Making it Back: Tsunami Survivor Builds a Home and Life
By David Snyder
Caritas Sri Langka beneficiary John Kennedy Ranjini shows visiting Caritas staff some of the produce she is able to once again grow in her fields, thanks in large part to grant and loan money she and her daughter received from Caritas in the wake of 2004 tsunami.
It was the cry of the nearby fisherman, John Kennedy Ranjini recalls, that first warned her of the danger that was coming. Looking up from her small stand of produce and sweets, she saw a wall of water approaching – and like millions across Asia that morning, she ran for her life.
“There were fishermen on the beach, and they started shouting and ran away,” Ranjini said. “Then the water was up to my hips.”
And while tens of thousands of others were not as lucky, Ranjini survived the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004. Despite the fears that she had lost her three daughters to the wave, Ranjini found them, safe and sound at a nearby camp, the next day. With her home just 200 meters from the beach, however, there was no hope of having a house to return to. With it went her small vending stall, a poultry shop, and all of the crops in her one-acre garden – all that she had to rely on for her income.
For Ranjini, as for many who survived the tsunami, the months ahead were filled with despair. With her husband out of the country working, Ranjini and her children faced the uncertainty of life alone. Making their way to a nearby school, they received the food and essential supplies they needed from aid agencies. Among those agencies was Caritas Batticaloa – EHED (Eastern Human and Economic Development ) the local Diocesan Centre of Caritas Sri Lanka, who knew of Ranjini and others in the community through group income generating projects EHED had been running in Ranjini’s village of Sandhipuran before the tsunami. Eventually resettled into a temporary shelter with her children, Ranjini and other community members met several EHED animators, combing the affected areas to see which local residents were most in need of the permanent housing Caritas Sri Lanka was setting out to build.
“The animators of EHED called all of the people for a meeting,” Ranjini said. “They said EHED was going to do a housing project in this area and asked us to apply for it.”
She did, and soon she and her oldest daughter, recently married, were on the list. Through EHED’s Self-Build-Scheme, a unique way of allowing future home owners to engage local contractors who in term would be reimbursed for their work by Caritas at each stage of construction, Ranjini found a mason who started construction of her house. Six months later, in January 2007, she moved from the small, crowded shelter she had been living in to a new home – one of more than 7,773 built by Caritas Sri Lanka thus far.
“I suffered a lot while living in the temporary house. It was very hot, there was no privacy, the children couldn’t study,” Ranjini said. “But after moving there, I finally relaxed.”
But Ranjini’s journey from displaced survivor to home owner is only part of her story. Recognizing that those who had lost everything would need more than simply a house to help them recover, EHED offered with each house a chance for the beneficiary to access loans and grants worth 20,000 rupees – about 125 Euros – to start to rebuild their livelihoods. By first forming beneficiaries into groups, and then providing training in a range of business, accounting and management skills, EHED ensured that the money would generate long-term impact for those who accessed the grants and loans. Since she was already familiar with the process through her experience with savings groups before the tsunami, Ranjini was quick to seize the opportunity. “
After forming groups, EHED provided us with training in technical skills and capacity building, like how to keep books,” Ranjini said. “I had already done the training, so I knew.”
When the first loan and grant became available to her daughter, who also joined Ranjini’s group, the two women used all of the money to purchase seeds, with which they replanted their valuable chili crop on the land her family had once farmed before the tsunami. Five months later, Ranjini’s loan and grant also came through. Using that money, along with the first profits from their garden, Ranjini opened a small shop in front of her daughter’s house, also built by Caritas, selling sweets and other items to people attending a nearby temple. A savvy businesswoman, Ranjini recognized the need for a local grinding mill, and used the remainder of her money to put a down payment on two grinding machines, borrowing the rest from a reputable lender nearby. The small business was an immediate success.
“There are no mills in this area, so the people took the chilies’ to another area to grind it,” Ranjini said. “Soon after I put up the mill, everybody started coming to me.”
Three years now since the tsunami hit this small community on Sri Lana’s east coast, life is again returning slowly to normal. Fishermen again pull their living from the sea, their nets and boats finally restored, and the small shops and markets that sustain the local populace are again dotting the streets of Sandhhipuram. Ranjini’s husband has returned from abroad and now helps the family work the chillie patch upon which they rely for much of their income. For Ranjini, a homeowner and a small businesswoman, it is a far cry from the day she returned home to find nothing left of her past.
“There are a lot of changes. I got a better house. My daughter got a better house. We had no electricity – now we have electricity,” Ranjini said. “And because of the training, now I can earn a good income.”
RESOURCESAnnual Report 2011Emergency GuidelinesEmergency Response Tool KitEmergency Appeals 2012Emergency Appeals 2011Emergency Appeals 2010Emergencies on Caritas BlogBridging the Gap between Policy and Practice