A civil war which raged for 30 years and the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 has left Sri Lanka battered and bruised – but thanks to Caritas it is now in a “recovery process” and its future is much brighter.
As head of Caritas Sri Lanka from 2009 to 2016, Fr George has first-hand knowledge of the extent of rebuilding that was needed to get the country back on its feet.
“Straight after the tsunami we worked in emergency mode and then in recovery – rebuilding the lives of people. There was reconstruction of houses, helping people to get back to normal lives and we did a lot of trauma counselling.
“We assisted them to get back to their original livelihood and provided support with fishing boats and nets. With the help of Caritas Australia and the Victorian Government we were able to build a huge fish net factory in the northern province which also created jobs for about 100 widows who had lost their husbands in the war.
“Caritas built about 15,000 permanent houses, helped 80,000 people regain their livelihood, built nearly 50 schools and also helped 200,000 children to get back to their education,” he told The Southern Cross during a two-week visit to the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Fr George said Sri Lanka also had to deal with the effects of the “man-made disaster of civil war”. .
“When the war ended there was a huge humanitarian refugee camp with 380,000 people – the largest camp of its type in the world at the time and Caritas looked after almost 100,000 people for a very long time.
“After the war we were helping to build houses, churches, schools and rebuilding infrastructure. It was major.
“My nine years with Caritas Australia was not an easy period for me!”
Today Fr George is based in Sydney, working as Caritas Australia’s manager of Community Engagement. He is responsible for spreading the word amongst Church networks about the good work undertaken by the Catholic international aid agency.
“Every Australian who contributes to Project Compassion has a right to know what happens to the contribution they make and that’s why Caritas Australia is making a special effort this year to tell the success stories for the past few years.”
As evidenced in Sri Lanka – where only 6 per cent of the population is Catholic – Caritas Australia works in any community where it sees a need.
Fr George said one of his fondest memories of his time with the agency in Sri Lanka was the work it undertook in a small remote village in the eastern part of the country.
“There were 98 families there and 90 had lost their husbands in the war. When we arrived we found the children were semi-naked, they didn’t have clothes and there were no schools. This village was in a high security zone and there was a military camp nearby and so the people couldn’t move freely and a lot of women were being abused. They didn’t have proper food and the children were begging.
“So it was very challenging, but I said I was going to do something for these families.”
With the help of Caritas, the families were given goats and two chickens, and helped with establishing home gardens. After six months, Fr George returned to find all families had some sustainable income.
“It wasn’t much – perhaps $1 a day – but it made a huge difference and meant the children started having a meal and the women stopped being abused, and then education started in the village.”
After one year Caritas was able to obtain funding to build houses.
“Before I came to Australia I went to the village and it was a totally different atmosphere. They had built their houses, they had a steady income and the children had started going back to school.
“That was my proudest moment in my entire life. This was the best experience, it was amazing for me.”Jump to next article