U grad stresses more help for Sri Lanka

by Mohamad Elmasry

When recent University graduate Shivanthi Sathanandan arrived in Sri Lanka two weeks after the tsunami hit the region, she said, people walked around in a daze like zombies.

Sathanandan returned to Minnesota in early February, following a monthlong disaster-relief mission in Sri Lanka with the Tamil Association of Minnesota.

She said children are facing many difficulties as a result of the tsunami, and people are struggling to get food, water and clothing. She also said media coverage of the tsunami is not complete.

“What I saw was there were a lot of children who were orphaned,” Sathanandan said. “These orphaned children are wondering where they’re going to go.”

Sathanandan also said children are being exploited in different ways in Sri Lanka.

Children are being recruited to work as household servants and for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a government-opposition group, she said.

She also said child prostitution is an issue in Sri Lanka.

“It’s a concern, and you know it can happen,” Sathanandan said.

Many girls are concerned people who are approaching them and offering a place to live only want to exploit them sexually, Sathanandan said.

Susantha Herath, a business professor at St. Cloud State University and founder of the Herath Foundation, said these issues are not a result of the tsunami. But he said the tsunami gives people another opportunity to continue activities such as child exploitation.

Sathanandan said some children are also forced to decide between continuing school and working to support themselves and their families.

The Tamil Association of Minnesota distributed aid to more than 10,000 people in Sri Lanka, Sathanandan said.

When she returned from Sri Lanka, Sathanandan helped establish the organization Kids Aid USA, which created a long-term fund for children. Money raised will go toward the needs of Sri Lankan children and their families, she said.

“As a generation, these kids are facing a lot of issues,” Sathanandan said.

The funds will help people get back to “normalcy and self-sufficiency,” she said.

But government aid is not getting into the communities, she said.

“It’s the (nongovernmental organizations) that are providing the majority of the aid to the people,” Sathanandan said.

Many people were complaining about not seeing government aid, she said. The Sri Lankan president warned nongovernmental organizations “not to make any public statements about what they see the government doing or not doing.”

Sathanandan also said U.S. media coverage has incorrectly suggested things are progressing in Sri Lanka.

Asif Rahman, a local spokesman for Islamic Relief International, said coverage of the tsunami has “kind of died off.”

The tsunami was in the “limelight” for a short period, but the problem is not that simple, Rahman said.

“What people have done and contributed so far is great, but the relief work needs to go on and needs to be supported,” he said. “There are still challenges.”

Herath said that although money is not sufficient to meet the needs of tsunami victims, media coverage is highlighting how much money people have donated.

“(Media) don’t go on the inside and see what is really happening,” Herath said.

But Sathanandan said things improved during the month or so she was in Sri Lanka.