The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 changed SWARNA’s life forever. Here she tells how good has come from her moment of blackest despair, thanks to Global Care, our Sri Lankan partners and the grace of God.
Swarna lived on the beach with her husband Ajith, their children, and her mother-in-law, in a tiny cement house with a single room and a small veranda. The house faced the ocean, and during stormy monsoons, they would fearfully watch the water lapping at their door.
Every day they were up at 3am to wait in long queues to collect water. Then another long wait at the public toilets. Just six toilets were used by over 100 homes lining the coastal belt from Dehiwela to Ratmalana and beyond.
Swarna’s face changes as talks about the bad influences around them. Gangs, thugs, drug peddlers, addicts and alcoholics. Domestic violence, child abuse and violent fights. Her older children fought to study amidst the loud music and brawls. They did their best to live a quiet life in the midst of a tumultuous community.
Her husband worked amongst the fishing boats, cleaning, mending nets, transporting ice and fish. Life was a struggle as his meagre income hardly covered the family’s expenses. One day Swarna heard about a feeding programme run by Global Care’s partners, Community Concern. Soon her children enjoyed coming to Community Concern to have their lunch and Swarna asked if she could help around the office for a small daily wage.
She began sweeping the yard and the team found she was a reliable and hard worker. They offered her full-time employment, and Swarna became an integral part of the feeding programme. She cleaned the hall and other areas the children used. She kept a motherly eye on the kids and made sure they ate well. She lent a hand chopping vegetables and was always available to support the team by packing rations, moving furniture. All of this was done with a charming smile. Her positive attitude made her popular amongst both children and staff.
Working at Community Concern exposed Swarna to the love of Jesus which was obvious in every programme. It was not long before she gave her heart to Jesus and her children too.
Her life seemed relatively settled. Until everything changed on Boxing Day 2004, the day of the fatal Tsunami which claimed thousands of lives across South Asia – and swept away almost the whole of the beach slum where Swarna’s family lived.
Swarna’s youngest son, her fourth child, was just two months old. She was bathing her baby when she heard a commotion outside. A lot of water seemed to be swirling around her house. The older folk warned them to take their children and run to higher ground. Thankfully they ran before the second wave gushed across the beach. Their home was submerged, and their substandard house completely collapsed.
They lost everything. They were housed in a refugee camp in a school for a month and then moved to another camp, in another school. Dozens of families were housed in cramped spaces. With limited water, and no privacy, sarees were draped to cordon off separate spaces for family units. Her son developed diarrohea, and then a skin rash. He was very sick. Despite their fear of the water, they decided to move back to the beach. Her mother’s home was still standing – constructed of bricks, the little building had withstood the wave, although two doors and all their belongings had been swept away. Swarna and her family shared this tiny home for the next two years.
Finally they were assigned a flat in “Araliya Nivasa”, a new tsunami housing complex in Ratmalana. Swarna’s home is one of the 192 flats built by Community Concern and one of the major donors for these flats was Global Care.
Her home is located on the first floor. Her two-room apartment has a hall, veranda, kitchen and toilet. Her face lights up with a smile as she says that her whole life was transformed after they moved into the new flats, even though for the first two years her husband refused to join her. He could not cope with change and preferred to stay on the beach.
Having their own home with modern facilities changed the quality of their lives. The pipe-borne water and electricity is a luxury they never had. They have good neighbors who do not fight and create a disturbance. She says there is no obvious use of drugs or gang fights. Her joy was complete when her husband moved back home with her. She enjoys the privacy and the neighbours mostly get on well together.
They now have a weekly prayer meeting in their home and her husband listens quietly and enjoys the fellowship. All her children have been baptised except for the youngest son. Swarna’s heart overflows with gratitude to the people who made it possible to not only give her a home, but a place where she has so many conveniences, dignity, peace, quiet and a place to read her Bible.
Swarna continues to work at Community Concern. She goes about her work cheerfully and is always willing to offer a cup of tea to anyone who visits.
The wave which came to destroy their lives, turned in to a lifestyle transformation.
She says Jesus made it all possible!
She thanks the donors who made this a reality.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28