Tsunami 10 Year Anniversary – Where are the Heroes?

Recently with the tragedy of the school siege in Peshawar, Pakistan, the human spirit was truly demoralised and many said that “humanity was lost”. In moments like the “Peshawar Attack” and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, we as people, truly wonder why we are dealt such crushing blows, to lose so many precious and innocent lives, in one swift motion? It is in these moments we must remember, despite how dark things are, there are those who shine an immutable light. Remember when you see scary things in the news, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”. Similarly during the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Sri Lanka as a nation rallied to help in whatever way possible, despite being torn apart by a civil war. However it was not only Sri Lankans whom rallied, this is an article of one those inspiring stories, borne from the whirling, consuming destruction of the tsunami.

Indira Kithsiri – Sahana Sri Lanka http://www.sahana-srilanka.org/

So I was excited to meet Indira Kithsiri through Global Shapers as it was, she being a Community Associate for India and South Asia at the World Economic Forum. However it soon unfolded how this young woman was in such a formidable position. Before I begin, raised in Switzerland, Indira is born to a Swiss mother and a Sri Lankan father but she couldn’t stress enough that she will always be completely and utterly, a Sri Lankan!

To put it concisely it begins with, Indira at the age of 22, moved by the tragedy of the Indian Ocean Tsunami raised funds of 20,000 Swiss Francs and decided to travel from Switzerland to Sri  Lanka, with the mission to build homes for the displaced! At this point, everyone at the table felt justifiably, not very ambitious. Nevertheless here is her remarkable story, one of which is strung with the beads of fated moments.

The first moment is when Indira, whilst in Switzerland contacted her friends in Sri Lanka and through them the Venerable Bangala Upatissa Thera, who donated a one-acre plot in Hiniduma! Arriving in Sri Lanka, she immediately departed to Galle where she selected 10 families to be benefactors of her project. Although Hiniduma (43 km away of Galle) was not suitable to the fisher-folk of Galle, Indira strategised to fulfil their needs for a new occupation to sustain themselves in this rural locality. With the assistance of these beneficiaries, she set about constructing houses per 10-perch block.

The second moment was when she was queued at the “pettah”* of the Department of Immigration &  Emigration to extend her visa, she got chatting to the gentleman in front of her. He was the Vice President of HSBC in Toronto – whom also had been moved by our tragedy. This conversation soon evolved into him donating 30,000 US Dollars towards and ultimately joining together with Indira to create “Sahana Sri Lanka”. A second fund-raising effort with both at the helm, brought in 60,000 USD to complete their venture in building not alone 10 houses as initially planned, but also one school (by July 2006)!

Sahana Sri Lanka has evolved from initially being a charitable project to one which has empowered underprivileged children of Hiniduma. She achieved this through education, training and ensuring the community ultimately had full ownership of this project. The school which was originally meant to be community centre became it’s new role through the construction of a library, a sewing workshop and the development of academic courses.  From 2006 to 2011, more than 150 children from nearby villages were participating in weekly classes. Thanks to their teachers, the association could provide the children English, Mathematics, Sinhalese, History, Science and a special class (grade 6-8) created to help kids obtaining a grant from the government. Furthermore it was not alone the children benefited but the women were provided with 10 sewing machines and the support of a sewing teacher, providing them with an alternate source of livelihood.

I couldn’t help but write about Indira’s story because as Sri Lankans we cannot help our affection towards those who fall in love with our country. As we commemorate the foreboding memories of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, yes we shall remember with heavy hearts, the innocent lives lost but let us not forget those who rallied and heeded our cries for help.


*Pettah – Local name for marketplace.

I would like to feature more ‘heroes’ of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami so please drop me a line at shayani_w@outlook.com, if you have any suggestions.

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