German Memories in Asia: Tsunami Memories

Rajkumar Kanagasingam
 


Visitors: 173

I was a little paralysed over the phenomena, which had suddenly developed in the region by the tsunami tidal waves.

But I took firm hold of my mind and started to speak to people as to what we could do for those who had been affected.

I started to phone all my friends who are in influential positions and one was Karu Jayasuriya, a former minister of the Sri Lankan Government for Power & Energy and the Deputy Leader of the main Opposition United National Party.

I knew him since he was the Mayor of Colombo.

I asked him for urgent help for the Mullaitivu area where at least 4000 – 5000 people had died.

I had visited that area a number of times when I was an officer at CARE International in the war-torn period.

Mr. Jayasuriya said Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, a former Minister for Refugees and Resettlement was coordinating the Party’s Northern relief mission.

When I contacted Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene, he showed a great interest and told me there was a German NGO unloading plane load of goods and medicines from Germany to distribute among the tsunami affected people.

He told he was planning to visit to North and asked me to coordinate with the Northern Relief Mission.

As the Mullaitivu region was under LTTE control, I spoke to Thaya Master, the LTTE media spokesman and a member of the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat.

The Peace Secretariat was formed after the Ceasefire Agreement was signed by then Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE’s leader Vellupillai Prabakaran.

I finalized with him the arrangements for our visit which would take place in a couple of days time regarding the accommodation for visiting German team.

Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene asked me to visit where the plane-bound cargo containers were being sorted for various tsunami-affected areas in different shipments.

When I visited there I was surprised, there were no labourers, only the German intern students were sorting out and packing goods and medicines.

The following morning we were bound on our northern mission, which recalled my days in the CARE International nearly a decade ago as an officer in the UNHCR funded micro projects to assist locally displaced people by the on-going war.

It was so hard to accept an offer to work in a war-torn area leaving my career at a consulting firm, which was headed by Dr. C. Perumal Pillai, a retired Senior Official at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization.

There were many things I gained at Dr. Pillai’s consulting firm.

While on my fund-raising missions, I met the CEO of Colombo-based Deutsch Bank.

He invited me very cordially for a discussion and that was my second encounter with Germans.

I explained to him the mission of the NGO, an affiliate of the consultancy firm and its various activities.

After he listened to the facts he offered a substantial amount as donation within a few minutes of our meeting.

My first experience with German generosity and kindness nearly a decade ago has gone a long way and when I joined with the German relief mission it once again evoked memories in me.

As I traveled with Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, he introduced me to the German team in Dambulla, a sleepy town in the central part of the Island.

The first meeting itself helped me a lot to make friendlier encounter with many of the students.

I couldn’t meet them the previous day, as they were busy unloading and sorting out goods.

I met Dietmar Doring, the founder Director of the Asian - German Sports Exchange Program (AGSEP) which was responsible for the shipment of the plane load of goods and medicines from Germany.

I spoke to Ramige, a veteran German documentary filmmaker and his team.

We have reassessed our plans once again and moved towards the Northern frontiers.

Our six-vehicle convoy was moving in the Alpha-9 highway, which was famous when the military operation was in full swing some years ago.

While I was traveling with the internship students I was wondering again as to what motivated these young students to serve the affected masses in far away destinations in Asia.

The same question assailed my mind a decade ago when I met Maura Barry, then Area Director for Kilinochchi for the CARE International at the first interview at the Colombo head office.

I asked her what made her to leave New York, the world’s busiest and technology savvy city to Sri Lanka and especially to Kilinochchi, a war-torn area and the Administrative capital of the LTTE, which was so vulnerable to any aerial attacks.

Her answer was more to analyse than to accept the human instinct to help other wherever they were from.

Rajkumar Kanagasingam is author of a fascinating book on German memories in Asia and you can explore more about the book and the author at AGSEP

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