Just a simple story told in letters
« I will not give a penny to any collection, but
Evelina Rioukhina, UNECE
A charitable collection as a reaction to a disaster is one of the ways
of expressing solidarity. The most impressive wave (in this case a symbolic
and almost literal wave) of solidarity followed the recent tragic events
of the tsunami. It was an astonishing and unprecedented display of solidarity
all over the world. Everyone, literally everyone, including children and
the aged, in one way or another participated in the collections, including
also the United Nations family. I hardly met anyone who was not willing
to help, often most generously, or who questioned the purpose. (The courage
of United Nations staff was demonstrated also in other ways. UN Special
reported this in previous issues and will return to it in the future).
Regretfully, in the midst of all the generosity, while collections were
organised all over the world, a few very sceptical articles appeared in
the media. Our editorial board also received such a letter, published
in this issue of UN Special. It expresses a point of view that I have
often met among my close friends, but with which I find it difficult to
agree. The letter was hard to read when the events were so tragic and
affected so wide a range of countries and nations, causing so great a
number of victims. I regret to say that I was very much against publishing
it when it came although clearly everybody has his or her own point of
view and should be free to express it. While reading the letter I remembered
the words of a close friend of mine who wrote to me exactly the same when
he learned that I was involved in the collections and related activities.
«I will not give a penny to any collection», he said, «neither
to our national, nor to your international collections, I do not believe
that the money collected will go to the people who most need it or that
it will be equitably distributed to the population affected. I know myself
what to do».
He then bought an air ticket Zurich-Colombo (he lives in Zurich) and himself
flew to Sri Lanka, the country dear to him, the country that he has been
visiting for many years, where he closely knows the local people and the
Swiss community. He stayed there for a month, and almost daily wrote us
letters - diaries reporting on the situation, on how help is being distributed,
on what the Swiss community is doing
there, on how the religious community is involved, on the regions badly
affected, etc. Here are some extracts from these letters:
«The first impression briefly - our hotel (the hotel where we
– several close friends from different cantons of Switzerland, from
Italy, UK and Germany - usually get together every year around mid-August,
unfortunately this place was badly hit by the tsunami – note by
ER) the hotel where we usually stay when we too go to Sri Lanka and
which was badly hit by the tsunami, note by the author of the article)
functions well. Restaurant, rooms, swimming pool, pool-bar are in good
state. The beach is almost deserted : ten tourists on the whole beach.
Everything, literally everything, including all the shops, have disappeared.
The boats have been swept from the Port of Beruwela to the road of Galle».
«I met some of the traders I know and distributed some thousands
of rupies to them. The women had tears in their eyes. I hope that now
at least several families are happier».
«I am trying to find the monk. Apparently he left his island. I’ve
heard that he is in refugee camp, somewhere near Colombo, I asked that
a message be passed to him that I wanted to see him. Apparently
his island was badly affected and it was dangerous to stay on this island
(Buddhist monk Rev. W. Sarananda Thero from tiny holy island-temple
of Panchakapaduwa- ER). As soon as I get more information, I will
let you know».
«Today finally I found the monk and passed him your letter. He is
grateful for your help and will write you (he did already! –
ER). He works very hard. He organises help for the western coast
of the island and went there for some time. He helps to distribute supplies
for the schools: school books and other necessities for the children.
The weather is excellent here».
Today I went to Allutghama to see the scale of destruction there. Some
parts of the village are badly hit. I tried to find the rice shops and
the people from these shops, from the place where you were taking photos
for your “rice” book. This place does not exist any longer,
or it exists only at your photos. Incidentally, have you published any
of those (Yes, I did, two of them are included in the “Rice”
book! – ER).
«I have heard and I have read in the local newspapers that the international
help to the victims of tsunami is in full power. Besides the international
help, there is a huge wave of help by individuals who have come from Switzerland,
Germany and elsewhere and who do a lot for the homeless.»
«I met with the president of the local Swiss community (the lady
whom you met here last year) she helps with her own money buying clothes,
food and the construction of ten houses. More news soon».
«Two months after the catastrophe the situation in this region is
quiet. Little by little life recovers. What is needed for this country
are tourists! Thirty persons are staying in our hotel. In the region worst
affected in the south they still find bodies, but everywhere the help
is in full swing, sometimes, I have the impression that there is too much
of it, a constant stream of helicopters transporting goods. It is very
hot, 36 degrees !!!»
«Now it is really hot here - 41 degrees today! Not a single drop
of rain. I make long excursions, as we did last summer and visit all neighbouring
hotels to see the situation and damage there. Some hotels are not affected
at all, but the beached are deserted.»
«This will be my last card. The weather is always wonderful. And
it is always very hot. As I have seen that there is a lot of help provided
to the victims of tsunami in the region and in the South, I have helped
one school that is particularly badly off in the village: 62 children
had no school uniform, nor even bottles for water, not a single schoolbook.
So I have bought them all this. Regards and soon back to Switzerland!»
PS. It is clear that not all of us can buy a ticket and go to the other
side of the Globe to help. That is why many of us participate in the collections,
the least that most of us can do to express solidarity. The story above
is one of the numerous examples of different ways expressing solidarity.
From the TV and newspapers we know that many persons, sceptical about
the collections, did the same; others, who could not afford to pay themselves
for such a journey, nonetheless volunteered for work in the affected areas,
taking leave from their jobs in Europe to do so. To give or not to give
a penny is not the question, there are different ways of participating
and of moral accounting which cannot always be measured in terms of pennies