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Sri Lanka

A young Sri Lankan looks back on two years of tsunami rebuilding efforts

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2004/Abesingha
Rusiru Abesingha at 18, before the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in December 2004.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 20 December 2006 – Rusiru Abesingha works as the coordinator of four children’s centres in Sri Lanka, serving children affected by the tsunami that hit the country’s shores on 26 December 2004.

Now 20 years old, he was recruited for this job just as he was finishing up school.  It wasn’t what he had planned on doing for a living, but the tsunami changed everything in his country, he says.

When he was 18, in the weeks after the tsunami, Rusiru spoke with UNICEF Radio about his experience on the day the waves hit, thankfully not destroying his family’s home on the less-affected side of the island nation. He also talked about his efforts with his friends to rebuild schools and offer much-needed provisions to newly homeless children and families.

It was exam time for him, but he got to work anyway, managing to fit everything in.

Shelter, water and electricity

Since then, Rusiru has seen a influx of foreign aid and international organizations in Sri Lanka trying to ‘build back better’ for his people. For the most part, he says, they have been effective. 

“Many people have new homes. Schools were rebuilt,” he reports. “In some cases, people’s lives actually got better. They were living in shacks on the beach, and now they have stable homes on higher land, with running water and electricity.”

But even with everything that has been done to bring Sri Lanka back to normal, Rusiru says it “will never be the same as it was.” He sees this very clearly in the children at the centres where he coordinates activities.

“Some children have lost their homes. Some children have lost their parents,” he says. “Some children have lost everything they used to own.”

Resiliency of children

On the other hand, Rusiru also believes that children recover more quickly and with greater ease than adults from a trauma like this massive emergency. “I think children are more resilient,” he observes. “And they have the power to come back after disaster.

“Children don’t see life the way adults see it,” adds Rusiru. “They would rather play around and smile than – like the adults – sit around and think about what’s happened. They have a more carefree approach to life.”

Luckily, for the children in his community, Rusiru and many of his peers have decided to devote their young lives to making Sri Lanka a better place in the aftermath of the ravages of the tsunami.
















20 December 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny gets an update from Rusiru Abesingha of Sri Lanka, who spoke with UNICEF Radio shortly after the tsunami.
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