ACT Lanka is sending a second shipment up to Vanni district hospitals. This is a reprint of my Sunday Leader column of two weeks ago, about that trip:
I went to Vavuniya. Some friends in Colombo raised money, bought medical goods, pulled some strings and drove two lorries to Medavachchiya. There, kind men from the army loaded the goods onto military vehicles and drove us to Vavuniya in an armored bus. Medics and soldiers unloaded the goods and we met some of the people the relief is reaching. It’s not much and it doesn’t change the world, but it happened.
This was only possible with the gracious support of the Ministry of Health and the Army. Visiting these areas you realize how hard the doctors and nurses work, how dedicated they are. Learning the hometowns of soldiers, you realize how much they sacrifice. How far they are from home. I have nothing but pride and respect for their service, and nothing but gratitude for the people that made this possible.
Vavuniya town is quite functional. There’s a Food City, a big petrol shed, buses, they’re repaving the road. The hospital looms near the city center, greyish-green and concrete. As we unloaded the goods into the lobby I realized how small the relief seemed, how inadequate. A lot of women and children are hurt, a lot of limb injuries. We didn’t bring enough.
This is not news, that shrapnel is falling among our people. It remains a tragedy that the LTTE is holding them as human shields and it remains a farce that diasporals cheer this on. When you see the poor people that suffer, the mothers and children, it’s mind-boggling. How can the LTTE hide behind these people? How dare the diaspora use their shattered bodies for posters? None of this improves their lives one bit.
And their lives do need to be improved. We brought medical goods but it looks to me like they also need something softer to sleep on, some new clothes to wear. It might seem frivolous, but I think the children could use some toys. And we are trying to help, Sri Lankans are trying to help. It is important that the world know this.
The LTTE and diaspora can point out the problem, but they have no remedy. OK, Eelam, but that might as well be Valhalla. Perhaps M.I.A. and Arundhati Roy can sweep in like the Valkyries and sort out those who get to go. Meanwhile, we Sri Lankans on the ground have to deal with the here and now.
Right now our soldiers are taking losses in a war that could be over in a day. Right now the LTTE is holding people hostage while Londoners wave bloody flags. Right now our people need relief, and the government, aid agencies and Sri Lankan citizens are delivering it. It is so easy to be uncompromising from far away, but this is life on the ground.
I have seen Colombo hands load goods into trucks. I have seen military hands carry it. I have seen the hands of doctors who bandage limbs and protect nursing children. In the midst of this humanitarian situation I simply cannot see Sinhalese, Tamil, government or opposition anymore. In a humanitarian crisis, only humanity remains.
How is needing clean syringes an ethnic issue? How are water mattresses political? I look who’s besides me loading boxes and it’s a soldier from Galgamuwa. I look out and the man carrying them is from Scotland. He hands it to a medic, probably from Vavuniya. At the end of the day it reaches someone fleeing from Mullativu. Who cares? Who cares about anything at this point except that we’re all human, we all share this island, and we all need to work together?
When you see the challenges this country faces, there are no easy answers. There is only hard work. I wish those who propose solutions from abroad would come here for a day. I wish they would stand with a sleepless soldier on patrol, or follow a tireless doctor on his impossible rounds. I wish they would claim genocide to those doing the healing, or a soldier risking his own life to save innocents.
I’m not saying that our government is perfect. God knows. But I do know that my government helped me and some fellow citizens send relief to the North. They transported us, protected us, and if we were in trouble I’m pretty sure they would fight and die for us. I am also fully aware that government shells have broken the legs of my people, but I also see government hands putting them back together.
Do I support this war? I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I am loyal to my country. I will work with my elected government to make it better. Right now the urgent need is to deliver relief to our fellow citizens in the North and care for our soldiers. I have seen that a few determined citizens can make this happen, and I have seen that our government will help. You can help, even the international community can help. But it must begin with respect, and it must begin with the people and institutions we have. It may not be pretty and it may not be perfect, but it is real. Such is the fierce urgency of now.