Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Dispatch #11 - Expansion of the Tsunami Relief Project

Originally published
Poonochchimunai sewing school
Students at the Poonochchimunai sewing school are progressing with their training. The school has now achieved a level of stability in curriculum and attendance. However, we continue to face a few challenges with regards to the security situation in the area and the dedication of some students.


The students have, in the last two months, learned to make shirts, shorts, and frocks for children aged 5 to 10 years. They have also learned to make nightgowns and sari blouses for women. They will soon be learning to make shalwars and kameezes.

Attendance and Enrollment

Enrollment for the sewing school has held steady at 15 students. Throughout June and July, attendance at the school as reported by HHR field officers has been at about 11 students. Attendance was down to seven students on June 17 because of a temple festival held that day.

Two students have been particularly irregular because they have to attend to the reconstruction of their tsunami-affected houses. Given their circumstances, HHR has allowed them to retain their enrollment.

HHR field staff conducted a survey of former students to determine the reasons for the falling enrollment. The reasons reported were as follows:

1. The scheduled time for the class is inconvenient for two former students

2. Two students had to leave town for an extended period and could not attend

3. Two students had family commitments that demand too much of their time

4. Two students had other commitments that required too much of their time

5. Two students had to look after children and could not attend

6. One student could not attend because of poor health

The teacher, Mrs. Murgamoorthi, believes she can now take more students into the class without disrupting the curriculum. To this end, HHR staff will interview friends of current students who are eager to attend. Enrollment will be limited to students who satisfy HHR's requirements, i.e., those who are affected by the tsunami, are affected by conflict, have an eighth grade education, and are interested in the class.

Homework and Testing

Homework and testing have been challenging. Mrs. Murgamoorthi reported that only four students are regularly doing their homework, and that she is unable to cover all the necessary material without more active participation from the students. In addition, she reported that very few students are present on testing dates if she announces the date in advance.

She recommended that HHR not provide sewing machines to students on graduation if they are not regular with their homework and attendance. We are currently considering how we can provide the students with the appropriate incentives.


HHR staff members bought and delivered supplies to the sewing school on an as-needed basis. HHR has purchased cloth, thread, paper, elastic, glue, zippers, hooks, and other supplies for the school totaling approximately Rs. 6,900. As requested by Mrs. Murgamoorthi, HHR also purchased a trunk to store the clothes the students have made.

Building a Workplace for Graduates

Field officers have begun work to secure land to build a communal workplace for the students once they graduate. HHR had earlier identified temple grounds that would be suitable for the purpose. However, on further investigation, we found that the land is government-owned. Field officers have filed a request with the Manmunai South Divisional Secretariat to build on the site. The Secretariat has not yet responded.

Other Challenges

Political violence on June 17 created a somewhat dangerous situation for the field officers' when they visited the sewing school. Fortunately, all the field officers escaped the violence unharmed.

Rebuilding Mrs. Yogammah's House

The rebuilding of Mrs. Yogammah's house has progressed despite delays due to difficulties in securing materials. The foundation and walls are completed, and door frames and window frames have been installed. Completion of the roof has been delayed as prices of materials have skyrocketed. Field staff are considering the cheapest and safest possible material for the roof, and we expect the house to be completed in August.

To complete the house, HHR spent Rs. 5,900 on 300 bricks over last two months.

Livelihood assistance in Cheddipalayam

HHR has continued to provide livelihood assistance to tsunami victims in Cheddipalayam and monitor their progress.

Mr. Vinayakamoorthi's Kerosene Oil Shop

Mr. Vinayakamoorthi, a disabled man in Cheddipalayam, bought land a built a shop to sell kerosene oil and other goods. Upon inspection of the building, on June 6, HHR staff provided him with Rs. 5,000 of a promised total of Rs. 10,000 for initial purchase of supplies. After monitoring the progress of the shop, on July 7, they disbursed the remaining Rs. 5,000.

Mr. and Mrs. Vinayakamoorthi are now both involved in the operations of their shop. While they are still struggling financially, they have some cash flow with which to grow their business.

Other Beneficiaries

HHR staff checked on the progress of another beneficiary who received a fishing boat and net. He has started fishing and is earning Rs. 500-600 a day

Expansion of the Tsunami Relief Project

Stichting Vluchteling (The Dutch Refugee Foundation) has agreed to provide funds to expand HHR's tsunami relief project to about 1,000 families. The funding will be used to provide assistance to villages where people have been displaced by conflict, then affected by the tsunami, and are not receiving the reconstruction assistance they need. To this end, HHR field officers and Advocacy Project intern, Sarosh Syed, began a needs assessment to select villages that fit the mandate.

HHR field officers used their community networks to identify villages that may fit the mandate. They visited and investigated 10 villages, of which Nasivanthivu and Turai Neelavanai are viable options.

Nasivanthivu is a village of 272 families, of which 146 have been severely affected by war and the tsunami. 35 mud houses were completely washed away by the tsunami. 5 people were killed by the tsunami and 23 are still missing. The town has 36 widows: some lost their husbands to war, others to the tsunami. 110 people were either injured by the tsunami or tortured by belligerents during the war. Most men in the village were fishermen; all of them lost their boats and fishing nets to the tsunami. A small minority of residents received livelihood assistance from other NGOs, but the vast majority are still living on handouts.

Turai Neelavan is a village of approximately 1,300 families, 380 of whom made their living fishing in the lagoon. Since the tsunami, the lagoon has become polluted with debris that has reduced the amount of fish and destroys fishing nets. Residents are therefore unable to continue fishing, and need assistance, either with lagoon cleanup or with alternative means of livelihood. We are awaiting details on the precise level of damage in the village.

Sarosh Syed, an AP intern conducting a needs-assessment for HHR, took a top-down approach, inquiring about conflict displacement and tsunami damage at Divisional Secretariats and visiting potential villages whom HHR may work with. He visited 20 villages and has identified Sigharam, Ollikulum, Manmunai, Keechampalla, and Periya Neelavanai as options.

Sigharam, Ollikulum, Manmunai, and Keechampalla are home to between 62 and 227 families each. All of these families escaped conflict in 1990 and fled to Katthankudy. They were settled there for 15 years until the tsunami destroyed their homes. They have now moved back to their original villages to try to rebuild their lives. While some NGOs have helped residents build temporary houses, they need access to drinking water and livelihood assistance. We do not yet have precise details on the extent of damage to these residents due to the tsunami.

Periya Neelavan, in the Ampara district, is home to 87 families. Villagers were displaced by conflict in 1990 and moved 20 to 30 km away. They were able to return to their villages and had resettled back in their homes when the tsunami hit and destroyed the village. The tsunami destroyed all the homes in the village. Most men were fishermen; 50 boats were lost in the tsunami. There are three wells in the vicinity, but they are all polluted with salt water. Villagers have to walk 1.5 km to Kallar to get water.

HHR Director, I.F. Xavier, will visit Batticaloa early in August and make the final decision on the villages HHR can assist and the form that assistance will take.

Once the villages have been selected, before any work starts, HHR field officers will consult a variety of government and community sources to verify the information received on the villages.

Creating a Model for Relief

Throughout the period, Sarosh Syed has been recording the tsunami relief operations in progress and interviewing beneficiaries. The footage will eventually be compiled in a 20 to 30 minute video that will provide other NGOs with a model for disaster relief and will help them learn from HHR's successes and challenges.