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Sri Lanka field report – TR working alongside affected communities

Team Rubicon has sent 14 volunteers to Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian support following the most severe flooding in the area for nearly 15 years.

Over 200 people lost their lives and nearly two weeks later more than 70 are still missing. Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre is currently monitoring nearly 600,000 people who have been directly affected. Further landslide and flood warnings continue to be issued across the country as the weather remains unsettled.

Team Rubicon reached out to partners in country to determine where we could have the most impact. Having made contact with Mohan Samarasinhe, who has three local charities serving language, education, sports and reconciliation, the team arrived in country a week ago and headed straight to one of the worst affected areas; the southern region of Matara, where 28,573 families have been affected.

The Team Rubicon volunteers, or ‘Greyshirts’ as they are known, have split into three teams to tackle different problems in the area.

TR Greyshirts work alongside residents of Matara District on bridge reconstruction (Image: Ellie Mackay)

In one village, one of the most important access routes was a bamboo bridge that enabled approximately 150 children to get to school, and their parents to work. This was washed away during the floods leaving many people with a long and prohibitively expensive daily detour. Thanks to the efforts of Mohan, educator Tharangi Yapa and local Minister Chandana Priyantha, one group of Team Rubicon volunteers, led by army veteran Lee Brindley, has been based at the nearby monastery. Here, they have built relationships to enable collaboration with the wider affected community and they are currently completing the replacement of the bridge with a sturdier, safer structure. Lee states, “A new substantial bridge completing this central transport route will give long-term access to education and employment for the whole community.”

A second team, led by Sarah Parsons, 23, is working with a particularly affected family. While many homes were severely damaged, local contacts directed the team to a family of five whose basic home was virtually destroyed, leaving them extremely vulnerable. Andy Hindhaugh, a volunteer who has previously deployed with Team Rubicon to disasters in the UK, explains, “We have been able to donate our time, materials, tools and expertise to help finish a permanent home with secure roofing, to provide the family with desperately needed shelter. We have gratefully received the assistance of the local community, friends and neighbours, making this a real team effort.”

TR volunteer Andy works with locals on house repairs (Image: Ellie Mackay)

Additionally, the extensive flooding has contaminated many of the wells in the area, which supply thousands of families with drinking water. This has created a substantial risk from dengue fever and diarrhoea which continue to pose a significant hazard to life. Even though lots of the wells have been pumped clear, many are still unsafe, and some communities remain unsure of which wells are sufficiently clean with several populations experiencing ongoing illness. A third group from Team Rubicon, led by outdoor instructor David Shephard, are assessing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) across the region. This includes testing water for contamination, giving guidance on water usage, and identifying locations where enhancing well structures would improve safe access to clean water in the future. David explains, “After such a widespread flood, access to clean water is a priority. Being able to help these communities return to using clean, safe well water, and reduce their reliance on temporary water supplies or expensive bottled water is an effective and lasting solution and is therefore extremely rewarding.”

Team Rubicon continues to collaborate with partners at all levels of the response to maximise impact and to ensure the long-term sustainability of relief efforts. Mohan is continuing to provide links with communities such as Candle Aid Lanka, a charity working in education and relief. At the national level, Team Rubicon Operations Manager, Charlie Peschardt, has been coordinating with various agencies including the UN in an attempt to ensure communities will receive support with ongoing needs over the coming months. Charlie says, “In situations like this, the challenge is usually ensuring that the right assistance gets to the people who need it at the right time. There are so many people who want to help, so by coordinating effort through agencies such as the National Disaster Management Centre and the United Nations, we can help maximise the effect of the resources available.”

The volunteers from Team Rubicon are predominantly military veterans who have repurposed their military skills for volunteering in crisis-affected areas. They are joined by dedicated civilians who offer specialist skills such in medicine and emergency response, health and safety, construction and expedition leadership.

The volunteer team will remain in Sri Lanka for approximately one more week.

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