The family of murdered schoolgirl Leicestershire Rosie May Storrie have travelled to Sri Lanka to set up an orphanage in her memory. Ten-year-old Rosie May was suffocated at a Christmas party in 2003. Now her relatives want to start a centre for children who lost their parents in the Asian Tsunami. Rosie May's parents Mary and Graham have written this special diary of their trip.
December 18 2005
|"We feel this project has given us a glimmer of light after the last two years of darkness and despair."|
Travelled from Colombo to Unatawuna along coast road. As we drove out of the city into the suburbs onto the costal road we came across a few temporary wooden shelters next to houses that were obviously being rebuilt. Piles of bricks and stone were neatly stacked and it appeared that people were rebuilding their lives and there was some sense of order. We came across numerous signs that were telling us which charity was sponsoring the rebuilding of villages and schools. The enormity of the destruction was unfolding before us endless and unrelenting; it was easy to understand how so many lives had been lost.
We stopped to take photos of tumbled down houses, foliage now growing over rubble, the water marks where the wave reached still clearly visible, a chair left in the kitchen, roofs totally ripped off, abandoned house. Everywhere there was an eerie silence, then out of nowhere people would appear point to the rubble to tell us this was what was left of their homes. They described how they had lost their wives, husbands, children or parents. They still seemed shocked, even after a year, and could not believe what had happened to them. We could of course completely identify with them.
Outside one small cluster of shelters three women and a small boy were twisting string into bundles on a wheel. They told us they were not allowed to rebuild their houses where they originally were because the government has said all homes must now be built 200m away from the beach in case there was another Tsunami. They did not want to move inland because their husbands were fisherme. But because they had not moved they had been told it would now take up to three years to re-house them.
December 19 2005
|Mary with Tsunami orphans|
We visited a turtle hatchery situated on the beach in the district of Galle. It had been completely wiped out by the tsunami. Because the owner lives inland and his home was not damaged so he did not qualify for any compensation from the government to rebuild his business. He is not allowed to rebuild his restaurant again because it is on the beach and now has to be 100m away. Of course it has to be next to the turtle hatchery for the tourists. So he was scratching a living as best he could. The employees who had survived the Tsunami were working as volunteers. They had salvaged the tanks and started to build up the hatchery again. One adult turtle had lost both front flippers in the Tsunami and could not be able to be released back into the sea.
Our guide had lost his father and his home in the Tsunami and is living with a friend. His leg had been broken by the wave. He knows that the owner of the turtle hatchery could not pay him so he worked anyway because he loves the turtles. The situation was just so very sad it was obvious the business will never thrive as it did.
December 20 2005
A train that was derailed in Galle by the Tsunami killed nearly everyone on board. People climbed onto the roof for safety when the first wave came and then drowned as the second wave engulfed them. Some carriages remain on their side rusting. As we walked towards the train we were quickly surrounded by a group of women, some carrying young children. One of them explained that most of the casualties were the men, who had been fishing, and small children who were on the beach and could not save themselves. She said that once the people of this community had had a good life, now the men that had survived had lost their livelihood and they were reduced to begging from tourists. The new houses were clearly inadequate, there was no kitchen this was an open fire outside. We gave the children sweets. As we drove away the women clasped their hands together in prayer and said “God bless you”. It was an extremely humbling experience.
December 21 2005
In Galle alone 3,500 people were killed in the Tsunami, leaving over 1,000 parentless children. Boossa is a small village close to Galle where the Rosie May Home will be built. We intend to build a small family type home for 10 Tsunami orphans. Today we went to visit the site of the home, which is owned by the charity the People In Need Foundation. Over the last year it has established a child and youth development centre. We visited the pre-school, where 40 Tsunami children aged from three-to-six-years-old are now registered, and the IT school, where over 300 Tsunami people aged from 11-20 are enrolled on free IT courses. Outside is a playground for the pre school children built by volunteers with a tree house and swings and a slide. The residents of the Rosie May Home will benefit from the facilities of the centre and will be educated at the local school. The orphans will be sponsored at a cost of about £20 per month by families in the UK through the Rosie May Memorial Fund. Volunteers will also be able to go and work at the centre and offer their skills. We feel this project has given us a glimmer of light after the last two years of darkness and despair. Rosie May can never be replaced but we can now help children in desperate need through the legacy of our beautiful daughter. Rosie May was always aware and concerned for the welfare of other children less fortunate then herself, we know that she would be the first to help the Tsunami orphans.
December 22 2005
|Mary and orphans with Rosie May's photo|
Everyone here has a story to tell about the Tsunami and they are always willing to talk to us. We met a man today in Galle who had lost his daughter and granddaughter when the wave came. Before the Tsunami he was working as a tourist guide and was high up on the fort when the wave surged inland. He watched helpless as the horror unfolded below him and the wave took everyone and everything in its path.
No tourists came for the first three months after the Tsunami and even now there are very few. The man told us there has been no work for him as a tourist guide since the disaster. He showed us a photo of his surviving grandson who is now two years old and said that he had not been able to give him any milk for the last four days as he had no money. We offered him money but he refused and said that if we wanted to buy milk for the baby he would accept it as a gift. We went and bought enough milk to last the baby two months and he blessed us and rushed off to take it home.
We have been received by the people of Sri Lanka so warmly, they are happy to let us take photos and tell us they have had a lot of help from British charities. It is their own Government that they seem to be disappointed and angry with. There is evidence of many charities working on projects rebuilding communities from different countries and British Red Cross containers filled with drinking water are in most places. We are however shocked to see families still living in frame tents and wooden temporary shelters a year on and it appears that many people have not had help to regain their livelihood and provide for their family again.
December 26 2005 (first anniversary of Tsunami)
We visited a feeding station in Hambantota, which we are funding for a year. Today they held a service dedicating the centre to Rosie May. The image of the children waiting for us excitedly in the doorway, with the two youngest clutching palm leaves (a traditional Sri Lankan gift), will always stay with us. There are now 16 Tsunami children aged from five-12-years-old attending the Smile centre every day. We presented a plaque and photograph of Rosie May. As the children sang and danced for us we looked at the photograph of our darling daughter smiling at them and we smiled too.
Our sons, 18-year-old Luke and Laurence aged 15, handed out gifts that we had bought for the children and chaos broke out with the sheer excitement of it all. The boys raced outside with their new footballs - wanting my lads to play catch and volley ball with them. The girls clutched their soft toys protectively; an older girl gave hers to a younger girl to hold whilst she marked out hopscotch with a stone in the dirt. Then tugging at my skirt they beckoned me over to play, of course I knew instinctively this is what Rosie May would have played with them if she were here right now so I threw the stone and hopped with an ache in my heart. One boy has only one leg and uses a crutch which he zooms around on at a terrific speed. His parents sent him out begging until he came to the Smile centre. One five-year-old boy does not have a home but lives with his parents in the road which they clean every day and then bed down on for the night.
The cook had prepared a special meal for us of rice and chicken curry followed by Mango ice cream obviously a rare treat judging by the total silence that fell as the children scraped every last spoonful out of their bowls. After lunch once again we caused complete mayhem as Luke and Laurence handed out whistles - much to the children’s delight!
Eventually the teacher managed to calm the children down and they stood in line to say goodbye. One by one they kneeled and touched our feet with their hands clasped in prayer, the older children took the younger ones home. We were asked if we would like to walk into the village and see where the children live so we walked down the dusty road and were met by some of the children from the centre. They had changed out of their best things and were now wearing dirty ragged clothing. The houses were basically one or two rooms dark and dingy with a few plastic chairs and a selection of pots and pans in the corner.
The future for these children has been made brighter by the Smile centre they will now have a better start in life. The next stage is to open a pre school at the centre and this time next year to start to build a children’s home which we will fund as Rosie May Home Two.
As we travelled back in the dark candles placed along the beaches had been lit for loved ones lost in the Tsunami. It was an extraordinary sight to see the flames flickering. Each one represented a life that had been snuffed out in an instant and without warning. This of course we can identify with. After the last two years of darkness and despair we feel that the Smile centre has given our family a glimmer of light just like it has for the Tsunami children.