One year on from tragedy

PUBLISHED: 11:29 19 January 2006 | UPDATED: 09:27 06 May 2010

The new homes which were built with donations from the UK

The new homes which were built with donations from the UK

Volunteer Jon outlines how charity cash is helping tsunami victims to rebuild their lives JUST over a year ago the lives of more than 200,000 people were literally washed away by one of the most devastating natural disasters of modern times. For the luck

Jon Kempson

Volunteer Jon outlines how charity cash is helping tsunami victims to rebuild their lives

JUST over a year ago the lives of more than 200,000 people were literally washed away by one of the most devastating natural disasters of modern times.

For the lucky ones living along the shores of 11 countries in Asia and Africa, the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 only took their homes and livelihoods.

As part of the huge international relief effort, Comet sister paper the Welwyn and Hatfield Times raised over £1,000 to help the survivors rebuild their lives.

The money was handed to volunteer aid worker Jon Kempson, of High Road, Beeston near Sandy, who was heading over to the hard-hit Matara district of Sri Lanka.

And a year on, we spoke to the 40-year-old again about the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done.

Jon said: "Money is still a big problem and there is a lot of money in the wrong places.

"There is too little looking to the future, the people need to earn a living for themselves. The best use of funds as far as we're concerned is to look to the long term."

The dad-of-two, who has just returned from a month-long trip to the region, revealed details of several projects he had undertaken with French volunteer group Espoir Sans Frontieres to help locals get back to work.

Firstly they gave villagers at Madhir West a much-needed morale boost after helping a resident called Isira to convert part of his temporary house into a shop.

"We paid for the extension and a fridge freezer which is a big thing for a small shop," said Jon.

"Now he can sell cold stuff. The villagers all come here to shop, sit down and have a chat and a cup of tea. It's a real focal point to the village.

"It's made a huge difference to their standard of living and the village as a whole."

The group also rented a large house around 8km from the village which they spruced up, fitted with industrial sewing machines and opened as a study centre for dress making.

Jon said: "There is a buoyant garment market there and this will empower women by giving them a trade. Afterwards they can go to a factory with skills or set up their own business."

He added: "It's about building lives back up. The women will always look after the family whereas the men will sometimes drink and gamble."

Jon also related the story of a man whose bra-making business is flourishing after they bought him a sewing machine.

"He now employs a local girl so her family now has money," he said.

People along the devastated coastline were generally beginning to pick themselves up, according to Jon who said he was always met with a smile and cup of tea whenever he visited.

But there was still a lot to do and the scars would still take a long time to heal, especially for some of the children.

"Isira's children are living with relatives inland," he said.

"They were all there when the tsunami hit and are too scared to live that close to the sea. It's the night time - it's pitch black and you can hear the sea. But they will get over it eventually."

If you want to donate money to the appeal to help Jon rebuild people's lives call the Welwyn and Hatfield Times newsdesk on 01707 327551.

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