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Sunday, 29 May 2016

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Water recedes, hope rises:

A collective effort to restore normality :

After the recent floods, with the victims gradually moving back to their houses, Isuri Yasasmin Kaviratne from the Sunday Observer write about their volunteering experience to help them clean their houses, and also with the packing and distribution of the dry rations and other commodities.

This was the week Colombo ran out of rubber boots and gloves. From five Arpico Super Centres to Fort, though searched, several volunteer groups admitted that they couldn't find boots but are still proceeding with the cleaning, overlooking safety precautions in the face of urgency; these people in camps need to go home. But many would fall sick, skin diseases at least, due to the overexposure to the dirty water and mud, many said.

It is either the mud, or the stains, or the smell; despite how many times you wash the house, the smell never leaves. Some suggest to leave the doors open after the cleaning for the fresh air to enter the house, but the owners do not favour the idea: too many looters around, they say. The brick houses are easier to clean compared to the wooden houses, the more you clean the more mud seeps in; absorbed to the wood plans, was the best guess though no scientific explanation could be found.

Exhaustion

There are those who call the cleaning companies, and those who waited for youth organisations such as Voice Lanka to support them clean their houses. Some try to do it on their own. Either way, exhaustion take over fast not entirely by the labour put into the cleaning, but by contemplating on the destruction, imagining the people trying to rebuild themselves from scratch. Like after the tsunami.

Some cry. Some are resigned. Some are determined. The disaster has been a teacher for many. And whatever they feel, they are joining hands to rebuild.

The continuous rain in the mornings has ensured that some areas remain flooded and in other areas, the roads remain muddy. The people in the areas laid down their soggy mattresses and cushions to pave a safe, comfortable path on the bog their road has become.

The houses that have already been cleaned look bare inside. Sofas, cushions, mattresses, pillows, all destroyed. Some recommend burning everything. There's really no point, they say. Broken wood cupboards, chairs and even books, school text books, novels, dictionaries, get added to the pile of things to be burnt. They cannot be used, they say. On the other hand, some try to salvage whatever they can, spreading out books to dry. The decision depends on how much of mud has gotten into the books, the cupboards and clothes.

Cleaning kitchens is as wearing as cleaning the school books. The thorough attention given to cleaning kitchenware always makes one wonder whether they could be used at all. Thus most of the kitchen equipment end up in garbage.

Lotus pond

People need their lives rebuilt. They may have personal savings for that, they may not. But compensation should be given. Visiting houses made many of their inhabitants tell stories about how boggy lands were filled and sold for various purposes, causing more and more floods, such as the miles long lotus pond in Kohilawatta in Wellampitiya that used to welcome the excess water before it was filled and sold. Some say that a malfunction in the 'Moya Kata' caused the floods.

Some say that the drainage system was narrowly built leaving little space for water to seep out that causes continuation of floods. Amidst all this, people are trying to stand up, like phoenix, though it was water, not fire that burnt everything they own.

Among the many who volunteered, formed organisations, the Sunday Observer spoke to a few to record their work during the time of need.

Voice Lanka

Immediately after the floods, Voice Lanka turned their office into an operation focal point where dry rations and clothes are stored and distributed from. The Founder of Voice Lanka, Moses Akash de Silva said that the relief work is done in three stages; the Immediate Relief Work, Rebuilding and Re-establishing, and Post Relief Work.

During the Immediate Relief Work phase, they reached out to nearly 25,000 people and 4100 families by providing them with clean drinking water, dry rations, clothing and other essential items.

"We are currently entering the second phase, Rebuilding and Re-establishing, where they were cleaning and building existing houses, and keep providing the affected with clothes and medicine and other necessities," de Silva said.

He said that the Organisation bought a small boat immediately after the floods to rescue people and continued to use it to reach out the people stranded in farthest corners to distribute aid.

De Silva said that they even went into the floods to bring the wedding dress of a young girl from her home, who was devastated that she became homeless the day before the wedding.

The office of Voice Lanka where dry rations and clothes were collected, sounded and felt like a beehive, some bringing dry rations, some put them into separate parcels for distribution, some folding and categorizing clothes and noting down what they are missing..., medicine and toiletries and other items such as baby diapers are put into the distribution bags separately, and a recently received set of flasks are to be distributed too, once the people settle down.

The post relief work involves individual cases and the general livelihood of communities and affected families as well as helping school children with supplies, uniforms and replacing household items that were lost due to floods.

Google form

Fayaz Mahroof said that he and few of his friends bought a domain to set up the flood relief website after realizing that there are many who wanted to help and many who needed help but no one to link these two groups. In the site, he added a google form where the name, place, contact number and what is needed can be added in detail, and exhibit the inputs in a public Excel sheet.

"To help people to use this facility, I also started two hashtags, #needLK and #availableLK and after a day or two, it got picked up, so, now we call and double check whenever we get requests for aid and link them up with someone who has similar items #availableLK" he said that initially, people didn't know the extent of the damage and many wanted a "blank cheque", but with the introduction of the hashtags, the interaction became smoother.

He said that he didn't get to keep tab on the number of people they reached out to and added that the Disaster Management Centre's delays should be noted as lessons learnt.

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