Tangalled Up in Blue

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
Trip End Apr 26, 2005

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Our first week in Colombo was spent helping the Singapore YMCA to implement a volunteer program to assist the Sri Lankan YMCAs in the eastern districts of the country. By the weekend, things had pretty well wrapped up, so we accepted the offer of a friend of a friend to take a break from Colombo to visit his current relief efforts in Tangalle.

The six-hour bus ride to Tangalle was a real eye-opener. The road is a narrow, bumpy artery that stretches along the beautiful western and southern coastlines of Sri Lanka. However, the entire drive is strewn with boats and debris, reflecting varying degrees of the tsunami's damage. From the bus we saw countless uprooted trees, fragments of homes, palm trunks without fronds, foundations of buildings, pieces of boats, overturned headstones, wrecked cars, mattresses, and white flags of mourning. Piles of rubble line the road from Colombo to Tangalle, silent reminders of the tsunami's wrath. Witnessing the wrecked coastline during our journey really put things into perspective regarding the magnitude of the tsunami's devastation; this western coast, whose damage is said to pale in comparison to that of the east, is horribly affected nonetheless. It is apparent that Sri Lanka needs major assistance.

And the country is receiving assistance. Refugee camps are set up throughout the region; international flags and organization names don the tents, water tanks, and supplies. Local and foreign volunteers work long hours to clear the beaches and land, as the wave destroyed roadways, train tracks, and buildings up to a kilometer or more from the coast (in parts of the East is has been reported that the damage extends as far as four kilometers inland).

Tangalle, like the rest of the western coast, is currently in the cleanup stage of the relief efforts. Fortunately, parts of Tangalle sit high above the water on bluffs and thus were spared by the tsunami; however, other areas of Tangalle are quite devastated. We were taken to Mawella and a few other small beach villages to view the damage and to see the programs underway to clean and reconstruct the communities. Certainly this is one of the less affected areas. The loss of life wasn't relatively high, but severe damage was sustained nonetheless; countless homes have been destroyed and entire villages have been displaced. Even a month after the tsunami the communities are just now beginning their slow movement toward a higher degree of normalcy.

We stuck around Tangalle for a few days and helped with some small cleaning projects, but quickly realized that the area is, relatively speaking, pretty well off. Tangalle and the surrounding villages are receiving an abundance of attention and funding, and is being overseen by a group of expatriates that are keen to see the communities succeed. Since there wasn't a particular need for our services in Tangalle, we decided to return to Colombo.
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