From Martina Fuchs in Mawella, Sri Lanka
First: Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the wonderful people who made it possible for us to be here, you are helping to make a huge difference in the lives of many, many people here in Sri Lanka! And an especially big thank you to you, Jan, your foresight and generosity made and is making all the difference.
Arriving in the early morning of February 5 via Taiwan, Province of China and Singapore, it took me a couple of days to get an overview over the medical situation here in southern Sri Lanka.
We are in the district of Hambantota which consists of four provinces. The tsunami death toll in this area was about 20,000 people. This number might be even higher since many people are still missing. About 10,000 people were injured, many of them badly.
The medical situation now is that the local hospitals are unable to meet the needs of the people, tsunami-affected or otherwise, since there are more than 1,000 people to be taken care of daily and most of the hospitals cannot handle more than 200. So there are still very basic medical needs that are not covered.
Our team, Ray Dingle, Will Prosser and I, is basically focusing on helping several villages along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, about 1,000 families, 100 of which are living in a camp, since there is nothing left of their houses. The first time I went through the ghost towns that were formerly flourishing fishermen's villages, I felt like being in a horrible movie. I am not sure if it is possible to fully comprehend that for these families, everything is gone.
The faces of our villagers are becoming more and more familiar and precious, the names are a little bit more difficult to remember. It happens quite often that 6 or 7 children come up to me introducing themselves, Sanairi, Anachita, Sasutha, etc. and I do my best to pronounce all of the names correctly, me trying to remember them and repeat the names back to them, though, routinely makes the kids burst out in laughter, but they are very patient with me... Will is known as "big William", and I am "Dr. Martina". They are wonderful kids:
Since the immediate catastrophe needs have been taken care of, the challenge now is to cover the basic needs of the people we are committed to help. For the medical part, the ministry of fishery allowed us to use a small two-room house that was flooded by the tsunami but was basically not destroyed, as a clinic.
With the generous help of the Sri Lankan Navy, our clinic has been painted, electricity has been installed, etc.
Our goal is to establish a new database for the families and to get an overview regarding their basic medical condition and health needs. We want to make sure that everybody will have a medical record, i.e. basic check-up, vitals, vaccination schedules for the children. I am in touch with the closest local hospital, in Tangalle, which was in desperate need even before the tsunami, and we are coordinating our efforts. Within the last month alone, 15 patients have died from simple things like blood loss from a broken leg because medical supplies and staff are simply not available.
There is a person from Great Britain, Nick Buckingham, who started to raise money for the hospital and is very hands-on himself; fixing the rooms, painting, buying mattresses, preparing for an operating room, etc. Real Medicine plans to coordinate with Nick in widening the network for medical support and supplies from the US and Europe.
Our villagers here need help with very basic and immediate things, i.e. one man who is short-sighted lost his glasses in the tsunami with no money to replace them, a little girl who needs daily medication lost all her medication for the next several months; and the list goes on and on. And actually, one more thing: all the toys are gone, little Ranashiri just told me a few days ago that she doesn't have a single doll anymore, Tamasiri lost his teddy bear, and this, of course, is the case for all the other girls and boys, too. So, we will work on raising more funds in the US and Europe - with all of your generous help - to take care of the needs of these people who have literally only the clothes left they were wearing.
One possibility could be to create partnerships, i.e. one family supports one specific family here; the cost of living here is 4,000 to 5,000 Rupees for a family of four for one month, which is only $40 to $50.
We live in a seaside inn owned by a German dental surgeon, Dr. Manfred Meinecke, who has worked extensively in developing countries. He already has established an extensive network of help and has been wonderful in helping us making ours grow and widen. He has been receiving dozens and dozens of aid packages for the camps from Germany every week, and actually helps me to get the medical and surgical supplies through customs that my brother, a pediatric surgery chief, is sending from Germany. A German stewardess married to a Sri Lankan attorney is very essential in getting the customs part worked out, too, - thank you to all of you!
And thank you to John and Keith at Global Operations and Development in Buena Park, CA, your medical supplies have been proven to be invaluable!
With Manfred, I visited a girls' school yesterday that he has taken under his wings, 1,000 girls, 300 of them affected by the tsunami, they have either lost one parent or are orphaned.
A lot of people from all over Hambantota were at the Sunday market in Tangalle on December 26, 2004, and were killed in the tsunami. So, loss of loved ones and often the loss of the breadwinner is a reality for many, many families here in the area. We distributed children's clothes and about 40 mothers showed up with their babies, we gave towels and bed sheets to them and taught them how to use the milk powder we had received in big quantities. They were so grateful, it was absolutely heartbreaking.
I will update here on our website every few days, stay tuned... If anyone wants to be specifically updated on one project or wants to be involved specifically supporting the clinic or the hospital or the school or any of the other projects, or has any ideas or suggestions, please let us know. Will will continuously update on the boat and housing projects, so check out "big William's" update, too.
With love, gratitude and hope from Mawella,