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Between hope and fear:
Social work and first aid in Sri Lanka; 28 months after the Tsunami catastrophe

Dear Friends and companions,
Sometimes truth hurts and the well-intended is not always good on a continuous basis. This happens within all emergency aid as I was told by experts from UNICEF, WORLDVISION and other organisations. After the Tsunami Little Smile and myself were also concerned and this shocked me.
Are we allowed to tell people what went wrong without risking that they stop their help? Isn’t it like suicide for an organisation, which is only able to help as long as there are people who provide money for this help? On the other side: Aren’t openness and honesty the essential basis for trust and trust again the basis for all other things? Maybe you are able to understand after the upcoming lines how difficult and sometimes painful the balancing act between my old and my new home country was and still is.

Dear friends,
I don’t want to criticize the work of others. Very soon after the Tsunami catastrophe I told all employees of Little Smile to only look at our work, because that is what we are responsible for. But we were not untouched by the developments. When aid organizations came to Sri Lanka after the Tsunami catastrophe, they brought large sums of money and did not really have a clue about the country. It happened that they paid double the price for a driver than Little Smile is paying for the manager of all projects - that is our manager Anton. There is definitely something wrong with the proportionality. When our workers and employees run away from our organization because they are getting much more salary from the new organizations – sometimes nearly 10 times as much – then this creates a multi class society, jealousy and distrust. But much more grave is: suddenly people with money are attracted by social work and many of these new social workers and project managers are in charge of large amounts of money in short period time. It was impossible for us to recruit engineers, architects or honest contractors at fair prices. Finally, I was forced to organize nearly all construction projects by myself, because it was the only way to guarantee that the donations are used in a correct way. Each plan, each purchase, each simple construction phase, even each step had to be stringently controlled.
Not only to build houses like this main house in our training centre Pilane close to Galle (in the back). To plant a new tree for a better future. What Suresh Amarasiri, project coordinator in Galle, and Michael Kreitmeir are doing on the morning of the opening is a symbol for the aim of the organization Little Smile, which is thinking about more than the present when planning projects.
I should be everywhere at the same time, at the construction of the hospital building in Kalmunai, at the construction of the international school in Koslanda, at the medical station in Buttala and at the children houses in Galle. And that even though our “classical work” in the emergency aid for children is expanding. The civil war in the east makes it more difficult to protect our children there and causes higher efforts and engagement as well as presence there.
IIn the children’s village Koslanda we lost many employees, because they were paid much more money from other organizations, additionally the regulations and controls through the government were increased. For weeks, even months, there was not a single day off for me, Anton, Sheran or Bawani, sometimes sorrow and problems seemed to take our breath away. It is good, that our children are reminding us day by day with their daily problems what Little Smile is standing for. The helpless and need of children, but also their smile provided me with the needed power. And there was your trust, my good friends in my old home country, and your patience. Nobody put us under any pressure; nobody forced us to make quick and big opening ceremonies to close the project Tsunami aid for Sri Lanka and to forget it. We did and do each day, what is possible for us, step by step. Still it is important to me and to Little Smile that each cent is used for what it was given. Many of our projects are designed for long-term help, meaning that Little Smile will also be responsible for the children houses, schools or training centres in 5 or 10 years. The children’s village in Koslanda is a good example that social projects have to be developed slowly but permanently, if they should help on a long-term basis.

Dear companions,
I try on different fronts to bring more tolerance, understanding, humanity and honesty into a society, where many people don’t even want these values, or maybe they do? Maybe they know only a world full of mistress, jealousy and fear. I believe that many people in this country are traumatized.
Regardless of the danger Michael Kreitmeir and employees of Little Smile like here Bawani are entering conflict areas in the east. Each human being, especially each child, has a right to integrity, protection and a smile. Many orphans of Tsunami were helped by many organizations, but orphans of the civil war are mostly forgotten. In the trouble zones helpers cannot earn any decorations, don’t get official interest or recognition. Here they are awaited by violence, danger and unbelievable suffering.
Colonialism, civil war and exploitation through the class in power have lead to a survival strategy of mistrust and fear. Buddhism understood in a wrong way, which is defining life as punishment; traumata are much deeper than a single wave – however huge – could cause.

There is a class, mainly in Colombo and Kandy, which is showing itself very western, interpreting the west in its consumer aspect, imitating fashion and a superficial way of living. Disturbing subjects are ignored, blanked out. The fact, that there has been a civil war raging for more than two decades only a couple of hours by car away, is a good example.

There are so many different Sri Lankas! One is always showing a smiling face for paying tourists, another is very successful in receiving international aid budgets, another one is sending a quite large part of the poor population as low-paid workers to the oil-exporting countries, thus earning the main part in foreign currency … Sri Lanka is a country, where mobile phone and stone age axe, paradise for wealthy people and tourists and hell for deserted women and people in war areas are existing side on side.
You see, it is not this simple to help here meaningfully. But it is possible and in my opinion there is no alternative for Little Smile and for me no way back in my secure, comfortable and agreeable life before Little Smile.
No accusation but tackling, no criticism and moaning but simply doing what is necessary and right, that’s what Little Smile is doing here. This becomes possible through your help and support. Not crabbing and knowing everything better, not converting, but with understanding and love for the people and their country, open to all their sorrows and needs but also realistic and responsible, this is Little Smile in Sri Lanka and it will stay like that. We start with children and widows or deserted women with children and will not stop to exemplify this to them by our own life, if possible with a smile.

Thank you for your company, your understanding and that I am allowed to be honest.

Little Smile, May 2007

Michael Kreitmeir