Gowry’s story: Recovering from tragedy

Published: 16 March 2009 0:00 CET

Amanda George, British Red Cross, in Sri Lanka This is the first in a series of four profiles/case studies, looking at how Red Cross Red Crescent has helped people to rebuild their own lives after the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

The photos of two small children look down from the wall of Gowry’s new home, which was built as part of the tsunami reconstruction programme. Their smiling faces are surrounded by fairy lights, blinking from high up on the wall in case the waters rise again. Next to the photos a sea shell is stuck on the wall - a reminder of where the children are now resting.

Gowry, 38, lives with her husband and their two surviving children in the small village of Nawalady, Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Nawalady was one of the worst affected villages in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit, because of its vulnerable position sandwiched between the sea and a lagoon. People had nowhere to run to - they merely clung to whatever they could find.

All 125 families were affected and all 125 have received cash grants from the British Red Cross to help rebuild their livelihoods.

Narrowly escaped

Key to the distribution of the grants in the village was Suganthi, a 28-year-old woman who volunteers for the British Red Cross. Suganthi is also from Nawalady and, like Gowry, she narrowly escaped the tsunami.

It is through local volunteers like Suganthi that the British Red Cross is able to carry out its tsunami recovery programme in Nawalady and other tsunami affected areas of Sri Lanka. Her knowledge of the local community is crucial.

The coastline is littered with destroyed foundations of former houses. The only building that remains intact, though toppled over, is a Hindu temple.

Temporary shelter

This is the place where Gowry’s home used to stand. After the tsunami, she and her family spent three months living in a temporary shelter until they were relocated to a new house further from the sea, behind the government-imposed buffer zone along the shore.

Gowry tells us the story of the day the tsunami hit. ”The waters began to rise, and we were washed away a long distance from the sea. We hung on to trees for a long time until boats came to save us. The little ones were not strong enough to hold on in the current.”

Four years on, Gowry says that financially they have managed to build their lives back up to a pre-tsunami level. The British Red Cross household grant that Gowry received in 2007 has contributed substantially towards this. In the space of a year, she has managed to start a small poultry business, selling eggs, and she also makes brooms to sell in the local market.

Before the tsunami

Gowry explains, ”Before the tsunami, I had many chickens, and they were a vital part of our income. I lost them all in the tsunami. My husband went back to fishing when he could, but we had no money to invest in poultry.

“With this grant I have been able to slowly build our income back up. With the extra money I make from the brooms, we are able to send our children to school. I want them to be able to get a good position when they finish. We have suffered a lot, but we are lucky that we can have a good life again.”

Gowry looks up at the photos on the wall. The family’s livelihoods have recovered, but the emotional scars of the tsunami are still etched on her face.