On Dec. 26 in Sri Lanka, a week of non-stop torrential rains unleashed nature’s fury -- triggering catastrophic flooding and mudslides that killed at least 39 people and forced more than one million men, women and children from their homes. Salesian missionaries in the central and northern regions of the country were among the first to respond.
“Because they live and work among the people they serve, our missionaries in Sri Lanka know firsthand the local need, and are well positioned to assist during times of crisis such as this,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “They are currently addressing the immediate needs of flood victims, and will continue to provide support to families after the flooding subsides.”
This work has proved challenging, because some Salesian centers in the north have also been affected by the flooding. Additionally, access to some villages is almost completely cut off due to washed-out roads and collapsed communications systems. Salesian missionaries also report that most homes are completely submerged.
Still, they are doing what they can.
“The situation is really bad,” says Brother Gabriel Garniga, project director of Don Bosco Sri Lanka. “Families are coming to our institutions and are asking for food. Of course it is impossible for us not to help.” He notes that this disaster is particularly poignant as it struck on Dec. 26, the day Sri Lankans observed the 10th anniversary of the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia and claimed more than 35,000 lives.
According to Br. Garniga, he and his fellow missionaries are currently providing cooked meals, food packets, fresh water and shelter to flood victims. Once the waters recede, they plan to distribute dry rations, toiletries, medicine, mattresses and bed linens “to help families recover at least to a certain extent.”
Salesian missionaries are also committed to long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts, which will be particularly important. In addition to the majority of homes having been flooded, washed away or buried in mud, thousands of acres of rice paddies -- a staple crop for Sri Lanka’s already impoverished population -- were destroyed.
“We are studying the situation,” says Br. Garniga. “After the flooding subsides, we will be better able to gauge the extent of the damage and plot a course of action to help people return to their normal lives and livelihoods in the weeks and months to come.”
Such assistance will complement the work Salesian missionaries were already doing in Sri Lanka, where decades-long ethnic violence, poor infrastructure, malnutrition and unsafe drinking water contributed to a seemingly unbreakable cycle of poverty and despair. For this reason, they continue to focus not only on meeting basic needs, but also on education and social development services for poor youth and families.
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