Yesterday I got a note from my friend Chinthu.
Chinthu was one of the first villagers I'd met when I turned up in what was left of his home village, Peraliya, on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, shortly after the tsunami that swept South Asia five years ago on Christmas Eve. With a gaggle of three other independent volunteers, who serendipitously landed in a village where over 2,000 people were killed, Chinthu and a delegation of villagers, we spent five months, and time since, organizing and helping to rebuild their village, and livelihoods. It's been a long challenging slog, but in the years since the disaster, I've watched children, a school and families grow. I've been witness to desperation, great loss and the horrors of war and disaster, but also to countless acts of generosity and some darn effective guerilla humanitarianism.
None of this would have been possible without the compassionate financial and spiritual support of the Telluride Community. While I was in Sri Lanka, friends set up an account to which locals and strangers alike donated generously. There were school bake sales, servers donating hard earned tips and businesses stretching an already stretched bottom line to help.
Local contributions went towards everything from infrastructural needs such as potable water, sanitation, pre monsoonal drainage, soil retention, food crops and localized reef regeneration. Self sustainability and micro businesses were started with donations of cement brick machines, materials, saw mills, fishing boats and nets, tools, coconut oil mills, tea shops and a spice grinding mill. These and all other projects and contributions have brought some semblance of normality back to over a thousand lives.
Now, after many notable disasters, the world looks at the work of global NGOs in a new light, better and worse. This has and continues to be a unique immersion into the power of individual, independent compassionate action.
I am eternally grateful to everyone that stepped up with a dollar, blessing or a prayer. The Telluride Foundation and Global Giving were crucial, sorting through the muck of bureaucracy, mobilizing town juju and facilitating big picture logistics. Friends, you know who you are, and I send you my appreciation.
All this time later it's easy to forget how the world and our own small community came together to make a real difference, for real people, at a most desperate time.
Chinchu and the people of Peraliya will never forget the intention and actions of a small village in the mountains, half way around the world.
– Bruce French