Sri Lanka

Red Cross completes first permanent housing project for Sri Lankan tsunami victims

by Rukshan Ratnam in Rekawa, southern Sri Lanka.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is helping people's plans and dreams take shape in the tsunami affected districts of Sri Lanka. In the southern coastal town of Rekawa, these plans and dreams take on the shape of houses; homes for those who lost theirs to the devastating tsunami on 26 December 2004.

'Little Malta Village', a reconstruction project led by the Malta Red Cross Society comprises 63 houses perched on a hill with shady trees, 350 metres from the original settlement on the beach.

The houses were handed over to the community on 10 July 2005 at a ceremony attended by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Maltese Red Cross Society President Prof L Cutajar.

Lansinona Wijesuriya is almost bursting with joy as she waits to receive the key to her new home. "I am very happy. I feel safe here," she says.

Ms. Wijesuriya's son works in the capital Colombo and she lived alone. "My house was completely destroyed. I would have died too if I hadn't been at the temple that morning," she says.

Everyone, including the country's Prime Minister, the new house owners and members of the Sri Lanka Red Cross and Malta Red Cross Societies have reason to rejoice: it's the first completed permanent housing project to which a community made homeless by the tsunami has moved in.

"It is an honour that it's the Red Cross which completed the first housing project," said Prime Minister Rajapakse as he addressed the throngs of people who attended the ceremony.

The family of Jaliya Ediriweera and his wife E.P. Esilin Nona, both 77 years old, has prepared traditional Sri Lankan sweetmeats to mark the day. They invite members of the Red Cross to come share their joy, and their first meal in the new house.

"We are very grateful to the Red Cross, they gave us food, water and now a house," says Ediriweera. "We would have had to live on the road if we didn't get a house," he adds. His home and coconut grove were destroyed in the tsunami.

"We are grateful to the people of Malta, who provided the money to complete this project," adds his neighbour, Jagath Ratnawira.

The President of the Maltese Red Cross, Professor Cutajar, says the Government and public in Malta gave generously when the Red Cross launched an appeal following the tsunami, some giving their entire month's pension.

It is the first international operation for the Malta Red Cross Society, a relatively new National Society now celebrating its fourteenth year since inception.

"All in all, it's been a very satisfactory outcome," says Professor Cutajar with a smile.