Ten days after the Tsunami

Everything in the room swayed and moved in different directions for about five minutes. This was our experience of the Tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004. Among the people were one month old babies and young mothers. They did not want to be separated from their families and refused to come into town where we could have given them better care. The crowd did not want to leave the Sisters either, even though the Government offered them their schools. They felt more secure with us.

Sr. Teresa with two Superiors of Karaikal and I went down the coast. We visited a good number of villages, talking to the victims. Some had lost as many as seven members of their families, many of them children or mothers who were trying to save their little ones. The men who were fishing elsewhere were saved. The wave came up so silently that people were hardly aware of the black water that engulfed them, churned them around and took them kilometers forward and then dragged them into the sea. The next wave brought them back on to the land dead or seriously injured. Some had the good fortune of clinging on to a tree or something else that turned out to be their lifeline. We went looking for orphans and found that mostly children had died.

In Nagappattinam, it was horrifying to see huge boats and ships sitting on verandahs, or even on roof tops. These boats can cost between one to 15 lakhs. The different types of nets for various fish cost about one lakh each. Those who have lost all cannot start life again without boats and equipment. Bodies are pinned under debris and the air smells foul. People are huddled together away from the coast.

We went on to Velangani, it was deserted. On 26th, the people had left the church after the Tamil Mass and gone down to the beach. Others entered for the Malayalam Mass. The first wave mixed the people with sheets of roofing, cutting them up. Photos of the dead look terrible and not all are exposed yet – many people are there for those who are searching for their loved ones. The water went up to the Church steps and then divided. Those who were in its way or ran out of the Church were swept out. They found more than 2000 bodies. Even after ten days, they found some bodies that had to be cremated because they were too highly decomposed. The brick shops in front of the church stand silent and empty. Nothing remains of all those on the shore. The water level has risen and there is no beach. We met a priest, an eyewitness who gave us gruesome details. We visited the Diocesan home for the aged – an absolute mess. It reminded me of Cheyur. They were able to save most of the inmates.

This evening there was a meeting with the Social Welfare Board, from Pondicherry. We will take in all the orphans below 10. At least they will be safe with us. We will also accept old people. The Sisters are doing their best to co-operate in the Relief work.

Sr. Bernadette Pinto
Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny

*Note : 1 Lakh =100,000 Rupees = Au$3027.32

Santos the Woodcarver

Dave Tacon

This article and photograph have been reproduced with
permission from Dave Tacon and Wood Carving magazine (UK).

santos and one of his wood carvingDave Tacon tells of a remarkable young man who, despite the odds, has set himself up with a woodcarving business in Sierra Leone.

Born into a large family of peasant farmers in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province, Santos is a shy, softly-spoken young man in his early 20s. More than half of Santos’ life has been spent in the midst of one of the last century’s most brutal civil wars, which shuddered to a halt in 2002.

When he was in his teens, Santos had his right hand sadistically amputated by dissident soldiers who appeared in his isolated jungle village. At gunpoint, they hacked off his hand and the hand of his younger cousin with a rusty machete before locking them inside a thatched hut. There they set fire to it and left their victims to burn while they moved on to the next village. It was 1998.

At this time amputations were one of the brutal trademarks of the Sierra Leonean war. Whilst the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was responsible for the majority of atrocities, amputations were practiced by all warring factions. This, along with the abduction of children to jungle bases where they were brutalised, forcibly drugged and trained to maim and kill, is one of the horrors that put Sierra Leone on the international map.
DeterrentSantos – taking a break

During 1996, the RUF infamously launched “Operation Stop Elections” where amputation became the most terrorising deterrent against civil society, casting votes in multiparty elections. The democratic ally-elected government was soon ousted by a force known as the Armed Forced Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in a military coup. These dissident soldiers formed an alliance with the RUF. When the AFRC was in turn forcibly removed from office by a force of Nigerian-led “peacekeepers” from the Economic Community of West African States, many former government soldiers went bush and joined the rebels.

Santos fell victim to these rebel soldiers who became known as ‘sobels’. These ‘sobels’ may have wanted to punish Santos’ community for its tacit support of forces loyal to the country’s democratic ally-elected government. In a community that struggles to survive by subsistence agriculture, the act of cutting off one’s limbs is tantamount to cutting off the future livelihood of a peasant farmer and his family.

Miraculously, Santos escaped from the burning hut and, like many thousands of other civilian casualties of the conflict, ended up as a refugee in Freetown, the nation’s capital. Here he sought shelter in the Freetown Amputee Camp. Yet Santos’ handicap led him to discover a talent previously unknown to him.

Outside the Freetown Amputee Camp, he was noticed carving stone miniatures, left-handed, by nuns from the Cluny Sisters Catholic Mission. They helped him to learn further by organising an apprenticeship with a local woodcarver. Through money earned selling his sculptures to foreign nationals and while working with other amputees in the garden of the Sisters’ mission, Santos gradually earned enough to commission local blacksmiths to forge tools for him. He was also able to rent a shed of corrugated iron, which he now uses as a workshop.

Santos’ story is one of countless others in a country where untold thousands of civilians suffered the brunt of one of the previous century’s most devastating civil conflicts.

This war crippled the small West African nation and, according to the UN, relegated it to the place of the World’s poorest. Santos continues to hone his craft and make a living in the trying conditions of Freetown.