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Sri Lanka's NZ community raising funds for disaster relief

Stuff (New Zealand), 31 December 2004

Auckland, New Zealand -- Sri Lankans living in Auckland are foregoing traditional New Year's Eve celebrations tomorrow night to concentrate on fundraising for disaster survivors.

Doctors from the expatriate community have placed orders for about $26,000 of medicines and bandages to take back to Sri Lanka as part of a desperate bid to stave off disease among the tens of thousands of their compatriots left homeless by the Boxing Day tsunami waves.

Others of Auckland's several thousand Sri Lankans have started filling with essential household goods and clothing a cargo container which the P and O shipping line has offered to carry free to Sri Lanka, and which Mainfreight will load without charge.

Families associated with the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Otahuhu are holding sausage sizzles at several shopping centres, and a youth group has collected more than $7000 in an appeal in city streets, to give to the charity Oxfam for distribution.

Auckland City Hospital immunologist Rohan Ameratunga is one of three doctors heading home to Sri Lanka to help to distribute the shipment of medicines, including antibiotics and painkillers, for which clearance is being sought from the Government.

Another doctor has already left, and and he will follow tomorrow.

Although Dr Ameratunga grew up in New Zealand, and his relatives in Sri Lanka live well away from the coastal disaster zone, he gained leave from hospital duties to help to alleviate what he knows will be suffering on an "inconceivable" scale.

"It will probably be worse than most people could possibly imagine," he said today.

He expects to be away for at least a week, before returning with advice to this country's government on the most appropriate forms of disaster relief.

He said malaria was confined to only small pockets in Sri Lanka, and was rare near the coast, but there was concern that dengue fever may spread out of control in the aftermath of the disaster.

Auckland University student Mega Goonasekara, president of Auckland's Sri Lankan Youth Club, is concentrating on raising money after being advised against returning to her homeland because of health fears.

Ms Goonasekara, 21, said New Zealanders in the street were very sympathetic and generous in response to the group's disaster relief appeal.

Her family has lost several houses beside the sea in Galle, a southwestern Sri Lankan holiday resort hit hard by the disaster, but she is grateful her father and grandmother were not home when the tsunami waves swept the buildings off their foundations.

Dr Gamini Ediweera, a semi-retired general practitioner organising the medicines appeal, is also from Galle and is mourning the deaths of a first cousin and that man's wife and two children in the disaster.

He said Galle was at the gateway to what was normally a very beautiful stretch of coastline from which the main road and railway had been washed away.

His wife, Rukmal, is helping to organise an appeal for basic household goods and clothing ? particularly light garments for the many child victims ? and has converted the garage at the couple's home at 2/20 Green Lane East into a temporary warehouse.

The Sri Lankan Buddhist temple at 11 Pukeora Rd, Otahuhu, is another collection point for goods to be loaded into a shipping container due to leave for Sri Lanka late next week.

A large dinner and dance at which Auckland Sri Lankans traditionally usher in the New Year has meanwhile been cancelled in favour of fund-raising activities, including food stalls at Pollard Park in Balmoral this evening.

Auckland's smaller Thai community is also accepting financial donations, at its Buddhist temple at 99 Sabulite Rd in Kelston, which it will send to the Thai embassy in Wellington for delivery to the disaster zone.

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