Sri Lankans in California Mobilize to Assist Victims in Their Home Country
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JEFFREY KAYE: This weekend, traditional New Year’s observances by southern California’s Sri Lankan-American community were marred by grief and mourning.
GROUP: May no difficulties come to them.
GROUP: May no difficulties come to them.
JEFFREY KAYE: As many as 35,000 Sri Lankan immigrants live in the Los Angeles area, according to community leaders. Buddhist temples are focal points for the community. On New Year’s Day, one in central Los Angeles held a candlelight vigil to remember those killed by the tsunami.
On the island nation of Sri Lanka, the death toll is estimated at more than 30,000. With communications systems destroyed, news is only trickling out, and people here are waiting to get word about the fate of friends and family members. Professor Kottegoda Warnasuriya fears the worst for his brother, his brother’s wife, and their four children, who live in a coastal village.
KOTTEGODA WARNASURIYA: I don’t know what happened. I believe the house is destroyed completely because the tsunami wave came as far as the temple of the village. So the wave has to pass our house to go there.
JEFFREY KAYE: Have you spoken to your brother?
KOTTEGODA WARNASURIYA: No, I have no contact because all the communications of the… we don’t have anything, any telephones or nothing.
JEFFREY KAYE: Even as Sri Lankans worry about the fate of loved ones, they are also trying to provide assistance to victims. At a Buddhist temple in Pasadena, California, volunteers sorted and boxed supplies to send to their stricken homeland. As they did, a steady stream of donors brought in goods. There were piles of supplies; the people sorting them seemed overwhelmed by the volume.
MAN: At the temple, what we need right now is personnel. There’s so many clothes to be sorted, there’s only…
MAN: We need people.
MAN: Yeah, we need people.
JEFFREY KAYE: Buddhist monks supervised the volunteers and carried boxes. Most of the goods here were donated by non-Sri Lankans, according to the Venerable Nawala Lakkana.
THE VENERABLE NAWALA LAKKANA, Buddhist Monk: We are very grateful for the American people. I feel, you know, sometimes the westerners, although they don’t… it’s not like Asian people, because they don’t say “Hi” every time or they don’t talk, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand. But now we understand their hearts.
JEFFREY KAYE: By the end of the weekend, volunteers had collected enough goods to fill five cargo containers. The first is scheduled to go out by ship tomorrow for the one- month journey to Sri Lanka. While volunteers collected supplies, not far away members of the Sri Lankan Association of Southern California worked the phones.
GIRL: Okay, thanks.
MAN ON PHONE: You can either donate into a bank account online or you can send a check.
JEFFREY KAYE: They brought cell phones and contact lists to raise as much money as they could in an evening. Who are you calling?
GIRL: Actually, I started calling my personal friends, and then I’m going to go to another list that I put together; old war friends, networking.
MAN ON PHONE: We’re at a telethon and we’re collecting money for… to send to the victims in Sri Lanka. Just about everybody wants to know how much they’d like to give, and we tell them an amount and they say they’d like to give more, which is really great. Everybody wants to help. Say $50? Oh, great. Okay, I’ll put you down for $100.
SPOKESPERSON: Everything is on the Web site.
JEFFREY KAYE: Keshini Wijegoonaratna, president of the organization, says the money collected– it amounted to $5,000 — will be sent to Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest non-government charity and development organization. In Sri Lanka, there have been reports that the civil war that has gone on for two decades has hampered relief efforts, but Wijegoonaratna says here differences have been set aside.
KESHINI WIJEGOONARATNA: I don’t see it happening right now. It looks like people are all coming together and trying to work as a team. There’s groups of people are doing different things, but they are all going to be going to Sri Lanka eventually.
JEFFREY KAYE: While most of the financial aid is for immediate needs, members of the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Temple are embarking on an ambitious project. Local businessman Ananda Perera says he and fellow temple members want to adopt a village and raise $2.5 million to rebuild homes and an economy.
ANANDA PERERA: Farmers have lost the ability to farm because the ground is soaked with saltwater. Fishermen have lost their boats, their tools. Trying to provide that, to provide the village temples, the churches that have been destroyed so that they are… they have a place to go back and worship.
SPOKESMAN: We have to help them. That is the Buddhist way.
JEFFREY KAYE: In addition to supporting relief efforts in his homeland, the temple’s spiritual leader, The Venerable Walpola Piyananda, is ministering to his congregation here.
THE VENERABLE WALPOLA PIYANANDA: Some of them know their family lost. They die. And some of them know their house is lost. They’re coming and crying and telling me their stories. Then I have to, through using Buddhist psychology, counsel them and listen to them.
JEFFREY KAYE: And what can you tell them?
THE VENERABLE WALPOLA PIYANANDA: You know, the Buddha is teaching that everything is subject to change. Everything impermanent. Nothing is permanent, things in this world. So we have to accept impermanency. We have to go on.
JEFFREY KAYE: On New Year’s Day, in a solemn ceremony members of the temple prepared offerings for representations of the 28 Buddha. The intent, explained one member, was to pacify the souls of the dead and to try to comfort the living.