Flood Disaster Aid. A Mother-and-Baby Pack Mission

Myrna Setunga

Hi Michael, Despite a few hiccups and delays at the start, the Mother and Baby Pack Mission was concluded very satisfactorily. With a lot of help from Dushy & Tanya Perera and Sonali & Niranjan (my niece and her husband) who provided their vehicles, we were able to load 45 packages including 45 basins into the two vehicles. On Monday, the 19th June, we left at 6.30 a.m. and help from Dushy’s GPS we got to our first stop in Madurawela by 7.30 a.m. We had to wait till all 13 women turned up. They told us that all their houses got flooded right up to the roof. Yet they had happy faces as you will see in the photos. I think they were really pleased with their gifts.

 Myrna and some recipients of Packs at Bulathsinhala

Our next destination was Bulathsinhala. We got there in the rain by 9.00 a.m. We had packs for 12 women. One had already been admitted to hospital [for the birth of her child] and her husband would collect her pack. Packs for two others were left with the staff till they were able to collect them later. The AGA participated briefly in the distribution. There was one Tamil and one Muslim mother. I was not able to get the Muslim mother to smile. Later, Dushy found out from her husband that they had lost three members of their family.

We sent Sonali’s vehicle back since we had off loaded 25 packs and the three of us proceeded to Wallalawita. Because the families in this area are scattered they could not expect all the pregnant women to come to the AGA’s office. But one young women expecting her first baby turned up all smiles and was helped by her husband to carry the package home. We left 6 packages in the office for the women to collect whenever they could.

We had a lunch stop in the Freeway Restaurant and got to our last stop, Dodamgoda, by 1.30 p.m. Only 8 out of the expected 10 arrived and we left two packages to be collected later. The AGA participated in the distribution. The photos will display happy faces.

It was such a relief to have completed our mission without a single problem and in good time. Dushy wanted to do some sightseeing and we crossed over the Kaluganga. It was mind boggling to see the height to which the water had risen. A two-storey building could have been completely submerged. Much of the areas we drove through had been submerged and many large trees were lying on their sides. We could not go to the area where there had been landslides. The people we spoke to told us that they had not experienced a flood of this magnitude since 1948.

Thanks Michael for you valuable and prompt support and for putting me in touch with Dushy and Tanya. I enjoyed their company and am thankful for their spontaneous offer of help.







Myrna’s Inspiration

Myrna Setunga has had considerable administrative experience after migrating to Australia and working in the INGO circuit in the Philippines, Indonesia and West Africa before moving back to Sri Lanka as a Director for Plan International in Uva District. She had retired and moved into her late father’s homo on the outskirts of Colombo when the tsunami hit the island on 26th December 2004. She immediately joined in the relief effort.

At one refuge area in Panadura(?) she came upon a woman seated on the ground with an infant who was in obvious distress. She discovered that the lady was menstruating and did not have the requisite wherewithal. It was after assisting this woman that Myrna conceived the idea of a particular line of relief aid.

She did not implement this conception immediately but headed for the remote Panama area in early January with some young men (the only woman in the party) as her first step in aid work and thereafter participated in all manner of tsunami relief work in 2005. If anyone requires an incisive assessment of the various government and non-governmental relief measures, they should consult Myrna Setunga. Among other aspects she will provide a critique of the house designs implemented by several well-meaning relief agencies.

I do not have details of the degree to which she implemented the Mother-and=-Baby Pack relief in 2005; but have considerable data on her subsequent work along these and other lines in assisting the massive humanitarian effort arising  from the defeat of the LTTE and the creation of IDP camps.

All this work was behind the scenes and not proclaimed publicly, but she wrote reports regularly THEN in 2009 for her wide-ranging body of donors abroad and in Sri Lanka. It took me some time to persuade Myrna (who is an acquaintance from my Galle days and my time at Peradeniya University campus in the late 1950s) that this private correspondence had to be placed in the public realm because of the misleading picture of the IDP scenario established in the West by the clever and duplicitous work of the LTTE and Tamil migrant propaganda juggernaut – an erroneous reading towards which such English reporters as Jeremy Page and Nick Paton-Walsh actively contributed.

The manner in which Myrna marshaled official and unofficial aid and penetrated the bureaucratic corridors THEN in 2009-2010 are detailed in http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/28/relief-work-in-aid-of-mothers-and-babies-among-the-idps-in-2009-myrna-setungas-reports-to-her-donor-pals-then-in-2009/ This report will lead one to the other reports which are referred to therein. I encourage  assiduous readers to pursue these lead and absorb the tales as well as the pictorial images.

Just as she did then on this particular venture in 2017 Myrna Setunga had to negotiate Sri Lankan bureaucratic corridors in order to deliver the Packs to the women in the disaster zones. The cooperation and flexibility of the district administrators should also be taken note of.

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Filed under centre-periphery relations, cultural transmission, economic processes, female empowerment, heritage, landscape wondrous, life stories, meditations, performance, rehabilitation, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, trauma, unusual people

One response to “Flood Disaster Aid. A Mother-and-Baby Pack Mission

  1. Lucille Sandhurst

    Myrna, I’m just back from a 5 week trip in the UK-need to donate-forgotten how! Please guide me by separate email!-Lucille

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