Hope for the people of Negombo

TOMORROW the people of Negombo will begin a brighter future– thanks to the readers of the Evening Star.Thanks to the money raised by you, twelve fisherman from the tsunami devastated Sri Lankan village can soon start work again.

TOMORROW the people of Negombo will begin a brighter future- thanks to the readers of the Evening Star.

Thanks to the money raised by you, twelve fisherman from the tsunami devastated Sri Lankan village can soon start work again.

Originally eight boats were to be bought from the thousands of pounds raised through the Evening Star's Life after Tragedy appeal.

But a deal was negotiated to stretch the money that little bit further enabling twelve boats to be bought.

Former Star photographer Nicky Lewin highlighted the plight of the Negombo soon after the tsunami hit.

Apparently forgotten by the international aid effort, Negombo was a village left with nothing.

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Pictures, taken by Mr Lewin of the broken community and of four-year-old Rebecah who was suffering from chicken pox and starving and homeless captured the hearts of readers.

Entirely dependent on the fishing industry to survive, the villagers were desperate for new boats to get out on the water again and there were fears that unless help could be found the whole community would have to be dispersed and would disappear completely.

However now, thanks to the money raised by you, 12 fishermen are about to start work again.

The building of the first in a fleet of boats paid for through the appeal is due to be completed on Monday.

Mr Lewin, who has stayed in Negombo, has helped villagers negotiate prices for the building of the boats.

He has been working with a team of locals and together they agreed it would be better to buy a smaller number of boats with engines rather than a large fleet of canoes. With the monsoon season now underway for the next three months, having just canoes would have made it too dangerous for the fishermen to work.

There are currently 600 homeless people in Negombo and many families who are desperate for one the Evening Star's 12 boats.

This week they faced another scare as another earthquake struck and tsunami warnings were issued.

Lots will be drawn tomorrow to decide who will get the new boats.

Speaking from Negombo, Mr Lewin said there could be up to 60 families hoping for a boat.

He said: "This is going to be a cruel situation. The priest will announce it on Sunday morning, some will be lucky and some will not. It is a desperate hope - everything has gone and this is the road back.

"I think I will have a heavy heart when I look at some people's faces."

With no other work available, youngsters in Negombo are taught to fish as soon as possible and the strong work ethic means the whole family joins in.

Mr Lewin said: "Sitting in a refugee camp is a demoralising and depressing situation, you are just relying on other people.

"It has been over three months and that has been a long time for people to sit around and rely on handouts and that has become more depressing as time goes on.

"This fishing way of life is different to other jobs, there is nothing else for them."

Seeing the first boat take to the water is likely to be an emotional event, not only for the locals but also for Mr Lewin, who has spent a number of weeks in Sri Lanka.

He said: "These people have become friends and perhaps more so, maybe like another family.

"I think people should feel very good about what they have done and very proud of themselves. People here are so grateful, they say they can't believe people on the other side of the world care so much about them."

n. Donations for the Life after Tragedy appeal should be sent c/o Geraldine Thompson, Editor's Secretary, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

n. Let us know of your fundraising efforts for the appeal by calling the Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 324788.

Mr Lewin said the people of Sri Lanka are desperate to welcome back tourists.

Visitor numbers have plummeted since the tsunami disaster but many areas rely on foreign tourists visiting to keep their economy alive.

Spending time in the village of Negombo, Mr Lewin has made friends with the locals and discovered just how much visitors mean to them.

Mr Lewin said of the children at the village school: "They are happy to see a European face because the tourists haven't been coming and they have missed them.

"They absolutely need people to start coming back. A few have come but nothing like the numbers needed.

"The children have been asking where the tourists are. It is not dangerous to go there, it is absolutely brilliant."