Of the many stories and tears that I was privileged to be a part of, I have chosen two to share. These two stories show the polarizing realities that the people of Sri Lanka have lived with: trauma and hope!
In the refugee camp of Kumburepitty, my translator Rovi and I made our way down a row of green tents donated by the Germans. As I walked, children rushed to me grabbing at my skirt and pinching my hands and arms. Later, I found out they were trying to make sure I was real! I noticed one young girl around 7 or 8, wearing a bright yellow and red dress. She began to ask me questions in English. I found out that her mother had died in the tsunami as they were running from the wave. 250 people were killed from that particular village (most of them women and children). She took me to her grandmother’s tent, where the women in the tent found a chair for me to sit on. I explained what brought me to their camp and that I was a counselor in America. I began to ask them to tell me their stories.
Almost at once, they all began to speak, and then eventually we found order so that each woman had a chance to share. At one point, there were up to 15 women in the tent, and many children listening. This was the first time that I heard from the people themselves.
The first time I heard, “I was holding onto both my children, and I couldn’t hold on anymore, I had to let one go....”. The first time I heard, “My sister, my mother, they ran and tried to climb the barbwire fence...only to have their saris and hair get caught in the fence and drown.” The first time I saw actual photos of the children who were taken to sea...
As I sat there surrounded by people I didn’t know, who were sharing their most intimate grief, I felt my heart break. I had not known grief like that before. I had not wept in front of complete strangers like I did in that tent on February 2, 2005. I was reminded of Psalm 139, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down”.
God created each woman, man and child, and God must weep for each life that was lost. Each person has a story to tell, and each life lost there was a story lived!
I am not sure how long I sobbed...but when I looked up, our translator, Rovi, and many of the women were crying. Rovi shared with me that the women said I was the first foreigner who has cried for them and not just dropped food off and left.
Driving back to the hotel that evening was very surreal for me. I felt so drained and helpless, yet at peace because of the strength I had seen in that tent and the Spirit of God that gave me the compassion to feel.
Resilience and healing was happening!
A couple of days later (toward the end of my trip on February 7th ), I was still reminded as God provided me glimpses of hope to challenge me that there is life even in horrible tragedy and that He is the mighty Savior.
We decided to go back to one of the first small refugee camps. It was at this camp on my first visit that a 96-year-old woman was so excited about our visit. I asked her how she got away from the tsunami. She said, “I ran, and ran and ran; God provided fast feet for me! I thank God for my feet.”
In that same camp, earlier that week I met two Hindi women who were pregnant. They ran from the tsunami, eight months pregnant. On our visit back to the camp, one of the husbands came and got me. He was very excited for me to see his baby. The baby girl was one day old. I walked into the little room, and she lay there on the bed, peaceful, as if her little life had never ventured close to death’s door.
(Excerpted from a letter from Sharon Dale (Volunteer from USA on ACTION Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief Team, February 2005)