It all started with a trip to the island Sri Lanka in the year 1987. I ended up in the village of Beruwala. At that time, it was still a very poor region and few people had a decent roof over their heads, let alone that they had fresh water or sanitation. Most of them also didn’t have any electricity.
I met a boy there, who called Harrison. He was deaf-and-dumb, but I thought that I could help him and brought him to the Netherlands one year later. He received a hearing aid and for the first time in his life he was able to hear.
I let him stay in the Netherlands for 3 months and when he went back home to his family he had earned enough money to buy a decent home for him and his family. In that house, they had a brickkiln to bake bread and that is how they started a bakery. One thing led to another and the next year I went back to the village to help some more people. The school there was in terrible shape and we fixed that right away.
I actually went back to Beruwala every year and each year there were people who needed help.
There were all kinds of requests, such as:
- building toilets
- new houses
- money for an own business
- money to send their children to school/college
- building materials
- renovation of the old people’s home
- aid for the local hospital
- money to buy food and clothes
- money so people could go to school/college and buy study material
- procuring transportation means
- procuring machines to keep the companies running
We also worked on the infrastructure:
- laying on pipes with fresh drinking water
- building water wells
- building and electricity-grid
There were a lot of things that I tried to realize.
Of course, it didn’t all go that easy, but in the end I managed to realise most of it. And when I went back to the Netherlands, I was actually proud that we accomplished it again.
The first years were like a drop of water on a hot plate, but after a while you could see that the country was doing better.
How did I get the money to help all these people?
Well, sometimes that was a little tricky. Actually, I just asked people for money; mostly people in my immediate surroundings. I was really blessed that people just gave me money while trusting me so that everything would work out.
But when I was back in the Netherlands, I was so proud that I had been able to have helped so many people and I proudly showed everyone the pictures.
During those years, I bonded with a lot of people there in Sri Lanka, also because I always stayed at the same hotel, hotel Neptune.
This is a wonderful resort where you are pampered from day one until the end of your stay. This of course is in sharp contrast with the poverty of the country, but I believe that you also have to enjoy the times you have there.
I was there, in the year the Tsunami hit, about a month before. I had told everyone that things were going a lot better. Then, there was that particular morning on the second day of Christmas. I saw it all happening on the television and I also saw places that I had visited only a few weeks before. I could not believe my eyes and immediately contacted the people I knew there.
After 3 days, I got in touch with Fowmy. He is a boy who went to college in Colombo because of me and he speaks perfect English. And I also came in contact with doctor Kangala from the hospital. They were speechless about what had happened. In one hour, all the work that had been done over the last 15 years was destroyed by the tsunami.
I immediately started to organize a rescue operation to raise money for immediate help.
I had to go there as soon as possible. I went to Sri Lanka a few months later and the traces the disaster had left were actually unbelievable… what a mess.
A lot of things were destroyed. Many people were traumatized. The hardest part was to decide over and over again who would receive help and who would not. But the choices had to be made. The most important thing was to get the people going so they could provide for themselves again and that was good. One year later, you could see results again.
Fowmy had become my help and stay there in Beruwala, he makes sure that the contacts go well and he arranges a lot of things.
My greatest frustration after the Tsunami is the fact that a lot of money, which had been collected by the organizations, had disappeared, in Sri Lanka as well as in the Netherlands.
After all these years, it is still necessary to help these people, there still is a shortage of money and supplies. For the following trip, we already have many projects in mind, amongst which: providing the hospital with good locks, windows and doors, because otherwise a lot gets stolen there. And we also want to provide all the Tsunami orphans with shoes and study material.
I am glad that I have people who now support the work I do there: Gijs Nusmeier and Shuni Ramjee. We’ve known each other for several years now, because we are good friends.
Gijs has joined me on my journeys to Sri Lanka for several times now and Shuni came along for the first time last year.