Myrna Setunga, 13 July 2009
— courtesy of the the Ministry of Health
I distributed the second lot of 150 Mother and Baby packs in Vavuniya IDP Camps on the 3rd and 4th of June. After returning from that trip I decided that it was more economical to take the packs in batches of 300. This turned out to be an even bigger task than I had anticipated. Fortunately I had identified six suppliers for all the items needed. One supplier even did home delivery. Since four of the suppliers were in the Pettah I did the orders over the phone. Thanks to Kingsley and Sura Ranasinghe who gave me their van I was able to collect all the items in one trip. My house was once again like a warehouse. Putting the items together took a much longer time and caused much greater back pain than anticipated. But Fatima, my domestic helper, and I managed to get the lot done by the 3rd of July.
Then I received a call from Dr. Rani Fernando [Director of the Castle Street Womens’ Hospital] asking me if I could add a Baby bath tub to the pack. The VOG’s had told her that the babies in the tents were in a very vulnerable environment because of the crowded conditions in the tents, They recommended the bath tub because a baby can sleep in the tub till it is at least 3 months old. Having seen the conditions in the tents I had to agree. But I did not have sufficient funds having even exceeded the amount received as donations. Fortunately Susan Joachim who happened to visit me to see the packs came to my rescue. She contacted friends all round the world and one generous donor got me the tubs through his brother who was able to get the tubs directly from the manufacturer. I was to leave on the 8th at 4 a.m. and was able to collect the tubs only on the 7th evening. We did not finish loading the truck provided free of charge, by Kumari and Mr. Wanniarachchcie, till 11 p.m. This gave me just 3 hours of rest – sleep was not possible.
I joined a group of doctors and nurses from the Castle Street Hospital and we traveled in a mini bus organized by Dr. Rani Fernando. We got to Medawachchciya by 9.30. I stayed back to wait for the truck which arrived at 10 am. It took us one and a half hours to clear security mostly because of the long queue of huge vehicle waiting to be cleared. I managed to sweet talk the two policemen into inspecting the truck without having to take the boxes out of the truck. They did even better by just peeping at the boxes through the truck door and signing the exit pass. By the time we got to Vavuniya town and off loaded the boxes at the CHA office it was 3 p.m. I sent the truck back to Colombo and enjoyed a well earned rest at the CHA guest house.
9th July .
The following day I hired a small truck and with assistance from a CHA volunteer distributed packs in the following camps.
Nelukkulam 39 packs. Puthukulam 29 packs.
Thandikulam 15 packs. Saivapragasam 45 packs.
That evening I met Dr. Safras at the guest house and arranged to distribute the rest of the packs in Weerapuram and Sumathipuram camps [which were part of the Menik farm complex]. ] These camps had been set up very recently to accommodate the families that had been moved out of the schools. The Doctor in charge is Dr. Semali.
Weerapuram 68 packs and Sumathipuram 80 packs.
I had a balance of 18 packs which I had to leave behind in the CHA office to be added to the next batch.
I went with Dr Safras to Zone 4 hospital. Many changes have been made since my last visit. Two rooms with attached toilets are being constructed for the doctor and nurses on night duty. At present there is no toilet for the medical staff in this hospital. An extension is being made for a waiting area for patients who at present have to line up outside in the sun. The millions of flies I saw last time have disappeared.
I went to the camp to look for the Assistant Director of Education that I had met the last time. But after much inquiry I found out that he had been allowed to leave the camp because he was over 60 years of age. I inspected the kitchen where lunch was ready. Red rice had been cooked and was to be served with a dry fish and tomato curry. Dinner was being prepared. Two men were cutting up the godamba roti to make kottu roti with tinned fish, cabbage and onions. The whole preparation was being done under huge mosquito nets. There were still a few flies that had been attracted by the dry fish.
I spoke to two health volunteers – sisters. They were planning street drama on health topics. I met two more sisters at the toilets. One was on crutches because she had a gun shot injury in one leg. Even with assistance from her sister I could not imagine how she was gong to use the squatting pan in a toilet that was on an elevated platform. They smiled while telling me how they had escaped from the no-fire-zone. Their father is in Anuradhapura and he can visit them. Their mother is in Jaffna. I have no idea why they cannot be reunited. People smile when I joke about their “free” tour of the N.E.Province.The water seal toilets were in an awful condition because there is insufficient water to flush them.
A new feature in this camp is the many “street” vendors. One had a fairly large shop [where he even had “fair and lovely” face cream] and others had small road side stalls. The small vendors told me that they made a profit of about Rs 300 a day. Another man had set up a cool drink stall where he was selling an iced concoction. He told me that the water was from the bore well and the block of ice is delivered daily by a truck. I informed Dr. Safras about this and he took action to have this health hazard removed. They already have a serious problem with diarrhea.
On my way back from the camp I saw three Public Health Inspectors conducting a meeting in a tent. On further investigation I found that a team of nurses from outside were conducting an awareness session with the midwives and “health volunteers”. The midwives had been given material for uniforms and shoes. The Sister conducting the class told me that the 29 health volunteers were not given any thing. She appealed for the following.
- Slippers – Bata bathroom slippers because most of them had no footwear what so ever.
- An umbrella.
- A bag in which they could carry files.
- A skirt and T-shirt. Most of them did not have a change of clothing.
There are hundreds more such volunteers, but with my policy of one drop in the bucket at a time I will try to help these girls. Did I say “bucket”?? It is more like a bottomless pit.
After lunch at the Coordinating Centre we went back to the hospital and I was able to observe two doctors in action. I observed the doctor treating the children. Almost all complained of fever and/or diarrhea. Since there is a long wait for a mobile lab the doctors were treating for suspected illnesses. Mothers were repeatedly told not to overdose with panadol. Some one had come to the camp and distributed free packs of panadol and other over the counter medicines. Some children had been given medication for fever for three days but their mothers brought them every day to be checked by the doctor. Anxiety was etched on their faces. There was not an ounce of fat on any of the people I saw there. They were all suffering from long exposure to poor diet and stressful living conditions. Many had spent weeks cowering in trenches. Some children were dressed in nylon clothes. They were either dressed in their best to see the doctor or this was all they had. In one hour the doctor saw over 100 patients. She told me that she goes “home” and cries every night. The conditions under which these doctors work and the stress they face has to be seen to be believed. There is no toilet for the medical staff and they have to wait till they go to the coordinating centre for lunch. One doctor told me that she does not drink any water while on duty to avoid the need to go to the toilet.
Most of the adult patients were elderly. All showed signs of physical weakness in addition to suffering from diarrhea or fever. By 5 p.m. there were still people in the queue. The serious patients were treated and the rest were told to come back the next day. Thus ended my last day in the Vanni.
The following day, having failed to find someone who could give me a lift back to Colombo, I took a taxi to Medavachchiya and from there took a bus to Colombo via Putlam. Sine I have not been to Putlam before this was an opportunity to check out the road. We had to get out of the bus 3 times with luggage for security checking. I got to Colombo after the six and a half hour journey completely exhausted.
Dr.Fairoos who is in Zone 0 gave me a request from A/L students for study material. The total cost is around Rs 120,000. If there is anyone out there who would like to help these students please let me know. My Tsunami experience is that what ever I have asked for I have received. I am hoping for a repeat performance. Thank you friends for helping me to do what ever I can to serve these deserving people. This is my field and I feel like a duck in its favourite mud pond. I am sorry this is a long report, and yet it is only a summery of human suffering.