Day 7 – Amani Toomer and Tony Richardson Visit Sri Lanka
J. Ethan Medley, NY Giants
February 17, 2005
After waking up to a bacon and egg breakfast we jumped right into action this morning, heading over to the Habaraduwa Multi-purpose Cooperative Society, where we packed individual rations of food. The Sri Lankan government has identified individuals in need, and is working with organizations like the World Food Program (WFP) to supply them with weekly rations. Our task this morning was to open up large bags of rice, pulses (lentils) and sugar, measuring and weighing them and then packaging them for distribution to local villages. Each individual is provided with a weekly ration of 2.8 kilograms of rice, .42 kilograms of pulses, .41 kilograms of sugar and a small amount of cooking oil. We quickly learned that it is a task that requires efficiency, as it is important to prepare as many rations as possible, and attention to detail, in order to make sure that everyone gets their fair share. This morning we were able to prepare 285 packages of rice, and 350 packs of pulses and sugar.Once we packaged the rations, we loaded them onto a waiting truck, which we followed over to Heenatigala, a local village where approximately 200 people were waiting in line with their yellow ration cards, ready to receive their week’s allotment. The government issues these numbered cards, which correspond to each week, to those who are eligible for assistance. The individual must sign-in and the cards must be presented at the distribution site, usually a local store, in order to receive anything. It is a fairly long process, and those in line must bear the brunt of the heat, but eventually everyone has food for themselves and their family for the week. Seeing one elderly woman struggling to carry her family’s bag of rations, I asked her if she would allow me to carry the bag for her. It was then that I discovered how far some people have to come to receive their food, as we walked almost half a mile down the road and then turned onto the railroad tracks, which we walked down for almost another mile.
As I went to lay her bag down at her doorway, she asked me to come inside, where she introduced me to her daughter, son-in-law, and two-year-old granddaughter. She also led me into the main room of the house to show me where water knocked in sections of the wall and caved in portions of their roof. The son mentioned that it has been tough to have his daughter in this situation, but that he hopes to have the materials to fix the house soon. Saying my good-byes and extending my best wishes, I made my way back to the distribution site, where our work was winding down.
After eating a seafood and rice lunch at a recently re-opened restaurant nearby, we took a moment to dip our feet into the ocean. The water was extremely warm and the beach was beautiful, with only a few pieces of tile and automotive parts serving as reminders of the recent disaster. More and more businesses are opening back up, but tourism has severely diminished since December 26. Only the humanitarian aid organizations who have come to help are here to support the hotels and restaurants that are the backbone of the nation’s economy.
The afternoon provided us the opportunity to visit the Martin Wickremasinghe Primary School, a participant in the WFP’s School Feeding Program, where we worked with the students to sand down and repaint their desks. Schools here are almost exclusively outdoor facilities, and the kids greatly appreciated the new look to their desks, which were beginning to show their age. As has been typical, once our work was finished, the kids wanted to challenge us to their local game, in this case, cricket. After explaining most of the rules to us, we each took turns batting with the kids bowling their trickiest pitches to us. Amani excited the students by showing some skill at the sport and making very good contact on several occasions. They also enjoyed learning the game of football, and were glad when we left them with our ball so they could play with it even after our departure.
With our day’s activities complete, we stopped at a wonderful restaurant on the water, arriving just in time to watch the sun seemingly disappear into the ocean, surrounded in a splash of colors. It was a wonderful reminder that this country that recently experienced such an interruption has a wonderful future just over the horizon. However, in order for the rebuilding process to be complete, tourists must rediscover Sri Lanka’s beauty.
Set-up in 1963, WFP is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2003, WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries, including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. Currently, WFP is helping to feed more than 850,000 people in Sri Lanka, with a large logistics network spread throughout the country. For more information on their efforts in Indonesia and throughout the world, please visit www.wfp.org.