In a effort to temper the worry about whether or not relief aid work is appreciated, I would like to relay some of what I heard at a dinner (family powwow) just for the purpose of listening to my Nephew relay his experiences of Sri Lanka, from which, he had just returned.
The following is NOT an attempt to discuss politics simply an outline of the often difficult social "lay of the land" which Aid workers to Sri Lanka and other areas in need of aid, are required to navigate.
The family grilled him at times
like a group of reporters. As regards a question asking him if any tensions arose between the various groups working together in these countries secular, political and religious, he stated. "Each aid group has its motive for being there, the local small hard core communist group to obtain members, the government to be perceived as responsibly taking care of its citizens, the various religiously supported aid groups like my own, of course, are there; hoping by example to generate questions from the locals regarding our choices in life." Interestingly enough the smallest aid group representation in the areas he traveled during two weeks onsite was by the Red Cross, (although you have to factor he was there early days yet, - the Red Cross may not have had time to gear large efforts up for that region.) His time encompassed the 2nd and 3rd weeks just post-tsunami. The largest predominance of aid workers (not locally based) he saw in numbers were the American Military, Doctors without Borders, The Methodist and Baptist Church Disaster groups. He arrived Colombo, (West Coast) and traveled round the South Tip and did his work in the area of Tangalle. He stated that areas are basically being "adopted" (controlled) by different (and very special interest) aid groups. The strongest American military presence is in the area of Galle just West of Tangalle (towards Columbo).
His group of 12 went to the South Tip as you travel further up around the coast to the East you are getting into more and more remote regions heavily controlled by the mainly Hindu Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) . This group has recently split so that there are now two Tamil Tiger groups one more North one more East. The successive majority government of Sri Lanka has been Sinhalese, which also is split, with the orthodox general base and now a growing Left-wing JVP (People's Liberation Front) in addition there is a smaller National Heritage party of Buddhist monks. There has been an uneasy truce for 2 years in Sri Lanka with isolated incidents breaking out. This truce continues during the current crisis but as always, - tenuously.
The East Coast group had to travel with a guide who would stop at night and not travel further stating that they would be "shot" if they attempted to move further in the dark.. At one point the East Coast group had to detour inland to bypass round a heavily forested region and then back again to the Coast itself. During this time they were "passed" off back and forth at various points, to the Sinhalese Military then to a Tamal Tiger representative. The Sri Lanka Navy leads the relief aid from Columbo around the South Tip then its presence tends to peter out as you travel up the East Coast. He stated they had some resentment in Tangalle by (I get my group mixed up, Buddists?) But as my Nephew was the liaison between the Navy he mentioned it in passing to his Navy Contact, who stated, "I have a friend, I'll make a call and take care of that." ....no more problems!
We asked what he felt was his largest contribution during his two weeks onsite. He stated it was his work in an area slightly inland from the beaches. They rotated 1st week work days rotating between several offical local designated refugee camps. One morning when being guided to a new refugee camp, the guide took a wrong turn (topography has been changed somewhat, -as you can imagine) and they found an area which was comprised of approx. 80 families who had fled up from the shore. This village of fishermen had lost only 3 members during the tsunami due to a warning from one teenage female who had seen a first wave hit an area which was a point jutting further out into the ocean, than the village. She had run screaming telling everyone to run to high ground. They were in the worst condition of any area he had visited; The Navy until his group found them, had been entirely unaware of their presence. The whole village had moved into to some partially constructed barracks that had been built and deserted in previous years. He said the conditions were horrible, no electricity, very little water, and the trash and debris from the Tsunami itself in that area was horrendous. His group spent his last week when they handed off to South Coast #2 group, working only in this village, the need there was so desperate. By the time they left the Navy had gotten earthmoving equipment into the area, to start cleaning up. He stated that many of the men (fisherman) spoke about how they never wanted to go back to work upon the sea, they were too afraid of it.
He said that the "people" everywhere; were so happy to see any (and all aid workers) and their expressed relief and appreciation transcended and currently overwhelms all the grumbling from various special interest groups who are staying rather subdued about vocalizing any resentment. The joy of the majority, - over being helped, keeps any vocal extremists muzzled currently.
As regards the "tourist's" making merry while aid work is going on, he stated most nights his group returned to a Hotel in Tangalle, he said the Hotel, which catered to tourism, had closed after the tsunami, it reopened only to accommodate his group of aid workers. The Hotel manager repeatedly told my nephew that his gratitude was extreme, because One: A livelihood had disappeared for the near future, and Two, since they were on standby waiting for Hotel to reopen they could not help in aid efforts directly. By helping my Nephews group he said the entire staff felt connected indirectly in having had a part in the coastal aid efforts.
Two interesting stories my Nephew relayed, was his Navy Contact discussing the desire of the locals to explain the "why" for this great calamity which had befallen them. The current Tsunami, was bringing up remembrance of a great Tsunami that had devastated Sri Lanka a 1000-yr. past. And that during that time it was felt to have been in response to "evil" the people had done. A Queen of the era had sacrificed a daughter in appeasement for the bad Karma. My nephew noted that it is of interest to note, that much of the coastlines most heavily decimated by this Tsunami were areas that had the highest child-sex for foreigners, traffic. He wondered (without asking his Naval friend) if this would impact the Sri Lanka's somewhat partially accepting tolerance which often ignores, this underworld trafficking.
Secondly, he relayed that one of their groups sent to Indonesia had almost drowned, first days in. They had hired a boat to take the group to the first of more remote islands in the region and had been caught up in a terrible storm. The situation became desperate with the boat sinking. Amongst cargo, they were carrying a load of body bags since they would be the first aid workers to reach this particular island, and had assumed those items to be a priority need.
The storm was so violent the whole group zipped up in body bags (like raincoats) for protection. They were taken off by a rescue ship that heard the radio signal for help. Afterwards the American Military began shuttling them via Helicopters between the islands they were accessing,...no more boat trips.
They were making calls to the American Military on satellite phones provided by local revolutionaries when they needed removal from an area!
Beyond the various, religious, political and ethic groups are simply people
. Grateful for what help they are receiving.