Asanga Warnakulasuriya works for World Vision in Sri Lanka. On Tuesday 21 April 2009, he was part of a World Vision assessment team that travelled to one of the many displacement camps that have become temporary home for tens of thousands of civilians fleeing conflict zones in the northeast of the country.
Since 20 April, more than 100,000 civilians have fled the warzone, creating a major humanitarian emergency. Asanga and the team were able to experience camp conditions firsthand and talk with local World Vision staff who are working tirelessly to respond to the needs of the displaced. Here is his account of their day:
It was a little before dawn on Tuesday that our team left the World Vision National Office and headed towards Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka. At around 11.00 am we reached the main military checkpoint in Madawachchiya where all persons undergo security screening prior to being permitted to proceed to Vavuniya.
Vavuniya HEA staff on other side of the checkpoint were waiting for World Vision Lanka National Director Suresh Bartlett, Operations Director Scott Lout and Director Public Engagement Dion Schoorman. We were taken in a vehicle to an IDP camp where one of our former Wanni staff is now sheltering. He is one among thousands of IDPs sheltering in the camp.
Dressed in sarong and teeshirt Rajaratnam’s (not his real name) face lit up when he saw the World Vision staff and the National Director and greeted us with a warm smile. His voice was steady and calm, which you wouldn’t normally expect from an individual who has been displaced from time to time. Rajaratnam has been living in the camp for nearly three months now. Living with him is his sister who was initially separated from him and housed in another camp when they fled the war zone, but they were reconciled shortly afterwards.
Inside the camp, Rajaratnam is a humanitarian worker with a different scope of work. The former officer of World Vision Lanka is now an invaluable teacher for displaced children in the camp. He teaches English and Accounts for children sitting for the G.C.E. Ordinary Level exams. He conducts classes once in three days for about 30 children.
We next visited the largest camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Vavuniya District, Manik Farm where acres and acres of bare land has been allocated for displaced families. At a glance you will only see thousands of temporary shelters resembling a city of IDPs. It is a standalone city of its own with electricity, water, roads but without the other features of a city.
Almost 25,000 IDPs are accommodated in 5976 shelters in Manik farm. The camp has a total of 6551 shelters with an optimum level of around 30,000 persons.
The camp management is gearing to receive large numbers of new IDPs following the mass exodus of civilians from the war zone.
At around noon, small queues of men, women and children with plates in their hands, began forming in anticipation of lunch. There are only 17 communal cooking centres in this camp to cater to all 25,000 people – a very tall and almost impossible task. As a result lunch queues run until about 3.00 pm and dinner is served anytime between 6.00 pm and 10.00 pm.
However, despite the huge challenges, the camp management, with the help of the displaced persons, is doing a commendable amount of work maintaining 30 camp blocks in this massive camp area.
I was privileged to meet our Vavuniya HEA staff and to witness their commitment to this massive humanitarian response. A few of our staff were emotionally attached to this response as some of their family members are among the displaced families in Manik Farm and in other IDP camps. They know first hand what their family members and relatives go through and they are keen to help the suffering community.
Date first published: Wednesday 29 April 2009