One small group has finally produced something fashionable out of the tsunami. A cooperative of tsunami-affected seamstresses in Polhena made the MonkBag – now launched in Monaco, London, and Los Angeles and available locally at Barefoot and the Lighthouse Hotel. All the profits go back to the women’s pockets, and the bag is raising awareness of a creative Sri Lanka. One of the groups behind this production is Suba Ude (subaud.blogspot.com), which operates in Matara, Ampara, Kalutara, Colombo, LA and cyberspace. They ‘provide physical, creative and emotional projects for displaced persons living in welfare camps in Sri Lanka. We focus on psychosocial needs beyond food, shelter and medicine.’ I spoke with Stephanie Bleyer about Suba Ude and what’s going on in the field (for the LT cause my other article was stupes).
*Can you give Colombo readers a quick update?*
Updating the Colombo reader is easy. Instruct them to hop into their cars and drive 30 kilometers south of the city, as I do every single day (I work for an international organization in Kalutara). There they will find fellow Sri Lankans living in camps while houses are being built, many parents returning to work and others idly waiting for assistance, most children going to school and, one can surmise, life returning to normalcy (if you call living in overcrowded tin houses ‘normal’). The Colombo reader will meet an abundance of volunteers- international and local-leading children’s activities, building houses, conducting livelihood surveys and running mobile clinics. Unfortunately, they will witness the destitution that still plagues the affected. No matter how many hours in the day (I start at 4:30), the to-do list seems endless.
*Are many houses being built?*
Houses of every shape and size pock the coastline from Moratuwa to Trinchomalee; however, most are not visible from Galle Road. Affected people are still living in camps but most are being moved into transitional shelters. These are not considered “camps” because the shelters are not tents and many of the shelters have been built on the same land where they will build their permanent homes. In Ampara, my organization manages 16 welfare camps (we are in the process of building several thousand transitional shelters).
*Have childrens’ lives returned to some normalcy?*
Children have returned to school; however, many are not going because their camp or transitional shelter site is too far away and there is inadequate transportation. How do we gauge normalcy? Yes children are going to school, men are fishing and women are cooking, but does this signify authentic normalcy? Perhaps for those residing in individual transitional shelters, life is more ‘normal’ than for those still in camps.
*Are parents going back to work?*
This varies district to district. Unfortunately some unmentionable districts are plagued with this overwhelming sense of dependence. In Ampara a woman showed me the knife she was given as part of her livelihood package. The knife was broken. She asked me to fix it. I asked her if she usually asks people who give her gifts to fix them when they break. In Kalutara a woman in a camp asked me when we would be cleaning their toilets. Such blatant dependency is a frightening sign that such women will face quite an awakening when their “caretakers” leave the country.
*What other plans does Suba Ude have?*
We threw a benefit in Los Angeles (invite to come) this week to support our latest venture- DisPlacements (Dr. Dre came!) With the proceeds, we will fly a Brazilian photographer to Sri Lanka to lead multimedia educational peace building projects. Our original proposal was to conduct a tsunami related program (see: www.displacements.info/srilanka.html). Another organization we have been assisting- New York based NGO Film Aid International- might be partnering with us on this project as well.
*Who do you see being the most active on the ground?*
Most active on the ground are NGO’s and IGO’s (there is a great distinction between an Inter-governmental organization and a private NGO, which are smaller and not as closely tied to governments). I see far more local faces than foreigners.
*Is there a lack of money?*
There is not a lack of money, there is a lack of knowledge about how to tap into these resources.
*Is there a lack of volunteers?*
Yes, there is a lack of volunteers. We can never have too many smart, efficient, hard-working volunteers.