March 17, 2012
By Simon Chambers
PWRDF currently has a nine-member delegation visiting the Organization for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR) in India and Sri Lanka as we continue to accompany the Tamil refugees OfERR serves as they begin the process of returning to Sri Lanka from India. The members of the delegation are acting as guest bloggers on the PWRDF blog. Today’s entry comes from Carolyn Vanderlip of the Diocese of Niagara and a member of PWRDF’s refugee network.
After a short flight we arrived last night in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Walking out of the airport we were immediately struck by the unfamiliar quiet after 5 noisy days in Chennai, India. It seems ironic that a country that has experienced decades of war feels peaceful to us.
It was another early start for our delegation, departing at 5:30 am for the journey to Trincomalee. 257 kilometres is the distance some Canadians commute daily to work and back. In Sri Lanka, the one-way journey took 9 hours due to road conditions, construction, and what appeared to be a national bike race. Our own famed long distance bike rider, Suzanne Rumsey of Le Tour de PWRDF, enthusiastically cheered the riders on. While we waited for the race to pass by we enjoyed watching the antics of the monkeys in the trees by the side of the road.
Despite the length of the journey, we all enjoyed the opportunity to see the beautiful island of Sri Lanka; its lush greenery, red soil reminiscent to us Canadians of Prince Edward Island, and lovely hilly landscape. However, as we continued north we began to see the signs of a war recently ended: very poorly maintained roads, destroyed homes, and increasing indications of poverty.
Arriving in Trincomalee, we first had a chance to meet with the OfERR staff who are providing assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and refugees who have returned from India. It was a privilege to meet with a group of women and to hear their stories of multiple displacements, both from the war and from the tsunami that struck these shores in 2004. One woman described being displaced four times, and the loss of her daughter during that time. And yet, the pull towards home is strong, and at every opportunity she attempted to return to her home, only to be forced to leave again.
We were inspired by the young couple expecting their first child in June. Formerly displaced, they are now living in a PWRDF funded house, complete with beautiful garden and spacious yard. Not far away, we visited with another young couple who are living in cramped temporary housing which leaks and has no electricity. Without a steady source of income and with school fees to be paid for their young children, they are desperately seeking a solution for their housing needs.
At the end of a long day we retired to the Sea Lotus Hotel, overlooking the Indian Ocean. One of our group members reflected on the fact that we could flip a switch to turn on the electricity, and turn on a tap to have a shower. For many displaced families in this area of Sri Lanka, such things remain only a dream.