Nearly three years after a tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean killing hundreds of thousands of people and wiping out many communities, families on the western coast of Sri Lanka are finally being resettled into homes of their own, say a Christian Reformed couple who have been working in that country since 2005.
Toni and George Fernhout, who have been working under the auspices of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, are wrapping up their duties outside of Panadura, Sri Lanka, and will soon return home to Canada.
During their two years in Sri Lanka, the Fernhouts worked at the Angulana Camp outside of Panadura and helped coordinate a program that provided after-school educational services to more than 100 children whose lives were disrupted by the tsunami of 2003.
Of the 175 families who had lived at the camp, most have recently moved into new homes. Only about 50 families are still there, but they will also be in new homes by the first of the year, says Toni Fernout, former principal of Edmonton Christian School. Her husband, George, worked for Alberta Social Services and Mental Health.
They decided to travel to Sri Lanka after they retired. “We were expecting to stay in Sri Lanka for three or four months, but we were challenged to remain to the end of the project by the people,” Toni Fernhout said in an e-mail interview.
“We have indeed been blessed and been able to be a blessing through the CRWRC program here in Sri Lanka.”
With a budget of less than $7,000, the Fernhouts hired a small staff to help provide after-school programs for children of the camp. Services included remedial classes in English, math, drama and music.
CRWRC workers also involved parents in the education of their children; helped students with their homework, and provided bus tickets, school uniforms, shoes and books and school bags to children so that they could attend the regular school program.
An especially successful venture was a school-to-school project involving an exchange of Christmas gifts, pictures and letters between students in Sri Lanka and third grade students at Edmonton Christian School. “We were overwhelmed at the response of the students and their parents in the creation of gifts for their Canadian counterparts in the school-to-school exchange,” Toni Fernhout says.
In addition, two field trips were organized for students in the camp to visit historical sites and the National Museum. “Because of this situation the students were very keen on gathering knowledge and information about the places,” says C. Sahabandu, one of the CRWRC community development workers.
As CRWRC finishes its work and families find new lives for themselves, an organization called Tabernacle Relief and Development will continue to meet with remaining families to make sure that they send their children to school. TRD will also provide counseling and support to adults still trying to find meaningful work, says Toni Fernhout.
“We have gained an incredible amount of experience and knowledge during our stay in Sri Lanka,” she says. “But we are also planning for future trips that are not as long and perhaps in a country not as far away and as unsettled. But who knows what God may place in our paths.”