region on the east coast where there have been problems with terrorism.

"The ports and airports authority chairman, who's really keen to help people affected, showed us about.

"He had six personal and six army guards, who were all armed. At one point they were all out pushing our people carrier when it got stuck."

The couple, who own a pet grooming salon, visited a home for 150 dogs rounded up after the disaster.

The professor who owns it has had each one vaccinated against rabies and given a red collar - to show it poses no threat.

"It was a life-changing trip," Nicki said, back home in a house already filling up with goods to be shipped out. It was incredible to see how resilient the people are. But it was disappointing to find how slowly things are happening and we've come back more determined than ever to help."

*Nicki and Jonathan have set up the Support Sri Lanka Foundation and are appealing for support through donations of money or goods, particularly for schools. They are currently organising a number of fundraising activities. To help phone 883553 or visit www.supportsrilankafoundation.org
21 June 2005

 

Support Sri Lanka Foundation ,

9 Goldacre Close , Whitnash ,

Leamington Spa , Warwickshire ,

CV31 2TWUNITED KINGDOM

 

          Registered Charity No. 1111896