Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Tsunami survivors rebuild their lives

By Gina Wilkinson

Onthachimadam, Sri Lanka, July 29, 2005 - On the morning of December 26, Mrs I. Sinnamuthu was fighting for her life as towering waves crashed into her village on Sri Lanka's east coast, destroying her home and her business.

Seven months later, the 56-year-old is an inspiring example of strength in the face of adversity as she works to rebuild her life and her community.

"I was busy in my small general store when I heard a neighbour scream that a wall of water was heading straight for us," the 56-year-old shopkeeper recalls.

"I tried to run from the tsunami but the waves caught up with me and I was engulfed in water up to my neck. I thought I was going to drown," she says.

Mrs Sinnamuthu managed to keep her head above water until the waves subsided, but it was another seven agonising hours before she learned that her husband and four grown children had also survived.

She took refuge in the grounds of a local school, and was one of the first to volunteer to help when the IOM arrived to build emergency accommodation.

"I was happy to carry the bricks and timber and weave the cadjan fronds for the shelters," she says. "It gave me solace, and helped me cope with the tragedy all around me."

Now Mrs Sinnamuthu has moved into a transitional house built by IOM with financial support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) in the hard hit eastern district of Batticaloa.

IOM staff were again impressed with Mrs Sinnamuthu's drive and energy as she pitched in to build her transitional home - a sturdy 200 square foot structure with concrete floors and a corrugated roof.

IOM is one of the biggest providers of transitional accommodation in Sri Lanka, having already completed more than 2,400 houses island-wide.

Mrs Sinnamuthu also collected enough wood and metal sheeting to rebuild her small store - the only means of income for her and her disabled husband.

As part of another ECHO funded-project, IOM provided the enterprising woman with new equipment and supplies.

Mrs Sinnamuthu is one of more than 1,000 people who IOM has helped to rebuild businesses destroyed by the tsunami. Now she's making enough money to support herself and her husband.

"With help from IOM I'm back at work and busy," says Mrs Sinaumuthu, "Now I really feel that I can put the trauma of the tsunami behind me and begin life anew."