Five years after killer tsunami, Rotary continues to help affected communities rebuild and recover
, (December 16, 2009) -- For Kerstin Jeska-Zimmerman, a Rotary club member from Gera, Germany, a relaxing vacation in Sri Lanka five years ago turned into a life-changing event when she suddenly found herself in the middle of a disaster zone created by the devastating tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004.
Triggered by an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean, the so-called Boxing Day Tsunami killed almost 230,000 people in eleven countries, leaving millions homeless and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Jeska-Zimmerman immediately began assessing needs, returned home, and mobilized German Rotary clubs, which quickly raised nearly US$2.4 million in cash and in-kind donations, including medical equipment, medicine and cargo transport. Within days, nine tons of emergency medical supplies left Germany, much of it destined for a hospital in Galle, Sri Lanka, where she knew firsthand the need was great.
Rotary members around the world -- including those in the disaster area -- were responding in a like manner. The international disaster relief charity ShelterBox, supported by Rotary clubs worldwide, quickly raised $10.5 million to ship 13,000 ShelterBoxes filled with tents and other emergency supplies to Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and the Maldives, enough to house 130,000 people.
As the major disaster relief organizations stepped in, Rotary -- a global humanitarian service organization -- focused on projects addressing rebuilding and recovery. The 62 Rotary clubs in Sri Lanka, where 187 coastal schools were destroyed, raised $12 million to build 25 schools.
“The Tsunami could take away schools, homes, possessions, and even loved-ones, but it would never be allowed to take away the spirit of children,” said K.R. Ravindran, Rotary International Director and member of the Rotary Club of Colombo. “In the space of just 36 months Rotary enabled 15,000 children to go back to a better school than the one they had before,” he added.
Scores of recovery projects in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were funded by Rotary’s Solidarity in South Asia Fund, to which Rotary clubs contributed nearly $6 million. Among them are a health center and youth center in Aceh Province, Indonesia, dedicated by Rotary International President John Kenny in November this year.
An additional $484,000 came in the form of Rotary matching grants to support projects in which Rotary clubs in other countries -- from Australia to Denmark, South Africa to the United States -- partnered with clubs in the affected region. The range of projects includes housing developments, orphanages, water and sanitation systems, solar oven technology, community-based credit unions, and replacement of destroyed fishing trawlers.
As for Jeska-Zimmerman, she has returned to Sri Lanka every December since the disaster to check on the hospital that the German Rotary clubs have essentially “adopted” -- and where 40 to 70 babies are born each day. This year, she travels in January to coordinate a $300,000 project that will equip two new delivery rooms and two operating rooms.
“The response was amazing,” she says, reflecting back on her initial plea for aid. “The Rotary network was able to mobilize -- despite a complete breakdown of communication -- an unprecedented donation drive thousands of miles away to aid some of the most vulnerable victims. Truly amazing.”
Rotary – an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide in humanitarian service - has more than 1.2 million members in more than 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries and geographic regions. For more information, visit www.rotary.org.