humedica in Sri Lanka - aid and friendship

by Sven Ramones, 2011/04/11

For many years, humedica has committed itself to offering humanitarian aid to needy people in Sri Lanka. And just as long as the existence of this commitment is also the common history that links humedica and the South Asian island state.

Expelled by war and misery, countless people have been living at refugee camps like this one in Jaffna for years. Photo: humedica

In our reporting series "Sri Lanka: relief projects for a new beginning", we would like to tell you about the long-term connection between a German relief organisation and the country off the Indian coast and the people living there. Furthermore, we would like to present to you the diverse projects humedica is running in Sri Lanka.

In this third part of our reporting series you can learn more about the foundation of the subsidiary organisation of humedica, humedica International Lanka, and about the relief measures humedica Germany implemented in Sri Lanka after the devastating tsunami in 2004.

Making immense efforts and even risking their own health and lives, the Sri Lankan pastor Sam Rajasuriar and Wolfgang Groß have repeatedly provided food and other relief goods to refugees living in the civil war regions in the north of Sri Lanka since the beginning of the 1990s.

By the mid-1990s, the ongoing fight between the Sri-Lankan army and Tamil rebels had already claimed numerous victims and caused countless children to become half-orphans or orphans. Back then, Pastor Sam had the idea of founding an orphanage for children who had lost their families due to the war, in order to provide at least some of them with a new home.

Many of the children who had lost their families during the civil war, found a new home at the "House of Children" in Manipay. Photo: humedica

"So we founded the "House of Children" in 1994, using a building in Manipay that had been put at our disposal for free by a Tamil woman who had emigrated to Australia. We had to become a legal entity and therefore we founded the non-profit organisation humedica International Lanka, electing Sam Rajasuriar as Chairman." explains Wolfgang Groß.

The truce that was prevailing back then was broken when Sri-Lankan troops invaded Jaffna in autumn 1995. In the wake of this invasion, the rebel troops of the "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam" demanded that all the peninsula's inhabitants move further south to the Vanni region, which was controlled by the rebels.

Due to the conflict escalating once more, also the "House of Children" had to be evacuated overnight. Together with two children who did not have any family left and various parishioners, the employees of humedica International Lanka joined the immense number of refugees.

After weeks of suffering hardship during their flight, Sam Rajasuriar managed to contact Wolfgang Groß: "Sam managed to transmit a call for help using a radio of the International Red Cross. He asked me for urgent help for the refugees from Manipay. I immediately set out for Sri Lanka and brought them money so they could provide for themselves", Wolfgang Groß describes the situation.

Pastor Sam Rajasuriar (right) at Mankulam Camp. For years, the close friend of humedica has been supporting the refugees in their misery. Photo: humedica

Thanks to the generous support of humedica donors, and making huge personal sacrifices, Pastor Sam could set up a refugee camp in the jungle of the Vanni region. 120 families lived there for one year and half, before they could finally return to the Jaffna Peninsula in spring 1997.

During the following years, equipped with relief goods and provisions, Wolfgang Groß travelled to Jaffna repeatedly. Over time, the number of humedica projects for those in misery in Sri Lanka became ever larger. Up to today, humedica is running among other things three out-patient clinics with adjoining dental clinics, as well as 14 kindergartens and a school with student accommodation in the north of the country alone.

A tsunami hits Sri Lanka

On December 26, 2004, a heavy earthquake occurred off the shore of Indonesia. The eight humedica employees who back then were working full-time in Kaufbeuren interrupted their Christmas holidays in order to initiate first relief measures in the affected regions.

The tsunami of 2004 left behind immense devastation in wide areas of Sri Lanka. Photo: Georg Hilgemann

"When we heard that the earthquake had triggered a tsunami that had caused massive damage and claimed numerous lives also in Sri Lanka, we decided to send medical relief teams to the disaster regions in Sri Lanka", reports Wolfgang Groß.

On board of an empty plane of LTU airlines that flew to Sri Lanka with the intention of taking tourists back home, the humedica team with its equipment and relief goods from Germany reached the mission area already on December 27.

"Due to the haste, I had only taken my ID and could therefore not enter Sri Lanka. Then I saw the long-time LTU branch manager, Mr Gunaratne, who told me that a representative of the German Embassy would soon arrive at the airport in order to issue temporary documents for tourists who had lost their passports during the Tsunami", Groß remembers.

Together with the medical team of humedica and a team of journalists, Sam Rajasuriar and Wolfgang Groß were the first ones to reach the disaster areas in the north of Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

"With the assistance of the Embassy representative, I received temporary travel documents and in the end I received the permission to enter Sri Lanka", says Wolfgang Groß. "Then we went to the Ministry of Health in order to have our team registered in the country. There, we met a Tamil doctor who was pleased beyond measure about our plans to offer relief aid in the country's north. He issued all the documents we needed in order to pass both army and rebel checkpoints and to reach Jaffna by land."

Teams of journalists - among them a team of a German TV broadcaster - joined the humedica mission team and accompanied the relief mission in the affected regions. For them, the only way to travel through the restricted area and to reach the affected regions was to join the humedica team, since we had the necessary permission documents.

Thanks to the media attention humedica received as first international relief team in the disaster region, public attention was drawn to the mission, which, in turn, resulted in an incredible support in form of donations.

It is above all thanks to the financial support humedica received from friends and sponsors from Germany, that we were able to organise further humanitarian aid measures for the victims of the tsunami beyond medical aid.

Medical treatment for the victims of the tsunami. humedica doctor Ulrich Seemann and his team colleagues offered fast help. Photo: Georg Hilgemann

"After the tsunami, we implemented relief measures in Sri Lanka for more than two years. We could refurbish the hospital of Point Pedro and buy two tractors that could be used to transport urgently needed tanks of drinking water to the refugee camps", tells Wolfgang Groß.

"Furthermore, we built 1250 new fishing boats for fishermen who had lost their boats during the tsunami. We could also buy a speedboat for humedica International Lanka that serves as ambulance ship", Groß continues. By means of this ship, ill and injured persons living on Delft Island can be transported to Jaffna General Hospital which is located on the main island.

In face of the countless Sri Lankan families that are still suffering from the consequences of civil war, natural disaster and poverty, it has been a matter of particular concern to Wolfgang Groß to help also these persons. In order to provide for the needy families in Sri Lanka, the humedica Family Sponsorship Programme was initiated.

In the framework of this programme, families are granted basic provisions by giving them an access to food and every-day commodities, clothes, health care and education.

Since then, the humedica Family Sponsorship Programme has been expanded to further countries. After the programme had been started in Sri Lanka, now also families in Brazil, Haiti and Ethiopia are receiving support in the framework of this provisions programme.

By land, humedica could bring several tons of relief goods to the people living in the affected regions in the north of Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

Meanwhile, humedica and Sri Lanka can look back on a common history of almost thirty years. Also in future will humedica in Germany continue the commitment for the people of Sri Lanka and support the work of humedica International Lanka by all means possible.

Sri Lanka has accompanied humedica almost from the organisation's beginnings. The special bond that has formed based on the common history with the island state in the Indian Ocean and the people living there has always marked the special relationship between humedica, Wolfgang Groß and Sri Lanka.

Over the next few days, we would like to tell you more about humedica's various fields of activity in the island state, in our series "Sri Lanka: relief projects for a new beginning". In the next part of our series, you can read more about our commitment in the south and north of the country.

Standing side by side with the people of Sri Lanka. In countless humanitarian emergency situations the help offered by humedica reached those affected in the country. Photo: Georg Hilgemann

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