Irish Independent

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Then there are the endless sick days, a problem compounded in Ampara recently by the outbreak of ‘Chikungunya’, a highly debilitating viral disease transmitted by mosquito bites.

Overbearing bureaucracy is a further impediment. One NGO working in the country has accused the Government of “laying red tape like trip wires across the humanitarian field.” Some agencies have become so hopelessly ensnared in difficult planning issues, surveying, tendering and design, that progress is now glacially slow.

This is the climate in which GOAL, miraculously, presses on with its remarkable building programme. They are spending a total budget in excess of $22 million here and the evidence of value for money is conspicuous in bricks and mortar. All schools are being constructed in tandem with a five-year Government education plan, so there will be no white elephants left behind.

The hope is that all projects will be complete by May or June next and the GOAL team – directed from Colombo by Corkman John Wain – will leave the coastal people of Sri Lanka to get on with their lives, buttressed by a level of infra-structure they could not have imagined before the killer waves thundered in.

“It hasn’t been easy” concedes Wain. “There are tensions. You can sense it. There’s trouble going on and it’s hard to get work done. At home, time is money. But here, we’re continually rewriting programmes because there’s always something that will knock it askew.

“We’ve ended up actually constructing twelve of the schools ourselves because we couldn’t get contractors. But the work is getting done and the hope is that we’ll be finished here by May. After that, all we can do is hope that Sri Lanka sorts out its problems.

“Because it’s sitting here in South Asia, with access to huge markets. India is on its doorstep. So is the Middle East. So is Australasia. It has huge opportunities to grow like Ireland, if only it can overcome the tensions.”

In Sainthamaruthu, such thoughts probably sound grandiose for now. Here, the ocean shadows every-thing, like some great water creature that will never again be trusted. They will fish it again for barracuda, they will swim in it, they may even find God in it.

But they will never quite forget the day it tossed their houses around like scatter cushions.

As Mohammad says from the front steps of the Sea Breeze: “When the wave came in, I remember thinking ‘My island is finished!’ But we’re still here today, still in shock maybe, but still breathing.”

Living in a better-built town, its face turned inward from the sea.

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