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Thursday, 18 October 2018
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A curious letter from a Tamil North American volunteer among the IDPs PDF Print E-mail
Note from the Editors of Sri Lanka Watch: We picked this letter for its strange contents which should be obvious to our web surfers. Suresh Mather, obviously a North American citizen is now in Sri Lanka, and one can see, quite happy to be involved working for the IDPs. However, he opens up with a report of what he claimed as army fire 150 metres away with the armed sentries ducking for cover but he had no fear. He says no more about it and we are not even sure whether it is army fire or not.

Suresh Mather talks about cut wood set on fire between two camps obviously to keep the mosquitoes away. He claims Manik Farm is the second largest in the world and places it in the middle of the Vavuniya jungles. We wonder how correct he is here.

He gives the impression that the Dutch INGO ZOA he works for “has been distributing food for 114,000 of the 300,000 people in the camps, essential items, building over 700 shelters, building 28 temporary learning sites within the camps for children, helping people with starting home gardening to grow vegetables, providing hygienic supplies, income generation plans, etc.” From these details it would appear that it is virtually ZOA that is taking care of more than half of the total IDPS, no others not even the government has been credited here.

Under the conditions and circumstances that exist here and doing some work which according to his letter he seems to enjoy with break for meals and living in a concrete-floored chalet with a cadjan roof, the writer makes it a point to emphasize that the greatest challenge he has is being away from his family for ten days out of fourteen which means he goes to Colombo every ten days.

We are curious to know what this writer wants to convey to his email readers. May be he himself will answer our concerns especially because he got enlisted by ZOA only after he arrived in Sri Lanka with two Canadians with the intention of working for the refugees. We are even more curious to know why he began his letter with what he claimed as army fire that he never explained. He pointed out that there are people from both sides holding arms among the IDPs and dealing with them is almost a daily occurrence.

We must admit this is not a kind of feedback one would get from a genuine field worker among the IDPs and the credit he gives to his Dutch principal far outweighs the reality at the Manik Farm. We hope Suresh Mather is not a Cowboy Volunteer but has only genuine intentions. Unfortunately, his letter has far too many black spots for comfort.

Letter from Suresh Mather now in the middle of the Vavuniya jungles    

(Sunday July 19, 2009) Hi Everyone: Last week when I was entering one of the camps, I heard repeated gun fire by the army, and I saw smoke less than 150 meters away. The army personnel at the entrance of these barb wired camps were ducking for cover but surprisingly I had no fear. Two days later while driving through one of the camps there was fire since someone had set the cut trees between 2 camps on fire. Yesterday I heard that 30 people had died in the camps due to malaria and there are plenty of mosquitoes in this village which is being built in the middle of the Vavuniya jungle. Dealing with individuals who held or currently holding weapons from both sides of the war which is supposedly finished is almost a daily occurrence due to the nature of my work. The peace that I have that passes beyond all understanding can only come from God.

Despite the small challenges, being on the field is exactly what I wanted, when I planned to come to Sri Lanka. The first month I volunteered with a couple of Canadians for a week and then with ZOA a Dutch Refugee Care, Christian organization the second week. Subsequently ZOA hired me as the Coordinator for the Manik Farm office for the next few months, during this crucial time of need. I have enjoyed every bit, working for this organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees, displaced people and victims of Disaster.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of this team, working among the second largest refugee camp in the world. I have done all sorts of jobs in the past in North America, working for small and large corporations in various roles but the greatest fulfillment in my working career has been, working for these impacted people in the refugee camps. I enjoy my hectic work which usually begins at 6am and ends after 9pm (sometimes past midnight) with breaks for meals.  ZOA along with other INGO’s trying our best to meet some of their needs, but the needs are huge and in every direction that I turn. ZOA has been distributing food for 114,000 of the 300,000 people in the camps, essential items, building over 700 shelters, building 28 temporary learning sites within the camps for children, helping people with starting home gardening to grow vegetables, providing hygienic supplies, income generation plans, etc.

The greatest challenge personally is being away from my family for 10 days every 2 weeks.  I plan to do this for 6 months (of which 1 and ½ months has already passed) while being based in Manik Farm, Vavuniya, while my family live in Colombo. Living in a chalet built with coconut leaves (cadjan) with a concrete floor is interesting and far from the closed up houses that I lived in Canada and US. Being in the field, also gives me the opportunity to work with children in need and working towards identifying local partners to care for poor children through Hope4Child. Yesterday it was thrilling to visit the 131 orphans who were released from the camp in their new home in Vavuniya, although it was pathetic to see them all cramped up in an existing orphanage which already had 57 children. Through Hope4Child we want to care for children in smaller homes of less than 20, so that love and care could be provided to these children who are already traumatized. Have met a few dedicated people (and looking for more) who are willing to care for some children in their homes as well as coordinate the care of poor children in larger homes. There are many ways that you could reach out to these impacted people and please prayerfully consider your role.

Attached is a picture of me in the camp right in one of the tents where normally 10-12 people are cramped for the past few weeks. Please keep in touch by phone 0772306590, email or Skype account: suresh.mather. Blessings, Suresh Mather.
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