by K. Williams
Students at a Sri Lankan training school funded in part by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) are helping to build new homes for villagers whose community was destroyed in the tsunami of December 26, 2004.
The H/Sri Kawantissa Vocational Training Centre, located in the town of Tissamaharamay on the south coast of Sri Lanka, is supported by WUSC with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and also by the government of Norway. WUSC's Project for Rehabilitation through Education and Training (PRET) prepares young men and women from disadvantaged groups for careers as motor mechanics, machinists, plumbers, masons, electricians or carpenters, and also teaches computer skills.
CIDA has supported PRET in Sri Lanka for the past 15 years. In light of the new demands of post-tsunami reconstruction, CIDA recently contributed an additional $1 million to expand PRET's programs to 2006.
After the tsunami, the students offered to put their classroom knowledge to practical use by first constructing temporary shelters for survivors and then by building a village. The new community is set well above the sea on land contributed by the government. By mid-May 2005, 100 solidly constructed cinder-block cottages were underway out of a proposed 226 and a few were already completed. Priority on the waiting list was given to villagers with disabilities and some families had begun moving in.
Each of the new houses costs 600,000 rupees, or about Cdn$7,500. Funds were obtained from donors, mainly through a local Buddhist temple.
Amenities in the new homes include electricity, clean water, and sanitation facilities that the villagers did not have in their previous houses. WUSC provided kitchen items and more supplies were donated by other non-governmental organizations.
Tsunamis are not completely unfamiliar in this part of Sri Lanka. Two thousand years ago, according to tradition, a tsunami ravaged the coast after a Buddhist monk was killed by a local king. The contrite ruler, for whom the vocational school is named, raised a temple that stands today.
"Three thousand people were killed here," says the Reverend Dewalegama Dhammasena, the dynamo behind much of the post-tsunami recovery effort in the region. "People from every community and religion came to the temple for refuge. We provided them with food and temporary shelter, and medicines. Then we worked to give them permanent homes. Now, we are helping them continue with their livelihoods."