Singapore Red Cross helps Sri Lanka cyclone victims
When the flood hit their homes, there were some prized possessions many Sri Lankans refused to leave behind, such as their children's schoolbooks.
This was among the many moving and inspirational anecdotes a two-man emergency response team from Singapore Red Cross shared about their experience in Sri Lanka.
"Many families chose to salvage their children's schoolbooks because they wanted their children to still attend school - education is very important to them," said Mr Peter Tung, 46, an auxiliary staff and active volunteer who was in Sri Lanka from May 25 to 28 to help victims of Cyclone Roanu.
The storm hit Sri Lanka on May 17.
"This cyclone and subsequent flooding is the worst natural disaster that has hit Sri Lanka in 20 years " Mr Tung claimed.
Many homes were submerged in the flood.
The other member of the two-man team sent by Singapore Red Cross is Charis Chan, 27, the Head of International Services.
In one town, Pahala Bomiriya Yakala, in the west of the island, 41 out of 250 homes were still under water when the duo arrived with help.
According to Miss Chan and Mr Tung, in some areas, the water level reached up to about 3m.
The flood washed away the possessions and life savings of many poor rural families.
One moment that remained etched in their minds was when they saw a man in his late 50s, who was shocked at the sight of his house submerged in the flood water.
He had lost all his life savings, many possessions and new furniture in the flood.
"He begged us desperately for help, saying, 'I have lost everything'," said Miss Chan.
Fortunately, his two children, wife and elderly mother, who lived in that house, were safe. They were uninjured as they were all safely evacuated by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.
The Singapore team helped the victims by distributing kitchen kits and clean water, administering first-aid and pumping contaminated water out from drinking wells.
"One of the biggest problems was waterborne diseases, as stagnant water overflowed the streets. Diarrhoea and dysentery were common, for example," said Mr Tung.
Mosquito-borne diseases were another problem.
Said Miss Chan: "We also educated the villagers on preventing mosquito bites, such as sharing the symptoms of dengue and Zika, so that the villagers will know when to seek emergency treatment."
Amid the death and destruction, the stoic bravery of the Sri Lankans moved the team.
Mr Tung spoke of how he performed first-aid on a woman with a badly swollen leg who was carrying a baby in her arms.
"Yet, she still struggled on just to collect food supplies for her family," he said.
He said that women in Sri Lanka play an important role in disaster relief efforts because they are the ones available to distribute food at affected sites while the men are away at work.
Mr Tung also recalled another incident.
He said: "While I was administering first-aid on the wounded, a group of young people from the Sri Lanka Red Cross, aged around nine or 10, bravely volunteered themselves without hesitation to tend to the wounded.
"I was so touched by their courage, because they are so young yet they were not afraid of dealing with bloodied injuries and infected wounds."
The Singapore Red Cross is not launching a public fund-raising appeal at this point.
However, donations can be made at Red Cross House, 15 Penang Lane, Singapore 238486, during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm).
Cheques can also be made to "Singapore Red Cross Society''.
Indicate Cyclone Roanu at the back and post to the above address.
$200,000 Red Cross relief
Cyclone Roanu killed more than 100 people and displaced 134,000 in Sri Lanka.
The Singapore Red Cross distributed US$150,000 (S$203,000) worth of relief items including food, household, health kits and clothes to homes in three of the most affected provinces - Egodauyana, Pahala Bomiriya and Oruwala (Western Province) - in the district of Colombo.
The Singapore Red Cross has been working in Sri Lanka for more than 10 years, since the deadly Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. To support its disaster risk reduction strategy and enhance its disaster management capacity, the Singapore Red Cross funded a Water Safety Project in Gampaha district in 2015, training its life saving teams and equipping them with inflatable rescue boats.