Sri Lanka’s good Samaritan
For most New Zealanders memories of the 2004 tsunami are slowly fading. But not for Jeremy Hall. The Balmoral resident has recently returned from Sri Lanka, his fifth trip there since the tsunami wiped out towns and villages in its path and killed 225,000 people in 11 countries.
Mr Hall has been working tirelessly to help a struggling village in the coastal town of Hambantota to get back on its feet.
During his last trip he took $5000 with him – a combination of his own funds and donations from friends.
He spent most of the money on 4800 books for local school children who needed stationery for the new school term.
He also travelled around the village, supporting those who urgently needed help.
One family were about to have their power disconnected after failing to pay their bill for four months.
“So I paid that off – it was $12,” says Mr Hall.
Mr Hall works alongside the SKeP foundation, established by local man Granvil Rathnayake and named after his wife and two young children who died in the tsunami.
Mr Hall stumbled onto the foundation by chance on his first trip to Sri Lanka.
“I was driving along a tourist track on the coast of Hambantota and there was a bed sheet tied up on the side of the road that had been turned into a homemade sign.
“The sign said something like, ‘Please help the children of this town’ and pointed to this little building.”
Mr Hall met Mr Rathnayake, who said he was trying to set up a foundation to help the 600 local children who had lost one or both parents in the disaster.
“My first impression was that he might be a shyster,” says Mr Hall, who gave Mr Rathnayake a 1000 rupee note – the equivalent of $15 – and left.
“That night I had a nagging feeling I should go back and see him. He showed me that he bought a very small bag of pens and exercise books, enough for about 10 or 20 children.
“From that I felt that he was someone who could be trusted and someone who was determined to make a start, no matter how small.”
Mr Hall decided to become involved and donated 600 sets of exercise books and pens.
He travelled back to Sri Lanka twice in 2006, bringing resources and funds with him.
“I say to my friends, ‘Give me money. I’ll spend it all’. That’s the thing with the 100 percent aid thing.
“Every cent that people donate will be given to the tsunami victims. I pay for my own trip, my own air fare.”
Mr Hall has also bought sewing machines to help a small home business run by widows who had lost loved ones in the tsunami, and a computer for the local school.
He also helped pave a playground for children who were having breathing problems from dust inhalation.
He says Mr Rathnayake is currently building a home for two young girls who were left orphaned and penniless by the tsunami.
Jeremy Hall can be reached on 638-8878 or by email at jhall@kiwilink. co.nz.
Jeremy Hall has recently returned from his fifth trip to help tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.