Responding to Emergency Situations: Sharing the compassionate love of Jesus
We, as Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, strive to respond to emergency situations to ease the pain and the struggle of victims whatever the situation is. We operate as mobile teams so that other apostolic activities also may not be much disturbed. Joining likewise many Sisters get the opportunity to become fellow strugglers in the suffering of our people and to journey towards a liberated life.
The 1978 cyclone was the most devastating with floods that battered the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka and caused havoc in most parts of the island. This is stated to be the worst Cyclone which devastated the low-lying district of Batticaloa and displaced nearly one million persons.
Then once again a disastrous Tsunami, caused by one of the biggest earthquakes ever, hit our small island on Sunday, December 26, 2004. Coastal areas of Sri Lanka were destroyed by the Tsunami sweeping away innocent people and their property without any warning whatsoever. Thousands of people died; many more have been injured; more than a million were homeless. The whole country was in shock, trying to cope with this catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude.
On these two occasions affecting the whole country, the Church and all different organizations speedily responded with immediate relief to our suffering people. We Sister too volunteered through Caritas and other groups to serve among the wounded who were physically, mentally and spiritually disturbed. Some of them were saved miraculously. Those who struggled to survive were in shock and despair. Together with them we struggled to console them, help them in their anguish and to give faith and hope to look at life with courage. We Sisters remained with them quite a long period, promoting community building programs and through that building their broken lives, houses, livelihoods. We conducted some prayer programs building their relationships and strengthening them spiritually.
This is a testimony given by Sr. Manori Perera- a Novice who worked in an Inter-congregational mobile team in Cheddikulam Camp during the war.
“Only the Holy Spirit could have guided me in responding to the Suffering caused by war”
First of all I thank God and my Congregation who gave me this precious opportunity. I spent the month of May in Cheddikulam. There were six sisters in our group: two Salvatorians, two Franciscans and the other two were Perpetual Help. There were about eight IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. We went daily to visit these camps. At the beginning there were about three and a half lakhs of people over there. Now most of them have been settled.
Our experience among them was “the mission of presence “and it led us to share Christ‘s love among our brethren who have become refugees now. We could incarnate ourselves among them and be with them. We could see Jesus’ suffering in and through them.
the first day when I went to the camp I felt that my presence was in vain because I could not speak in Tamil. That day I went with one sister to visit a Montessori. By the third day we got the opportunity to teach some primary classes because their teachers have already gone to the resettlement areas. So I could also take some grade five classes. On the first day I could not think even how to teach them. Suddenly I remembered how I communicated with the children of our Deaf School when I was in the Ragama community as a Pre-novice. I started to talk with some signs. The Holy Spirit inspired me showing some ways and means. I felt that language is not a barrier to communicate with each other. If we can love others they feel it. First I want to get friendly with them and get their attention. I smiled very pleasantly and addressed them kindly. Introducing myself with some jokes, I made them speak. Through that way I used God’s love to build up a friendship among us. The small ones could easily understand God’s language. –“The language of love” However we could talk and understand.
Among those children some had lost a father, mother or both parents. Some had lost their brother or sister in the war. When I tried to talk to them, most of the time the children started to relates their stories. They were talking without end. Sometimes though I could not understand, I gave my ear to them with patience and concern. I allowed them to speak. After they came out with everything, I saw their inner peace through their smiling eyes. I felt God used me as His instrument to bring Joy to these little hearts. They wanted to be with me always and talk to me. I taught them Sinhala and English. By doing these small things I got more happiness being among them.
We visited the houses as we could. Seeing their pathetic situation I felt so sorry. One day we met a family. Their father has lost both his legs on his way to the no-fire Zone. They had one boy and two girls. The son was the eldest and he had been taken to the LTTE. The second one was a daughter who was thirteen years old and disabled by birth. She could not sit or stand and just was lying on the floor. They had kept her under a mosquito net. The ten years old youngest daughter was a clever and active girl who was looking after her family. She went to school, helped her mother, looked after her disabled father and sister, brought the water, went to the boutique, and bought things and did so much work at her age. When we went to see them we gave some toffees. Then their father started to feed the toffees to his disabled daughter by breaking it into very small pieces. All the family members cared for the disabled child with kindness.
We suggested to the mother to give the child to Mother Theresa‘s Home. Then she started to cry and said that she looked after her for thirteen years that she can’t give to her to anyone. By seeing and hearing that I felt very much and I got tears into my eyes. At the beginning I felt, that the mother did not like to talk with me because I am a Sinhalease. She even did not look at my face. But after seeing me crying slowly, she started to talk to me. I understood that though we are Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims we all have the same feelings as human beings.
Then we got a chance to visit another camp called “Ramanadan”. The situation of the people in the camp was very pathetic. They were living in small tents. When we were visiting there it was raining and we saw the rain water coming into the huts. So they had no place to sit or sleep. There we met a family and that mother had four kids and her husband has died on his way to the camp in Vanni. The eldest child was 11 years old. She shared her struggles that she faced as a mother being alone with 4 little kids without their father. When the smallest child cried for milk, she could not bear it, it is because she did not have breast milk due to lack of food. Then she started to cry. There was dead silence among us. A few minutes later she started to talk and asked us for a packet of milk powder.
Like this there were so many stories in the camps. Some had lost their near and dear ones. Some had lost their hands and legs. Some had lost all the assets that they had earned in their life-time.
We went to a detention camp where there were 475 boys. They were detained by the army. We could speak with some of them. They were waiting to go home to be with their parents. I felt some of them were innocent and they had been taken by force by the LTTE and some had happened to join the LTTE due to threats and had willingly joined them.
But now they all wanted to have a new life with new hope. They had already started their studies again. Some boys said that they thought that the Army soldiers were very cruel people but now they realized that it was not so.
We also visited the Mental Ward in Vavuniya hospital. Due to loss of their loved ones some had become emotionally imbalanced. We also visited Pampamadu hospital, meant for paralyzed people who were wounded because of the war. Some have been paralyzed forever. Their painful eyes revealed to us the cruelty of the war. Through their sighs we heard the echo of the brutal
We heard some bad stories about the Army. But also we experienced how they are treating IDP people well now. As Israelites, these people also have come through a terrible journey facing death. They have suffered enough. The only thing that they are asking now is a peaceful
environment to live the rest of their lives. So let’s join our hands to rebuild paradise with humanity and love.