04/12/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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New year celebration, among the most forgotten of the tsunami

by Melani Manel Perera
Dozens of families are "forgotten" by the government, which is holding in camps refugees with water and electricity problems - 5 toilets for 52 families. It is not giving them new homes, nor work or schooling. A gift package of a few euro will make the celebration of the new year more serene, on April 13.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - A gift package for the poorest victims of the tsunami of 2004, to allow them to celebrate Suriya Mangallaya (Feast of the sun), the new year of the Sinhala and Tamils, which falls between April 13 and 14.  In the Sunanda Upananda camp in Moratuwa, a district of Colombo, 52 families, "forgotten" by the state, will receive 5 kilogrammes of rice, two coconuts, some clothing, dry food and handmade traditional sweets, at a value of about 1,500 rupees (9.10 euro).

Sugala Kumarie, coordinator of the People's planning commission, explains to AsiaNews that the situation in the camp is the worst in the district of Colombo.  There is a lack of water, electricity, sanitation services; there are 5 toilets for 52 families.  Most of the displaced persons cannot find work, and on the days when they do work they earn "about 500 rupees (3.04 euro) a day".

The poorest people live here, who at the moment of the tsunami were living in rented homes.  The government is not giving them new housing "because they did not have one when they were struck by the tsunami", one of them recounts.  And this, even though the international donations, managed by the government, are intended to provide housing to all the victims of the disaster, without distinction.

But today, the refugees are enthusiastic over "this expensive food package. Now", Roslin, aged 55, tells AsiaNews, "we all can enjoy our new year dawn preparing a good meal, and rice milk, too. With the high prices of rice, coconut, flour and coconut oil, how could we have prepared these sweets for the new year?".

The gift comes from two Sri Lankans living in France, Mr Thusitha Rajapaksa and Ms Apsara Viangoda, who have not forgotten the victims of the tsunami.  To celebrate the new year, children have prepared 12 kind of songs and dances.  In the camp, there are various talented children, but they explain that "when our parents cannot afford to send us to school, we do not go". Ravishani Niranjala recalls that they have been living in the camp, in the midst of so many problems, "for three years now. We need to go out and live. To see the world and grow up in it".

Many friends and relatives of the two benefactors are joining in the celebration.  Together they will observe the movement of the sun and stars in the sky, for good luck: this year the favourable moment will be at 6 :29 p.m. on April 13.  April is called "bak" in Sinhala, a word that comes from the Sanskrit "bhagya", "lucky".  The new year is, perhaps, the main the common feast of Tamil Hindus and Sinhala Buddhists in the country.

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