A special bond is formed

by Sven Ramones,  2011/04/06

humedica and Sri Lanka are linked by a long and intensive common history. For decades, the humedica headquarters in Kaufbeuren has been providing humanitarian aid and supplies to a large number of needy people living in the island state in the Indian Ocean.

With our reporting series "Sri Lanka: relief projects for a new beginning", we would like to invite you to learn more about the special relation between humedica and Sri Lanka, as well as about the various relief projects humedica is running in the country.

In this second part of our series, you can read more about the history and the beginnings of humedica's commitment in Sri Lanka.

Wolfgang Groß together with Tamil asylum seekers in Germany at a Christmas celebration in 1987. Photo: humedica

First contact was established as early as in 1983. It was in the same year that the bloody fights started between the population groups of the Singhalese and the Tamil, and that humedica CEO Wolfgang Groß visited the island state off the Indian coast.

Having originally planned to visit his friend, the Sri Lankan batik artist Jayantha Gomes, Wolfgang Groß experienced the escalating conflict first-hand - a conflict that was to develop into a violent civil war over the following years.

Despite the precarious security situation, Wolfgang Groß stayed in the country: "I visited the deeply scared people who had found shelter at temples and churches. In these days I learned a lot about the historical and cultural background of the riots in Sri Lanka", says Wolfgang Groß.

In face of the violence and destruction in the country, and touched by the fear and suffering of its population, the humedica CEO started organising comprehensive relief measures for those living in the war zone.

Due to the military conflicts and the danger to their health and lives, numerous Tamils fled to seek asylum in Germany in the following years. Among other places, they found shelter in Kaufbeuren - the home town of humedica.

Wolfgang Groß with those displaced by war and suffering at a refugee camp in Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

Also in Kaufbeuren, Wolfgang Groß took over the care for numerous refugees in the framework of an honorary employment with "Arbeitskreis Asyl" (Workshop Asylum) and established particularly close contacts and relations with Tamil families.

"Due to the news about the difficult situation of civilians in the Sri Lankan civil war zone, I more and more wanted to offer direct help to the people in Jaffna", remembers the CEO of humedica.

For fear of persecution, a large number of people belonging to the Tamil minority had moved to the peninsula in the north of Sri Lanka or to the so-called Vanni region. In the meantime, these regions were controlled by the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam" (LTTE), a rebel group fighting for independence, and had therefore been declared a restricted area.

Thanks to the generous support by LTU airlines, in the form of free tickets and free excess luggage, humedica had been able to transport live-saving drugs across the front of the so-called IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) to Jaffna during a cholera epidemic in 1988.

When a famine broke out in Jaffna in 1991, the relief efforts of humedica temporarily came to a sudden stop due to the crisis situation in the LTTE-controlled Vanni region. At this point, foreigners were not allowed to pass the various checkpoints and to travel into the region. "We wanted to help, but we couldn't", says the humedica CEO.

humedica helped those starving and persecuted by means of relief shipments and food distributions. Photo: humedica

Supported by the Sri Lankan Pastor Sam Rajasuriar and his colleague Pastor Jason Selvaraja, whom Wolfgang Groß had first met at one of the parish communities he had visited in Colombo, and supported by local communities, humedica finally managed to distribute supplies like sugar, rice, flour or wheat to those in need despite several setbacks.

Thanks to the former Deputy Police President, DIG Anandaraja, and Brigardier Pereira from the Ministry of Defence acting as mediators, Wolfgang Groß was given a special permit to enter the restricted area during each of his numerous LTU-sponsored stays in Sri Lanka. The restricted area had been cut off the outside world for years, without having any access to electricity, fuel or telecommunication devices.

Having passed the military checkpoints, Pastor Sam and Wolfgang Groß travelled on to Jaffna by motorbike. "Also at the rebels' checkpoint, everyone was dumbstruck to see Sam and the "vella kara" (white man) enter the territory by motorbike. As soon as we had been given a permit there, we continued our trip along the bumpy roads that by then consisted mostly of potholes", remembers Wolfgang Groß.

When they finally reached Jaffna Lagoon, they had arrived at the only land access to the Jaffna Peninsula. However, back then, the so-called "Elephant Pass" was controlled by the Sri Lankan army and could therefore not be crossed.

Therefore - despite the military ban and the danger to lives and personal safety - the only remaining possibility was to cross the lagoon on fishing boats after nightfall. "Every night, about 200 boats brought people across the lagoon illegally", Wolfgang Groß continues his report.

Pastor Sam Rajasuriar (left) in Sri Lanka. For many years a partner, faithful companion and one of the closest friends of humedica. Photo: humedica

"However, as the Sri Lankan army stationed at Elephant Pass was aware of this, they shot shells randomly at this armada of fishing boats during the crossing that lasted about two hours. Ever again, people died and on each of these boat trips Pastor Sam and I prayed aloud together in order to escape this fate."

After having arrived on the Jaffna Peninsula, the two men continued their tedious journey by motorbike in absolute darkness, until they reached Manipur, the place of residence of Pastor Sam.

The two relief assistants used donations which Wolfgang Groß had brought with him from Germany to buy food in the north of the peninsula and to distribute it among needy families at nearby refugee camps.

At this point, the common history of humedica and Sri Lanka had still been a relatively short one. But also during the following years, the country received continuous support by humedica.

In the next part of our reporting series "Sri Lanka: relief projects for a new beginning", you can read about how an idea that was both simple and significant led to the foundation of the humedica subsidiary organisation humedica International Lanka. You can also learn more about the humedica commitment during the tsunami disaster in 2004.

Long years of friendship and common experiences caused a special bond to form between Sri Lanka and humedica. Even today, the commitment of humedica in Sri Lanka continues. Photo: humedica

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