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Marist Bulletin - Number 179


Br. Mervyn Perera - Interview with Br. Dominic Pujia

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Br. Mervyn Perera, vice provincial of the Province of Sri Lanka and Pakistan arrived at the General House on the 4th of January to join the planning team for the General Conference to be held in Sri Lanka in September. His trip was planned long before the deadly tsunami struck the region of south Asia. He spent some time talking with us about the crisis that now grips his country.

Br. Mervyn, you have just arrived from Sri Lanka. Can you describe the situation in the country at the moment?
The situation in the country is still chaotic and people are confused not know how to deal and respond to the present situation. The people and the government are trying to assess the situation. Even today after two weeks have already gone by, still the dead are being found in the affected areas. As a nation, we are still struggling to cope with the situation.

How was it that you learned about the tsunami and the terrible effects on your country?
I first learned about the tsunami and the terrible effects on my country through the local and foreign media. Later on I visited some of the badly affected areas.

How has this tragedy affected the brothers in Sri Lanka? …their families and their colleagues?
This tragedy did not directly affect the brothers and families except in the little fishing village of Kalutara about 48 kilometers away from Columbo, the capital city of Sri-Lanka. In this small town of Kautara, the Brother run a Marist School for boys age six to nineteen. There are about 1600 boys who attend school on this campus. Many children what to attend this school so the brothers started a branch school few kilometers away from the main campus in a place called Paiyagala. The school is very close to the sea. The tsunami that came ashore on the 26th of December destroyed this extension school. It was completely washed away by the waves.

What are the kinds of things you are seeing among the people?
The people are in shock. In just a few minutes, more than 40000 people lost their lives, children, houses, and their hopes and dreams. Talking to the people and listening to their stories is a sad thing. Many of the survivors seem to have lost their will to live. I heard some people saying to the media that if they see another wave coming at them they will not run again.

It is said that tragedy also brings out the true strength of a person. What can you tell us of the strength of the people of Sri Lanka?
It is true. When I look back and see my country I am filled with awe. In the past few years my country has experienced many divisions. We have a strong political division in the north. Many have died in fighting and civil unrest. For the last thirty years there has been a war going on between two ethnic groups. Many thousands of people in both groups have died. In recent times there has also been many conflicts between Christians and Buddhists.
However, at least for the time being, people in Sri-Lanka have forgotten all their differences and they are united in rebuild the country. We are experiencing some hopeful signs in the midst of this tragedy. Our people are questioning the reasons for the differences among us. Some are saying, Enough, we must work together.

As you and the brothers begin to talk about what has happened, what are you contemplating about the kind of response you will make toward the rebuilding of the country?
As you can see from the statistics now coming from the region, as many as 40% of those dead in Sri Lanka were children. And significant number of children have lost either their father or the mother and in some cased both parents and their relatives. As brothers of St. Marcellin Champagnat have a big responsibility to take care of these children who have nowhere to go. We need to create an atmosphere for them to live again. We need to ensure that they are protected from exploitation. We need to get them back to school as soon as possible and give their teachers the training they will need to help these emotionally disturb children. We know it is a long-term journey we need to commit ourselves. We are quite prepared and determined to do what we can for the good of these innocent children.

As Marist, religious and lay, what can we do to assist you and the brothers in responding to the many needs you are encountering?
It will take some time to know just what is needed. There are many agencies in the area coordinating relief. Well be working with them so as not to duplicate services. We will have many needs. We will need help in rebuilding our school and helping some of our teachers who have lost their homes. We will need to help our students. They will need school supplies, uniforms, books… This is a difficult crisis, a difficult emergency. We will need time to recover. How can you help? Of course we will always need your prayers and thoughts. Once the media leaves, we hope we will not be forgotten by the world. We will need your support through the appeal Br. Sean announced a few weeks ago. As the needs become more apparent in the months and years ahead, well be able to draw from the gifts and donations made to the appeal to meet those needs.

Do you have any last words for us?
I have words of gratitude and thanks. This awful tragedy that has happened to us and to many countries in south Asia has caused many of us to stop and wonder about the meaning of life. We are all stuck by how fragile life can be. I am humbled by the outpouring of concern so many in the world have shown these past peeks. It is a testament to the solidarity that bunds all of us as a family. This will be an important factor in the healing that must now take place.

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