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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sri Lanka: after recovery comes rebuilding

As we grapple with the humanitarian crisis in Mynanmar, it is important to reflect upon what HOPE International Development Agency supporters were able to do for survivors of another historic crisis.

On Boxing Day 2004, countries bordering the Indian Ocean experienced the worst natural disaster in history at the time. Upwards of 220,500 people were killed by a series of powerful tsunamis. Sri Lanka, where we have worked for many years, was especially hard-hit: many thousands of families were affected by loss of life, loss of home, and loss of livelihood. After the rush of providing emergency relief, our staff helped communities to rebuild their lives, and in fact, to ‘build back better’ whenever possible. Relief was needed in the moment, but a strategy for climbing out of poverty was just as essential.

Our goal was to help 3,000 of the very poorest families affected by the tsunami to rebuild their homes and restart income-earning ventures through low-interest loans. These families are the poorest of the poor, and most commercial banks will not lend to them. To get ahead, they are at the mercy of loan sharks and other unscrupulous lenders. But through HOPE International Development Agency, they receive very low-interest loans, financial counsel, social support, and everything they need to create sustainable livelihoods.

We were especially concerned with widows like Wasanthi, who was left with three children, Niroshini, Kumara and Damayanthi. She was given a small two room house to replace the one that was washed away in the tsunami. She had worked previously as a vendor in the village market but all of her inventory and all her other resources were washed away. She had nothing to start over with. We provided Wasanthi with household utensils and some basic food items, as well as a loan so that she could purchase supplies to restart her small vending business. Wasanthi, who has since repaid her loan, repackages these condiments, spices and snacks in small quantities and sells them in the local village market. Now, every day Wasanthi goes to the market and manages her small business. With her earnings she is able to restock supplies, keep her small enterprise going, and save a small amount. Her great joy is to now, again, be able to send her children to school.

It is our great joy to know that this year, because of the financial resources that HOPE International Development Agency supporters provided, our goal has been met: 3,000 of the families most devastated by 2004’s tsunami are well on their way to building back better. Our work in Sri Lanka must continue, and the work in Mynamar to heal and rebuild is just beginning, but it is encouraging to know that Sri Lankan families have thrived when your help reached them. Let their success encourage you to make the same recovery possible for Mynamar’s families now.

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