New boats help families look to future

BACK in January 2005, readers of The Evening Star and Lady Abigail Cattermole from Ipswich responded to the plight of 600 tsunami victims at the fishing port of Negombo in Sri Lanka.

By Tracey Sparling

BACK in January 2005, readers of The Evening Star and Lady Abigail Cattermole from Ipswich responded to the plight of 600 tsunami victims at the fishing port of Negombo in Sri Lanka.

The £4,000 donated, bought 13 fishing boats, 20 smaller canoes and five houses. Two and half years on, we catch up with the victims to see how you helped them build new lives.

BUILT like an ox with arms of iron, fisherman Anthony Fernando enthusiastically shows off his boat.

The craft, his most prized possession, was donated to him from funds raised by readers of the Evening Star and Lady Abigail Cattermole precisely two years ago.

A gentle man of great strength, he apologises for not being able to take his new guests, journalist Steve Gravenor and photographer Nicky Lewin, to sea.

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The engine of the boat - which he has named The Lady Abigail after its chief benefactor - needs attention and it would not be safe on the rough Indian Ocean on this day.

He hopes to be back in action within three days. It is a minor setback.

He recalls how at a time when he had lost all, the boat and engine gave him hope and put him back to work. He was able to feed his family again and the whole infrastructure of a Sri Lanka fishing family was slowly restored.

“I have never had such a gift” he said. “My house, boat and possessions had all gone. Then at the camp nobody came and we became hungry”.

The Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 took no lives at Negombo. At first this was considered a gift. They had all been spared although six hundred people lost their homes.

But as the area was not as serious as other parts of the idyllic island of Sri Lanka, the survivors found themselves forgotten and alone. They were found by Nicky and Steve who were returning from a three-week assignment covering the disaster for national newspapers. The journalistic pair, who were filthy and tired from staying in remains of buildings destroyed by the tsunami, intended to clean up and recover for a couple of days before returning to the UK.

Instead they stumbled upon the serious situation at Negombo. The story they carried across the world was printed by the Evening Star and readers responded. Lady Abigail Cattermole ran a charity dinner and £………was collected.

But assistance for the refugees at Negombo came quickly - in an unusual way. After returning to the UK Nicky and Steve were dispatched straight back out to Sri Lanka by the magazine Paris Match. On their way to an area receiving little help and teeming with Tamil Tigers, the pair stopped by at Negombo.

To their surprise they heard that two women had read the Evening Star article had turned up at the Negombo camp. Seeing the worsening conditions and the hungry people the two women went to the capital Colombo and raised the roof at government level. The forgotten Negombo refugees were fed and fresh tents were bought in. They also got protection from the Sri Lanka army.

The identity of the two ladies remains a mystery to this day, and as has to how they came to read the article. It is possible they saw it on www.eveningstar.co.uk or that an Evening Star reader contacted them. But the fantastic result was the turning point for these people. The refugees had reached the bottom of their despair and now, the slow climb back to normal life was afoot.

Nicky said: “It is worth remembering that these people had been forgotten and the Evening Star features really turned this around for them.

“Their situation when Steve and I came across them was very serious and it surprised me that a newspaper from a town so far away can actually have that effect.”

When he returned again from Sri Lanka, he discussed the funds with the Evening Star and Lady Abigail.

Nicky said: “It was decided to buy as many full-size fishing boats as possible, and we managed to negotiate to buy 13 boats, all supplied with reconditioned engines. This put some of the refugees back to sea and doing what they do best; fishing. It brought extra work for whole families in terms of selling fish and repairing nets. 20 small canoes were also supplied and this got more men back to sea.

“The idea was to get the whole infrastructure of the lives of the fishing community started again.”

On the beach the Marcus family Anthony 41, Dalhah 12, Getha 34 and Ivon 14, stood next to the boat -named Evening Star - that readers of The Evening Star purchased for them in 2005.

They rebuilt their beach home as they weren't one of the lucky families to be rehoused inland. The family wished to convey their sincere thanks to the readers of The Evening Star who provided the means to earn a living again.

Without the boat their future was indeed bleak. Now they are living once again in the fashion they did before the tsunami tossed their world into the air.

But the final word goes to Anthony Fernando, who was the first to receive a boat, and the first to get back to the sea.

For two years now he has fished and gradually rebuilt his families life. The engine now needs repair and for this he must find the funds. The Indian Ocean is a rough place and nothing lasts for ever. Two years later however, the boat is as good as the day the Evening Star handed it to him.

“Thank you to my friends from so far away for coming to my rescue” said Anthony. “My life seemed finished but the boat put my whole family in business.”

N Are you raising money for a cause abroad? Contact the Newsdesk on 01473 324789 or e-mail eveningstarnews@eveningstar.co.uk.

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Meet one of the families who you helped build a new home for. In your Evening Star on Monday.

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