Peter talks of tsunami aid role
One year on from the devastating Asian tsunami disaster, Norfolk minister Rev Peter Knight has been talking about his month-long mission to Sri Lanka.
Rev Knight, of Thurton, was asked by the Bishop of Norwich Graham James to visit the disaster-hit island following a “call to do something” and a series of e-mails.
The civil war stricken, teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka, just 20 miles from India, was hit hard by the tsunami, Peter told a recent Bramerton Group of Churches men’s breakfast.
“The tsunami comprised three or four waves with the second and third waves producing a ‘washing machine’ effect, which literally washed away buildings, trees and caused 30,000 deaths,” said Peter.
“The place looked like what you saw on TV. Although the bodies had gone, there were people’s belongings strewn everywhere. Most houses were sheared off their foundations and many roads were washed away.”
Peter’s work on the east coast was to befriend the local vicar, set up a regional office to assist the disaster relief and to “sow seeds” of encouragement to get local church members more involved.
He donned a crash helmet as he rode pillion on a motorcycle to visit camps where people had lost relatives and often all of their possessions.
There he helped the church identify groups of people who could start work soon, including carpenters, bricklayers, fishermen and domestic cooks who could sell food in market places.
Besides providing extra educational facilities for some children, the church was seen to have a successful local network and encouraged charities to buy locally and so also help stimulate the local economy.
Despite this activity the local Bishop stressed that the church would act humbly and low key, not advertising or labelling donated items.
Peter’s host Father Chandrin had been involved in the peace process between the Tamils and the government. With the backdrop of ongoing tension, soldiers were high profile and Peter recalls a scary moment at the funeral of a journalist: “I heard a loud noise and rushed for cover only to find that the locals had let off fire crackers.”
While two thirds of the coast had been damaged, the higher mountainous area was unaffected and Peter was able to visit tea plantations and some churches.
On Peter’s arrival the locals were saying, “The sea that gave us life has given us death.” On his departure, with the clear up underway and plants budding the mood had begun to improve, “In place of death, new life springs up.”
Report and photograph by Kevin Gotts
Pictured above is Rev Peter Knight.