Visitors since January 2005: 955278

Helpers in Distress

Attack on employees and President of Little Smile children's village

Incited by a school headmaster who is a member of JVP and our former construction manager, Mr. Bandula, a crowd of about 400 men - most of them who were drunk - tried to abuse one of the Little Smile employees on Thursday evening, the 23rd of June 2005. The incident happened following a school meeting, during which our employee had questioned this headmaster about several cases of assault and breach of law in public.

When the situation was about to escalate, when the employee was hit and driven through the village, I was alarmed by two horrified women. Two more employees of our children's village and me jumped into our van and drove up to the school building immediately. In front of the police station we met the mafficking crowd, amidst, our employee Dominic de Silva, who had been battered severely as one could see well. As the gate to the police station was locked, I parked the vehicle in front and hurried to help Dominic.

I tried to pacify the situation and meet the offenders in a calm and friendly way. It might have even been successful, if not the leaders of the crowd had not gone on inciting the others. Suddenly, all aggression was turned against me, but not against "me, Little Smile President" or "me, Michael Kreitmeir", but against me as a person with white skin. JVP polemic, combined with fomentation of envy of the Tsunami victims (who would get EVERYTHING then and who were made responsible for inflation) and spreading wrong information about foreign NGOs (misuse of donations), showed fatal effect for us: This attack turned out to be a planned act of aggression, as many of the men were armed with clubs, knives and chains.

The ringleaders had made use of the fact that the following day Government was supposed to sign the contract with LTTE about coordination and distribution of Tsunami Aid. Many of the villagers without any education were very open-minded about the paroles glorifying violence and jealousy.

I realised very quickly that I would not be able to control the situation much longer; therefore my employees and me decided to draw back to the police station carefully. When I turned my back to the crowd and tried to open the gate, I was attacked with a club. First, I took care that my employees could reach the police courtyard as I hoped that my white skin, size and physical strength would grant some sort of protection.

Out of the blue, I found myself in a hailstorm of stones, some of them as big as a man's fist. Two of those stones hit my head hard, and I was lucky to get into safety behind the gate.
Me injured, our van damaged .....

Then, people let off steam at our vehicle which still was parked in front of the police station. I was aware of the fact that the three policemen in the station were neither willing nor able to help us in case that the crowd tried to invade the station. So I left the area again and approached the raiders. They were so stunned about this that I reached the damaged vehicle without further problems and left the scene. I did so not to save the vehicle that is really important for the children's village, but to avoid the crowd setting it on fire and exciting the men even more.

Having hidden the van, I returned to the police station, walking right through the crowd. Only being together with them I was able to protect them. In the meantime, the local Buddhist monk had approached the scene, who had been asked to help. He took care that nobody would enter the police station before other policemen came from Haputale, which is another 30 km down the main road, to help.
Police in Little Smile children's village - saving us from the incited crowds

These policemen questioned us until late after Midnight, without any medical care given to us, right as if we had been the offenders, but not the victims.
My 18 year old son Manuel, who had been working in Little Smile village for 11 months then, had managed to get into the police station area, but when he tried to get back to the children's village, some men tried to pull him into a car and kidnap him.
Manuel was able to escape and called our employees from Little Smile, Galle. They arrived around 5 o'clock in the morning and brought 3 elite soldiers with them who granted security of the children's village. Even our local police sent us two exhausted policemen who had been on duty for more than 26 hours without a break.
Although the headmaster of the Singhalese school, Mr. Puspananda de Silva, was the leader of the gang and initiator of the attack and had to promise in front of witnesses at the police station that he would never show any aggressions against us any more, he was found by our Galle employees, distributing pamphlets in which he appealed for aggression against white skins, namely against me and some male and female employees of Little Smile. The number and design of these pamphlets leaves no doubt that this action had been long planned.
Three German representatives of Aid Organisations, Mrs. Claudia Lamprecht from STERNSTUNDEN, Mrs. Antonia von Hohenlohe from "Children for a better world" and Mrs. Ilonka Erlenbach-Wegener had been on a visit to Little Smile during this time; they and all our employees never were in any danger, thanks to our supporters from Galle.
The following Friday, the headmaster of "National College Koslanda", namely this Mr. Puspananda de Silva, forced pupils and teachers to take part in a demonstration against foreigners initiated by JVP. Still, the procession could be stopped by the police in front of Little Smile village. Our only link to the world outside, our telephone was disturbed or had been cut. Mobile phones do not work up there. Thus, we could not inform the Embassy. In cooperation with the police, we tried to get the situation under control and protect visitors and children.
On Saturday, the 25th of June, the situation eased. So I decided to send our visitors and my son Manuel to Ampara at the East Coast and to our projects in Kalmunai and Batticaloa in a rented van. The representatives of the German Aid Organisations therefore were able to finish the planned visitation. At this point, I want to express my deepest thankfulness to Mrs. Erlenbach-Wegener, Mrs. von Hohenlohe and Mrs. Lamprecht for their considerateness, their prudence and their moral support.
On Sunday afternoon, I managed to talk to Mr. Georg Schmidt from the German Embassy on the phone. We agreed upon coordination of all further steps of Little Smile and expect the proceedings local police would institute. The Head of Police in Haputale, OIC Harsha Rathnayake announced the first imprisonments for the coming Monday.
On Sunday, the 26th of June, I was able to leave the children's village and go to hospital for medical treatment and official record of the injuries to my face and bruises all over my body. Weh ad treated my injuries in our own Ayurvedic medicine station at Little Smile before.
Swellings had become much better then; Dominic, our employee, was accepted stationary to the hospital, because severe damage of the brain was suspected.
Especially our employee, Dominic de Silva, was really under shock after the attack during which he had been bashed and severely injured.

Sunday night, after the policemen had left, many of the children and matrons were very scared. Therefore we organised a sentry. However, it remained fairly silent, apart from a few stones being thrown and taunts shouted during the night.

The headmaster, Mr. Bandula and his accomplices of the JVP then tried to organise a slander campaign against me. On this account, on Saturday persons were sent out who tried to persuade children who had been living in our children's village before to charge me or other employees of Little Smile with sexual child abuse. The children or their parents were offered huge amounts of money to make the accusation more palatable. This information could be also confirmed by a confused mother, who called us on the phone and told us about the attempt some person had made. I'm afraid this sort of slander campaign is a very popular means to get rid of foreigners in Sri Lanka.

On Monday morning, around 6 o'clock, three representatives of the Daily Mirror came to visit us. The Daily Mirror is the biggest newspaper of Sri Lanka in English medium, and they had written a report on Little Smile before already. We informed the Social Ministry of Sri Lanka about what had happened. At recommendation of the German Embassy we did not send our children to school any more but arranged private lessons inside Little Smile village. However, this could not be a permanent condition. Name it a coincidence, but today, on Monday, the 27th of June, we started with the construction of our International School on Little Smile village area.

At present, our main problem is that we do not have a vehicle available at the children's village and the motorbike was destroyed as well. Nobody knows right now how long the repair of the demolished van will take, but the damage is considerable.

For the time being there is no reason to worry, the situation is under control: We are trying to make circumstances as comfortable as possible for children and matrons. Still, the aggression against white skins and Aid Organisations gives reason to think, especially in areas where JVP is strong.
We will go on with our work for weak people, and especially for children and Tsunami victims in Little Smile Sri Lanka. Moreover I hope that the police, after some time of strategic watch, will call to account the persons responsible for the attack as they have promised. If this should not happen, I am afraid that certain groups may be encouraged to similar or even worse assaults.
By the way - the mad crowd finally found a target for their aggression and destroyed the brand new motorbike which our employee had used to go to the school meeting.
Our boys from the children's village are bewildered: The motorbike was not yet 24 hours old when it fell victim to the rabble.

Little Smile children's village, 27th of June 2005

Michael Kreitmeir