Cayman group offers aid

Cayman Loves Children is appealing for desperately needed funds to send to non-governmental organizations in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

In Sri Lanka the death toll following the Asian earthquake is 22,000 and rising, with more than a million people displaced. In Indonesia more than 45,000 are confirmed dead, but estimates for the final toll are between 50,000 and 80,000.

All funds donated to Cayman Loves Children between today and 31 January will be sent regularly to NGOs in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Donations can be deposited at Bank of Butterfield (account number 034648) or CNB (account number 02214103). Checks made out to Cayman Loves Children can be mailed to PO Box 30383 SMB, Grand Cayman, or PO Box 132 SPO, Cayman Brac.

A spokesperson for the Cayman charity said reports indicate children make up an extremely high proportion of the more than 100,000 believed to have died in the disaster. The UN has warned that this number could double as disease spreads in the resulting unsanitary conditions, and the Cayman charity fears that children will be one of the groups most susceptible to this new threat.

NGOs are independent citizen organizations that work actively in developing countries to improve the lives of people in areas such as human rights, the environment, agriculture and social welfare.

By sending donations directly to the NGOs in this initial stage of relief, funds will get to where they are needed immediately and will also bypass all the overheads incurred by the large donor organizations, according to CLC.

‘We are confidant that by giving to trusted organizations in some of the worst hit areas, every penny donated in the Cayman Islands will be spent on people who have survived the flood but must now battle against the terrible consequences,’ said the CLC spokesperson. For aid in Sri Lanka, the money will be sent to Voluntary Service Overseas, which works with several community groups, and for Indonesia, funds will go to Indonesian Development of Education and Parmaculture.

‘The scale of misery resulting from the Asian tsunami and floods has mobilized the global community into a mammoth relief effort involving a number of international charity organizations. However, we felt that our contributions, which might seem like nothing amongst the many millions needed in total, would make a real difference at the local level.

‘From correspondence with aid workers in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, it appears some of the smaller local NGOs in these countries hit the ground running as soon as the floodwaters receded and are making an impact in areas that governments and larger organizations may take a while to reach.’

Zainulabdeen Mohamed Jaufar is a local Sri Lankan who is Project Officer for Strength Project, a European Union funded project implemented by VSO and the National Forum of Peoples Organizations .

At 8.35am on Sunday morning 26 December, his village of Maruthamunai on the east coast of Sri Lanka was submerged for two hours. From a population of 20,000, he said the number of dead bodies recovered by Tuesday was up to 1,200, including nearly 20 of his own family members.

In an impassioned plea for aid, he wrote, ‘It has brought untold hardships to the community. More than 15,000 people are evacuated and kept at many refugee camps in and around the area. People need food and clothes immediately. And now rain started and shelter for them is a severe problem. Since this earthquake hit all over the island, government machines are not in a position to support the people well.’

He said Tamil and Muslim refugees were camped together, despite a history of ethnic tension on the island, and they desperately needed basics for daily survival.

‘I can distribute these through the local societies, temples, churches and mosques,’ he said. ‘We need worldwide support immediately. Please treat this kindly and sympathetically.’

Kassapa Diyabedanage, who coordinates an NGO in Sri Lanka called Ahimsa, writes, ‘It is hectic time… need to work day and night. Most of the survivors are in their nightdresses, nothing left. One major town in south is virtually shut down at the moment even for aid workers because of the debris and the dead bodies. Such is the catastrophe. One of my staff members is yet to come to office. I am yet to hear anything from certain people in eastern district.

‘Three train coaches were washed away nearly 500 meters from the track killing nearly 1000 of the passengers inside. I worked whole of yesterday till about 11 pm and then spent about 4 hours travelling up and down visiting one of my friends. In front of her own eyes her only son was washed away by sea. And when she is burying her son today morning, I am not going to be with her to share the sorrow because I am needed to coordinate the work. I wonder whether I have been a good friend to her.’

NGOs are calling for food, water, medicine, toiletry items, temporary shelter and sleeping bags or mats, clothes and milk powder for children. Kassapa said they could buy these items with money sent. ‘If you are unable to send anything, yet keep us in your prayers, which is most needed,’ he added.

Ben Brown, a volunteer with IDEP, writes, ‘It’s still very difficult to get a clear understanding of the scope of the disaster; many areas are completely cut off from any form of communication. The Indonesian Government and International NGOs are conducting field assessments and the death toll is still rising. There are thousands of people being evacuated, and several communities that are completely isolated without any assistance whatsoever.’

He says that IDEP is in contact with several NGOs and, through these organizations, they have been able to obtain some information of the situation in other parts of the country. They are working in conjunction with several groups on Bali to coordinate a mechanism for ascertaining and sending this priority assistance to Aceh, North Sumatra, as quickly as possible.

Brown says they have established a working relationship with two NGOs on Sumatra, the island closest to the epicentre of Sunday’s earthquake.

‘WALHI (Indonesian Friends of the Earth) will have access to three trucks and one helicopter, which are all leaving tomorrow afternoon, December 29, for the first delivery of assistance. The rental cost of each truck per round trip between Medan and Aceh (two-three days) is Rp 6,500,000 (about US$700). We need help for the cost of hiring these trucks.’

CLC chose VSO as a contact point to send donations because of its knowledge of and integration with local NGOs in Sri Lanka, and for its international reputation – it was voted top international development charity in the International Aid and Development category at the Charity Awards 2004 for its work in promoting innovative approaches to globalising volunteering.

The CLC spokesperson said they were also impressed with VSO’s focus on volunteering rather than expensive salaries. Foreign volunteers are paid local level subsistence salaries, whatever their professional level, which in Sri Lanka, works out to be roughly CI$40 per week.

IDEP was chosen for its deep roots in the Indonesian community, its commitment to education and sustainable development and a high level of expertise.

To find out more about the NGOs that will receive Cayman donations, visit www.nfpo.org/strengths.htm , www.vso.org.uk and www.idepfoundation.org