World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello joins a local cricket match during his visit to Sri Lanka. Photo by Ilana Rose, World Vision
“Howzat!” the young Sri Lankan cricketers scream as the ball hits the batsman’s pad, effectively blocking the wicket. The batsman, a lanky Aussie who appears to have also appointed himself umpire, joyfully declares ‘not out’, mostly it would seem because he just wants to keep batting!
“Who is this batsman who doesn’t want to stop playing?” the Galle high school students ask me in bemused Sinhalese. It is their friendly post-school match on the town’s famous parapet that we’ve just unceremoniously hijacked. They shake their heads in disbelief. Jokingly I tell them it’s Donald Bradman thinking they will be too young to understand the reference but to my astonishment they don’t hesitate in pointing out, complete with more than a little eye rolling, that if the greatest Australian cricketer to ever be born was still alive he would be much older!
I should have known better. Cricket in Sri Lanka, the country of my birth just as in my adopted homeland, Australia, is almost a national religion. It unifies the nation through our support for the national team as well through the deep and mutual pleasure we take in both playing and watching this wonderful sport. I explain to the students that this particular self-appointed batsman-umpire is a not just a cricket-addict but Tim Costello, the CEO of one of Australia’s largest international development agencies.
I think about cricket and its incredible knack of reaching across the boundaries that normally separate us human beings; connecting people, generations even nations and how my boss and the organisation we work for, World Vision also share this uncanny ability. So I guess it should really be no surprise that it was World Vision alongside other international relief agencies that managed to give the people of Sri Lanka hope amidst our darkest days.
It was mid-morning on 26 December 2004 when an undersea earthquake measuring 9.15 on the Richter scale triggered a series of tsunamis across the Indian Ocean that was to affect fourteen countries in two different continents. There were close to 300,000 casualties with the last fatalities being carried out to sea twelve hours after the earthquake first struck. It was the tenth anniversary of this terrible tragedy that brought Tim Costello and I to Sri Lanka and landed us Galle on that day late last year. We came to remember those that were lost and celebrate the courage and resilience of those who survived. I always knew that coming back on such a momentous anniversary was going to be tough. Even after a decade the events of that day are still seared into my memory.
It is Christmas Day 2004, a day prior to the tsunami. My family and I are on a vacation in Sri Lanka visiting my large extended family in the southern coastal region of the country. I recall going to church in the morning, afterwards happily chatting with some of our local fisherman. Little did any of us know that the following day every one of these men would have lost their livelihoods, their possessions, their houses, members of their families; some even their lives.
In blissful ignorance we continue with our holiday plans spending a happy few hours with my family on a nearby beach enjoying the waves, the sand and the beautiful coastline that surrounds Sri Lanka. Later that day, on a complete whim, we decide to head into the interior to visit another branch of the family. I offer my brother and his family a ride. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. By the same time tomorrow their house and everything in it will be completely washed away but like everyone else in the country that day we had not an inkling of the disaster heading our way.
This is part one of a two-part blog about Prasanna’s experiences of the Boxing Day Tsunami. You can read part two tomorrow.