Roy kept us informed about Sifaya and her girls while we were gone. We were quite shocked to hear in June that she had moved from that little hut (we also learned that she had to pay rent for it!) into a refugee camp.
The reason was quite simple: to the government you were only homeless if you lived in a homeless shelter. She had to move there to be entitled to one of the new houses in the settlement described earlier.
We visited her together with Roy’s sister-in-law Zariya and her aunt. The basket of vegetables we bought for her was kept at Zariya’s house as it did not make much sense to go into a camp of 192 huts with one basket of vegetables. We invited her to collect it later.
The welcome was very warm. We also met her Father who had moved from the highland to join his wife who had come earlier to help their daughter and her children. It became more and more difficult for Sifaya to live without a male relative. To move back to her parents’ home was no option as she would have lost any right for compensation.
So there were three adults and two children living in the approximately 16 square meter hut. Once again the kitchen was a real eye catcher.
They told us that the Father would have to travel back to his hometown the next day to attend the funeral of his sister. Sifaya’s mother broke out in tears. Her sister-in-law had died at the age of 52 and what, if something should happen to her or her husband before they were able to get Sifaya remarried? At that point Sifaya broke out in tears. Obviously she had been very much in love with her husband and she had told us already in March that she would not want to get remarried.
Zariya’s aunt explained in unusual clear words (Sifaya’s family doesn’t understand English) what Sifaya was also worried about. In her case, it might be possible that a new husband would not neglect her daughters; on the hand, he might “care” about them too much, in a way that occurs in an appalling number of situations in Sri Lanka.
Women without a husband (and if no husband, then a father, brother, uncle, etc.), and children without fathers, have the lowest possible social status and therefore, no rights and no protection.
Sifaya and her daughters are very pretty and she had received many marriage proposals, including from relatives of her late husband. We made it clear to Sifaya’s mother that we would stop our support if they should put unnecessary pressure on their daughter. We knew that we could not invalidate common rules in Sri Lanka, but we will do the utmost with the help of Roy to protect Sifaya and her daughters from having to suffer from those rules.
Nasmila her younger daughter had a terrible rash on her feet, legs and the right arm. At the hospital they had been given a lotion but that did not help at all. We took the girl to a private doctor. The diagnosis was made after a short glance at the girl: scabies. We had never heard that word and had to wait for translation from Switzerland for hours.
The doctor explained that it would be highly contagious and that all clothes and bed linen should be washed with boiling water. He failed to explain how this should be done in a refugee camp with very basic sanitation and no washing machines. So I asked. Maybe they could put the stuff in the sun and they should also take care that the girl would not suck at her fingers as the ointment would be poisonous.
We were very happy to hear, that Sifaya had been promised one of the new houses and would be living there when we would visit again.
When we came back two weeks later with Humaid and Faye, we were quite surprised to still find her in the refugee camp and even more surprised to hear that she would not move before the camp would be cleared in December. She already had the key to the new house, which left us more than confused.
But on the trip to the new house we began to understand. There was no public bus going on those dirt roads. The simple task to send the children to school in Hambantota town, six kilometers away would either be too expensive or even impossible. The house itself left us speechless. Humaid and Roy were so ashamed that something like that was possible in their country.
The small foundation plate was put into the dirt and was already under washed at one corner from the rain. You will see in these pictures a newly built house that was already handed over to Sifaya! They did not even care to cover up the unbelievable botch. And if there is no water, why should one attach faucets or a shower head? It was not possible to open the door fully as it was hanging at an angle and the six centimeter “thick” walls were covered with cracks.
On the corner of the roof where the electrical wires were supposed to be attached to the roof, tiles had already become loose. The tubular frame (also on the roof) where the water tank was to be put would deform in that hot climate. The windows were made out of panes of glass with sharp edges, messed up with paint and one could easily remove them – even from the outside.
The government “donated” land or better told the NGO where they wanted the people to be resettled. The NGOs handed over donated money to local contractors and then left the scene. The local contractors with a small portion of that money put up an unbelievable botch in the area. A botch that will even cut Buddhists off from being reborn …… they will all have to rot in hell.
And at the end, the “victims” have to bribe the authorities to get their houses connected to water and electricity. They might have easily saved the money for the key.
Sifaya did not have a choice and would have to move there, as the land where her current hut and the other 191 refugee huts stood, belonged to the graveyard and would be needed again for that purpose.
We bought in her name a motorbike for her Father. He will be able to take the girls to school that way. They made plans for a cool box (insulated cooler, filled with ice) for the motorbike to enable the father to bring fish to the hinterland to resell it there.
Faye had been questioning Sifaya regarding her Father. He seemed to be a very pleasant person and most important of all, he did not touch alcohol. Alcoholism is a widespread problem in Sri Lanka. He had never touched alcohol because of his faith. Last but not least, we were very pleased with the confiding relationship the girls had with their Grandfather.
She also revealed that she owns a piece of land close to the lagoon that was not affected by the tsunami. She and her husband had planned to build a house there.
Again: If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.
Their house that had been destroyed in the tsunami was built on land belonging to an uncle of her husband. Therefore, she was not eligible to any compensation.
Humaid made contact with a contractor that never worked, is not working, nor will ever work for an NGO; and we looked at the plot of land together. It was located about 2 km. from the town in a nice neighborhood, the property being about 800 sq. meters. The contractor estimated for a 65 sq. meter solid brick house about 8,500 Swiss francs.
Sifaya lost all her papers in the tsunami and so far she did not care to have them replaced, as building a house was far beyond any possibility for her.
We didn’t have any idea how long it would take to acquire these papers. Or how much “palm oil” (“palm” like the inside of the hand) would be needed for the authorities. We hope to be able to build a house for Sifaya and her daughters, before the one “donated” by SLAASC falls apart.