COLUMBIA — Maria Rose Culbertson, a senior at Cardinal Newman School, visited tsunami-devastated Sri Lanka last summer. She went with her father Michael and mother Savi, a native of the country, representing the South Carolina Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (SCCCRS).
In writing about her experience, Maria said that when she heard the news about the tsunami devastation in her mother’s homeland she found herself “absolutely desperate to be with the people of Sri Lanka.”
“I suddenly felt one of the strongest connections of my life,” she wrote.
SCCCRS raised money for the tsunami relief efforts of the Divine Life Community and the Community of the Risen Lord in Sri Lanka, both involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The Culbertsons visited and worked with both groups, taking the donations to distribute.
According to Maria, the Divine Life Community had a 59-family survivor camp for people who had been left with nothing. The families are housed together in a large, windowless wooden warehouse. Each family, usually with four or more members, was given a small cubicle of about 150 square feet in which to sleep, cook, eat and live.
People who once had homes near the ocean were no longer allowed to live on their former properties. Children had to go to classes near their camp but most did not have the required uniforms. The Culbertsons met with Divine Life leader Enjay Perrera and decided to give $2,000 to purchase uniforms and shoes, according to Maria. “Upon meeting the children of this camp, we discovered attitudes more admirable than most you would ever come across in your lifetime,” she wrote. “Even while living in conditions such as this, the inhabitants of the camp still spoke about how blessed they were.”
In the Community of the Risen Lord the Culbertsons met Raja and Nalum Pererra, who drove them to the village of Telwatta, where a passenger train had derailed during the tsunami. An estimated 1,000 people drowned, along with countless city residents.
The Culbertsons met a young mother who was an assistant to an international team of doctors. “Selfless in her service, when her work was completed, she was left with nothing for herself or her daughter, whom she was raising by herself,” Maria wrote. “The community built and stocked a small roadside store for her, which is still in operation today, and allows her to take care of herself and her daughter. She continues to encourage and inspire her fellow villagers.”
The American family also met the woman’s brother, a self-employed fisherman. At sea when the tsunami hit, he managed to survive, though his boat was damaged beyond repair. He came home only to find that his family had perished. The Community of the Risen Lord purchased a new boat for him, and he moved into a newly constructed home, though it still lacks both electricity and running water.
The community also provided aid as interpreters for a counseling program conducted by doctors from the Philippines, Maria reported.
“Here they were able to build relationships with the villagers,” she wrote. “They were then able to develop and implement a relief plan that included professional trauma counseling training. Over 130 volunteers were trained to understand the commitment, love and empathy needed to assist their victims.”
In Telwatta, Maria said that educational assistance was provided to a student who had lost all her belongings, and to an orphaned university undergraduate for her education. Supplies were donated to primary school students. A medical center was provided with bandages and medical supplies, a wheelchair for a handicapped patient, clothing, bed linens, towels, and even toys for the children.
“Projects for the future include specific, parish-based rebuilding and education-sponsorship programs,” Maria reported. A local Catholic priest is working on allotting recently acquired land to families, for both a home and a self-supporting garden. In another area of the country, a local parish priest has identified 45 families who lost everything, and is rebuilding homes for them one at a time, at the cost of approximately $3,500 per home. Twelve have been funded so far. Educational programs include sponsoring a child (who has lost one or both parents) for education through high school at the cost of 3,000 rupees a month, which equates to around $35.