Flood Disaster in Sri Lanka: A Line of Aid for Pregnant Women

Michael Roberts

ONE: “Age shall not weary them” is an evocative phrase for Australians.[1] Myrna Setunga is from my generation of Peradeniya undergraduates and now lives in retirement in Battaramulla. A veritable dynamo she threw herself into relief aid in the aftermath of the 26th December 2004 tsunami. She identified a special arena of need and developed a scheme supplying a basket of essential supplies for pregnant women.[2] She pursued the same avenue in the IDP camps with aid from friends abroad.[3] She is now embarking on this line of relief aid in selected localities. I endorse the venture wholeheartedly and place this “Set of Notes” in the public realm so that others, not just feminists but one and all, may be encouraged to support this line of aid. Myrna’s desire for anonymity is transcended by the good that is in progress.

 Myrna preparing her basket of essential items for mothers and/or pregnant women, 2009

TWO:    Hi Michael. … I was just about to send emails to my SL friends who live abroad to see if I can drum up some financial support for my project to help pregnant women affected by the floods. As I always do I wait for the first mad rush of donations by the general public. People have very generously donated dry rations, water and other essentials. This will probably last about a week, two at most. I have waited for the dust to settle and today contacted with staff in the Kalutara Divisional Secretariat. Since Kalutara is one of the badly hit areas and is closest to where I am, I made enquiries about the number of pregnant women affected by the flood and landslides. The Secretariat staff too have not been able to reach some of the families in the more remote areas, but have come back with a request of assistance for 26 women in three of the most badly hit villages.

After the tsunami [in late 2004], I helped 100 women. I was able to help 910 women in the IDP camps and 40 women in the Kaduwela area after the 2014 floods. I have a good supplier who gives me great discounts for bulk purchase. With my experience in shopping and packing, I think I can keep the cost of each pack down to Rs 3,000.

The contents are as follows.

  1. A basin suitable for bathing the baby.
  2. 2 packets of baby shirts,
  3. 2 packets of baby nappies
  4. 1. Napkin pin.
  5. Baby soap with soap dish.
  6. 1. Draw sheet.
  7. 1. Soft mull baby towel.
  8. 1 plastic sheet.
  9. 1. Foldable baby mosquito net.
  10. 1. Lungi for the mother.
  11. 2 bed jackets.
  12. 1 sheet.
  13. 1 towel.
  14. Sanitary pads.
  15. Soap for the mother.
  16. Laundry powder.

Please let me know if there are people out there who can help financially. I will be personally distributing the packs.

I am still surprised that you email arrived just as I was about to contact you.

I have so far received Rs 55,000 as donations for flood relief. Looking forward to hearing from you

EMAIL TWO, 8 June 2017

Thanks a million Michael for your prompt response. Beside the cost of the packs I will have to hire transport to get to the women who live in the interior of Kalutara District. Your donation will make things very comfortable.

I have no objection to you posting an edited version of my email to you- but I hope people do not think this is being done for publicity. So far, I have avoided having my name on anything because all this is being done with donations and with a little elbow grease from me.

Bank details: Ms. M.S.Setunga, Nations Trust Bank, Talawathgoda Branch,, 245/2 Panipitiya RD, Thalawathgoda,

SWIFT CODE NTBCLKLX’

Savings Account; 030212002233

Thanks again Michael. Shall send you full reports with photos.

EMAIL NOTIFICATION to …..  msetunga@sltnet.lk

 A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Michael Roberts, “Relief Work in Aid of Mothers and Babies among the IDPs in 2009: Myrna Setunga’s Reports to Her Donor Pals THEN in 2009,” 28 September 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/relief-work-in-aid-of-mothers-and-babies-among-the-idps-in-2009-myrna-setungas-reports-to-her-donor-pals-then-in-2009/

Myrna Setunga, “Vavuniya Adventure: Setunga I,” 15 May 2009, 15 May 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/vavuniya-adeventure-setunga-i-15-may-2009/

Myrna Setunga, “Second trip to Vavuniya, 1st June to 5th June 2009: Setunga II, circa. 6 June 2009,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/second-trip-to-vavuniya-1st-june-to-5th-june-2009-setunga-ii/#more-7193

Myrna Setunga, “Third Trip to Vavuniya, 11-13 June 2009, Setunga III,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/third-trip-to-vavuniya-11-13-june-2009setunga-iii/

Myrna Setunga, “Fourth Trip to Vavuniya, 8-12 July: Setunga IV,” 13 July 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=7209&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

Myrna Setunga, “An Overview: Setunga V,” 22 July 2009, 22 July 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/an-overview-setunga-v-22-july-2009/

   ***  **

END NOTES

[1] It is one of the lines of an ode for the dead Australian servicemen delivered on Anzac Day 26th April …. And, as such, conveys the depth of feeling at this poignant moment.

[2] This focus was a chance discovery. While at a relief camp in Kalutara in January 2005 she chanced upon a distraught woman with an infant seated on the ground and discovered that the lady was menstruating and lacking in the necessary wherewithal. So, one could say from little ‘seeds’ do avenues of relief grow.

[3] In line with her INGO experiences in Se Asia, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, Myrna compiled reports for all the people who sent her money for tsunami and IDP aid. These reports were not meant for public presentation. When I banged into Myrna during my researches into the IDP camps in 2010 or so, I persuaded her to give me the whole lot because they provided insights into the massive relief efforts taking place at the Manik Fam camps and elsewhere. Such ethnographic reportage – because that was what they were in part –was a vital ingredient in countering the duplicity of some Tamil and other propagandists who were manufacturing lies and half-truths on the post-war rehabilitation efforts …. And doing so successfully because of the naivete and prejudice of so many people, including media personnel, in the West, References to these reports will be found at the end of this post, but also note one of the pictures she supplied in M. Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, 2014, p.203

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Filed under accountability, cultural transmission, heritage, landscape wondrous, life stories, patriotism, performance, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, working class conditions, world events & processes

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