The Long Haul

We always talk about how Lutheran World Relief “stays for the long haul” after emergencies, often remaining with communities long after other organizations have moved on.

When our Sri Lanka Country Director, Michele Cecere, passed along Sakunthala’s story, I thought it represented well what we mean by staying for the long haul.

Like so many others, her life was changed on December 26, 2004 when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, destroying property and claiming millions of lives.

Sakunthala lives in a village called Kaluthavalai – 1 in the Batticaloa district of Sri Lanka. Her husband grows and sells crops to support the family.

Her house was completely destroyed by the tsunami, leaving her family to live in a makeshift hut outside, exposed to animals with no clean running water or proper sanitation facilities.

They received some government assistance to rebuild their home but it was barely enough to lay a new foundation. Sakunthala says, “The children were often sick due to dirty water and lost a lot of school days.”

And because they were living outside they were vulnerable to other dangers as well. “My husband could not go to work in the fields because we needed him round for protection,” Sakunthala adds.

To get the water she needed for her family, Sakunthala had to travel with her two children to her sister’s house. The trip was long, difficult and time consuming and took away even more time she could have spent working to provide for her family.

Most of us have lived through at least one bout of extreme stress and can attest that it takes a toll on both the body and the spirit. Sakunthala and her family are no different. Their situation left them wondering if the nightmare of the tsunami would ever end.

Sri Lanka Country Director, Michele Cecere (in blue), inspects a well in Baticaloa

In 2009, Lutheran World Relief began working with partner Eastern Human and Economic Development Batticaloa (Caritas EHED) in Sakunthala’s region to help 130 families rebuild their homes. In 2010, a second phase of the project began helping 90 additional families, including Sakunthala’s.

When you ask Sakunthala how the assistance she received has changed her life, she almost doesn’t know where to begin. With a smile and tears of joy she says, “Now I can spend more time at home with my children. And my husband can go grow crops and sell them so we have an income.”

Sakunthala and her husband have welcomed another child into their family since moving into their new home, which has running water and sanitation. She feels at peace now, knowing her family is in a safe home and that they can again work hard to make ends meet.

When asked what else she needs, she is quick to answer, “Nothing! Now that we have this house everything else will come. This was the most important thing we needed.”

You’ve probably heard us talking about our new tagline, “Sustainable Development. Lasting Promise.” Sakunthala and her family are living examples of this.

When we first encountered this family, they were in dire circumstances, unable to support themselves for many reasons. By laying the foundation (pun intended) for their recovery, this family is now very capable of building their own stronger future.

Right now we’re responding to another big emergency, one you’ve probably heard about in the news. Drought and famine has taken hold in East Africa and millions of people are in danger of starvation.

Lutheran World Relief wants to bring the same lasting promise in East Africa that we are realizing with tsunami victims. We want to stay there, doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes to put people on the path to real and lasting recovery.

Instead of simply asking you to make a gift to our relief efforts, I’m going to ask you instead invest in the futures of the people of East Africa by giving to our East Africa Drought fund and keeping LWR working there, too, for the long haul.

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