It was a gruelling twelve hour flight to the Sri-Lankan capital Colombo and a further ten hour bus journey East along dirt tracks and bumpy roads to our final destination, the tsunami hit Arugam Bay. This is a small fishing community on the east coast of Sri Lanka, which was devastated when the Tsunami hit; and with more than 300 people dying, the communities residents stood shoulder to shoulder as they grieved.
Now, six-months on from the Tsunami, and in a country that Marco Polo described as the most beautiful island of it’s size he had ever seen, my eyes feasted upon the richness of the scenery and abundance of wildlife as we weaved our way though the often challenging terrain. My heart began to sink as we descended from the mountains towards our final destination, with the devastation in Arugam Bay plain to see. Debris littered the side of a dusty road that runs through the village; a bus, parked by a wave, still stands battered, windowless and water-marked; and the children that played and ran bare-foot through the broken glass and rubble to seek help from passing travellers; the government has so far not given any aid to this beautiful but battered village.
Waking bleary-eyed, and uncloaking from beneath our mosquito nets – it was just a short walk to the point where travelling surfers store their boards in the roof-frame of the local surfers bar run by Sri-Lankan champion Asanka with his Uncle Richard. The point is a surprisingly consistant fast-breaking right, producing long rides that could well take you into the bay itself. But as the water served to soothe the hot tired limbs, and we squinted from between our salty eyes, the realisation dawned on us that it would soon be too hot to stay out in the sun and it was time to exchange this little slice of paradise and it’s aromatic smells for the dust and dirt of a families land where their home once stood.
The family who we went to help were living in nothing more than a rickety wooden shack, with the parents sharing a bed with no mattress. But it was good to see that the spirit of both them and the rest if the village was still alive. We helped to clear the area of debris, which included the painful memory of shifting a mound of boulders by hand that we were later to batter and break to use in the foundations. The visit to a nearby school; the buildings of which were lined with UNHCR bags ripped and sewn together to make temporary roofs for the classrooms. English is spoken widely throughout Sri Lanka as a second language, and as we soon found out the children had an excellent grasp of the language and were more advanced than we had have expected.
Not far from the shore, the refreshing sea-breeze disappeared and the work continued as we left the sun rising over a new dawn for the village. Despite being scorched and singed by the sun, and bitten and bruised by mosquitoes it was an awesome and deeply rewarding experience which certainly helps to put a different perspective on life.
Government Land-Grab (What is the 200m bufferzone?)
The land requisition, a strip along the beach 200m wide, has been called a safety buffer zone, but the organisation acquiring the land is the tourist board. They have informed local people of their plans to devlop the coastline around Argugam Bay as a tourist site with a hotel conglomerate introducing new hotels in place of the small-time cabanas the people of the area used to house surfers and travellers who were holidaying off the beaten track. Any constructions, they said, would be bulldozed. Detailed maps show new hotels near the beach and within the buffer zone, confirming the locals’ fears about the development, and a protest march to demonstrate against this took place on Monday 6th June. The isolated bay is a curved beach with white sand, lined with palm trees, and considered to be in the top ten surf destinations worldwide.
Interested in ethical travel?
There are many benefits to volunteering, and your employer may offer special leave or operate career-break schemes. Alternatively you can save up and travel, or perhaps forego the saving and rent out your house in the UK while travelling.