Squamish is about to learn everything there is to know about a small Sri Lankan village called Wanduruppuwa (pronounced Wandaroo poora).
The local people behind the Humanity Village Project (HVP) introduced Wanduruppuwa as Squamish's adopted village on Friday (Jan. 28).
Wanduruppuwa was recommended by the Sri Lankan government as a good candidate to become Squamish's adopted village because it was devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami and the community slipped through the cracks when the first relief assessments were done.
"The people of Squamish have really been waiting for something tangible and we have it now that we have a community to help," said Patricia Heintzman, one of the three central organizers of the initiative.
Like many other coastal villages in south Asia the village of about 600 people from 67 families suffered dramatic losses.
Wanduruppuwa is on the Indian Ocean about 200 km (124 miles) from the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo and the next largest town to the village is Ambalantota. The little village was directly in the path of the deadly tsunami.
According to information about Wanduruppuwa provided by the Squamish Humanity Village project every home in the village was destroyed by the tsunami. The two local schools for kids aged from pre-school and up were destroyed.
The villagers grow rice and other crops but their most important food source is fish. Their fishing boats were lost and the rice patties are too salty to support plant life. The force of the tsunami washed away sand dunes and mangrove stands. The potential for more flooding in the future is a concern because the tsunami created a new sand dune at the mouth of a river near the village.
HVP volunteers sent a series of questions to a Sri Lankan official, Sarinda Unamboowe, so local aid workers could get a better idea of what work needs to be done to rebuild Wanduruppuwa. According to the HVP contact, the people of the village are Buddhists who speak Sinhala.
Unamboowe said from his home in Colombo that transportation to the village can be arranged. He added that there are villagers with masonry and building skills.
"You need to come over before you start work," Unamboowe said. "The sooner the better."
Heintzman expects the first group from Squamish to leave for Wanduruppuwa within two weeks to meet the villagers and get an understanding of their needs and where the priorities are.
"This is probably the first of many trips," she said. "This will lay the groundwork for how the thing plays out over the next year or two or three or however this goes on."
Heintzman noted that two villages will actually benefit as there is a tiny village of 25 homes across the river from Wanduruppuwa that will also be helped by the people of Squamish.
The people of Wanduruppuwa are currently living in temporary housing within a refugee camp at a nearby town called Suruiyawewa.
"Some of the men are trickling back to start rebuilding," Heintzman said.
Before the tsunami the villagers lived in basic wattle and daub type housing. The village had electricity before the big waves came.
More than 200 volunteers in Squamish are now working to put the villagers back into permanent housing, restore their livelihoods, help them restore their social lives and restore the ecology in Wanduruppuwa.
Partnerships opportunities are being explored with IUCN - The World Conservation Union, the Sri Lankan Government and the Vancouver Sri Lankan Friendship Society.
The HVP concept was brought to life by Coun. Jeff Dawson and he is happy that the concept is moving ahead and being copied in other communities. The initiative drew national attention from news outlets when Dawson announced he wanted Squamish to adopt a village in the tsunami zone and the cameras were back on him this week for more national exposure.
Heintzman and Dawson are heading up the village adoption with Peter Gordon. The trio is working with a number of committee heads. Each committee is concentrating areas of expertise ranging from making travel arrangements to house construction to infrastructure replacement and community planning.
Volunteers come together each Wednesday to coordinate efforts as the project moves forward.Dawson said he is amazed at the local response.
There is more information on the HVP at www.humanityvillage.org on the internet.
Humanity Village to be featured on CTV benefit concert
CTV will air a benefit concert for tsunami relief on Saturday (Jan. 29) and during the four hour broadcast information on the HVP initiative will be featured between music acts. Dawson and Heintzman were interviewed by a CTV reporter for the two-minute piece on the humanitarian efforts coming together in Squamish.
The concert will start at 7 p.m.
"It will be huge exposure for us," Dawson said.
Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies are headlining the commercial-free four-hour live concert. Proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to OXFAM Canada, Care Canada, Doctors Without Borders and War Child Canada to assist in tsunami relief efforts.