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Sri Lanka

Children's Clinic Update

March 05, 2005
Dr. Martina Fuchs


From Martina Fuchs in Mawella, Sri Lanka

Hi everybody! This is the third update for my stay here in Sri Lanka and an outlook into our future plans for RealMedicine. Our network and support system has grown exponentially within Europe and the U.S. - words cannot express my gratitude to all of you who make the magic happen.

The extent of destruction through the tsunami here in Sri Lanka doesn't cease to be shocking to me. Basically, the whole coastline around this island country is in ruins, hundreds of meters from the ocean further inland. And the contrast between the paradisiacal green and turquoise Indian Ocean and all this devastation is just mind-blowing. I continue to have patients in my clinic who show me where their houses have been:

And I am in awe of the courage of many of them trying to rebuild with the little they have left:

Just one more example of too many is Hambantota, a city in the farthest south of Sri Lanka, a flourishing town before the tsunami. Now, the survivors are living in tents - whole families packed together in one - on the rubble that used to be their houses and their lives.

Here are some impressions of my daily work here in Marwella. The little clinic found its place in the camp, the village of Marwella and the adjacent villages, and it is always busy. I am happy to say that we don't have any epidemics yet, which is a big success considering the very cramped conditions our families have to live in.
Here it is:

This is my assistant, Suranga Baduge. He has been essential in translating (Singhalese into English and back), documenting the examination results and transferring the medical histories into our newly designed and established computer database (thank you to Debbie and Elaine for manifesting what at the beginning has only been an idea):

I am proud to say that - out of nothing - we have actually created and established a model for basic medical care that now is easily transferable into any area that needs medical care. All our furniture, i.e. shelves, examination table, etc. have been built by Jonathan, Orrin and Susanthe. Orrin's last deed before he went back to Great Britain was the clinic sink, thank you!! Here it is, with a water tank in an adjacent tree (it works!! … and, depending on the time of the day, the water even gets really hot!):
Our villagers brought this altar to us to bless the clinic:

And now, as you can see, the clinic is firmly in the hands of the children:

Sometimes, the lines get really long:

But once, you get into the waiting room, you are almost there:

As I had mentioned before, one of the things that have been very important to me, is to have a psychiatrist taking care of our families and the post-tsunami pain and unbelievable suffering they have to deal with. Dr. Sunietha Galappaththi came for one afternoon, and one of the things, RealMedicine is committed to, is to make sure these visits will happen on an ongoing basis.
In this one afternoon, Dr. Sunietha and I saw eight mothers who had lost one or more or all of their children. The pain is beyond comprehension and their stories are harrowing. I am not sure if it will ever be possible to fathom that this tragedy has happened to thousands and thousands of mothers and fathers and children in one single day.

One of the mothers we saw had lost her three-year-old girl. She came initially because her 8-year-old boy, who had survived, had started to sleepwalk. That afternoon, she, for the first time since the tsunami had happened, was able to express her pain about how guilty she felt that she wasn't able to save her younger child. This is what many of the mothers expressed, in addition to the pain of the loss, the guilt of: if I only… So, we tried to tell her that she in this situation did the best she could. She expressed, too, that if the 8-year-old would have climbed on a palm tree by himself, she could have saved the little girl. All this while the boy, who is only eight years old himself, was listening without any expression. So, we tried to tell her that the boy now needs her love since he had lost a sibling and was mourning, too. Since I felt so helpless, I asked him, if he could paint a picture of the tsunami for us. About two hours later, he came back with a painting, all blue, with 18 human heads pointing in different directions in the water. He smiled for the first time when he proudly handed his painting to us as the one that started the gallery. I don't think it is possible to imagine what this little boy had to go through on December 26, 2004. We put his picture up on the wall in the clinic and had him sign his name:
Seeing the difference just one painting could make for a child, Suranga and I told all the kids in the camp that if they would paint a picture of the tsunami for us, they would be part of the clinic gallery and would get a tennis ball. We got dozens and dozens of paintings, and I am very happy that every child that wanted to, is represented with his or her picture in the clinic. Here are some more examples (since many of you have expressed interest in seeing the children's tsunami paintings, please find a more extensive collection at the end of this update):

I bought and gave out more than ninety tennis balls. For one afternoon, everybody in the camp seemed to be playing with these tennis balls:

This actually made the clinic become something of a social meeting place. There are always people hanging out in the waiting room area; kids and adults, patients and non-patients, checking in on the patients or just chat. And often, the curtain is being pulled aside a little bit because someone is curious about what's going on in the examination area.
Here are some more impressions of the daily life in the camp.
The other day, we had an ice cream truck in the camp:
With private donations, coir string machines were bought. The fibers obtained from the husk of a coconut are used in making ropes and matting. It is a common occupation for many women in Sri Lanka from rural areas and creates income:
Since many of the men in our camp and villages are fishermen, boat rebuilding happened everywhere:

Fishermen from our villages working on their nets:

One TV for everybody:
Boys playing with marbles:

A few days ago, Manfred, the German dental surgeon, who I had mentioned previously, and I, visited an orphanage close to the city of Galle, the Yashodara orphanage. We had been told that the children there needed medical care since they had infected wounds and several of them were sick. What we saw was just heartbreaking, these children didn't even have enough to eat. So, we decided that part of the money we are raising with RealMedicine will go towards supporting this orphanage:

At this point, I would like to introduce three more children from our camp and our villages, who RealMedicine has pledged to help (and because of your generous contributions and support, we could already start!!):

Madumekala suffers from panhypopituitarism and needs long-term medication with HGH. We paid her medication for the next two months. Here is Madumekala with her friend who is of normal height for their age:

Tharindu who sadly lost his mom in the tsunami, is diagnosed with hyperlipidemia; he needs lipid lowering drugs. His medication for the next two months is paid for as well.
The Head of the Department of Pediatrics of the University of Ruhuna in Galle, Dr. Sujeewa Amarasena, will overview their treatment.
Dinithi is a baby girl who needs cardiac surgery for a complete atrioventricular septal defect complicated by pulmonary hypertension (in the picture, Dinithi is shown with her healthy twin sister):

This is Tangalle, the town nearest to our camp:

I had reported about the Tangalle hospital before. Following are a few pictures of the astounding progress, Nick Buckingham and his team are making in renovating and upgrading the hospital:

And they actually found time as well to give the little clinic a beauty treatment. They came out early one morning, planting a garden in front of the clinic, setting up a fence, putting up a table in the examination room complete with tablecloth and flowers, chairs in the waiting area - thank you, guys, this was a beautiful surprise!!

In the meantime, after visiting Sylvi and Anu in Colombo (the two amazing people who are spending hours and hours at the airport in Colombo every week to make sure that all the medical supplies and toys and clothes and baby food that are so generously sent to us make it through customs and into the right hands - I am beyond impressed by your dedication and love), I am back in Los Angeles, happy and tired, with a massive jetlag, but proud of our accomplishments and excited about the possibilities we have in the future to support and help rebuild the lives of the Sri Lankan people. There is so much more help needed and so much more we will be able to do… I will continue to update here on our website on the progress of all of our projects, stay tuned…
Manfred and Rohan put together a folder with families we would like to suggest for sponsorship. This will be part of the next update.

Last, but not least, thank you to Maria and Berti, for your encouragement, and for visiting and generously supporting the clinic. It was wonderful to meet you in person after having already been fascinated by and having been beneficiary of the air bridge from Munich to Colombo that you have created and are maintaining. I am so proud to be part of this wonderful network. (For more information on Maria, Berti, Sylvia and Anu, please go to: www.caresrilanka.com) And thank you to Susanne and Ralf, your generosity and kindness is highly appreciated.
With love and gratitude and full of hope for the future from Marwella, Los Angeles, and everything in between,
Martina

Addendum:
The children in our camp and villages paint the tsunami:
Country Page: Sri Lanka       Initiative Page: Children's Clinic, Mawella Camp
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