Tsunami orphans take on SL~~s national cricketers

Published: Monday, February 14, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Galle:Sri Lankan children orphaned by the tsunami disaster had a rare day of entertainment, when they competed against national cricketing heroes at a stadium which was itself damaged by the waves.

The grass at the once picturesque Galle international stadium is dying after the December 26 tragedy. But schoolboy survivors and national skipper Marvan Atapattu's team played a game of softball as part of a project by the cricketers to help survivors.

"This is the first time that the children were able to get out of their relief centres and entertain themselves after the disaster," Cricket Aid chief Thilanga Sumathipala told AFP on Sunday.

"For many, just getting out of the relief centre itself is fun and a good experience. They have seen their cricket heroes, now is a chance to play with them."

K.B. Asena Malaka, 10, lost his father and two younger brothers but was looking forward to playing with the national team in a cricket-mad country where players are national heroes.

Malaka said he escaped because his father placed him atop a wall to escape the rising sea water. But within a minute the wall collapsed on his father, killing him.

His elder brother K.B. Vishva Niranjan, 12, was able to run to higher ground but the two younger boys, aged seven and two, were killed.

Sri Lanka's Commissioner of Probation and Child Care, Sarath Abeygunawardena, said there were 995 children who had lost both parents while another 3,409 lost at least one.

Sumathipala said they hoped to help at least 1,000 children and see them through their education for at least 10 years under a project that will cost an estimated three million dollars.

"There is an enormous amount of goodwill and we feel we will be able to raise this and also build at least 200 houses," Sumathipala said.

He said they expect to set up cricket townships in the southern Galle and Matara districts as well as the eastern regions that were badly hit by the tsunamis.

Nearly 31,000 people were killed nationwide and nearly a million were initially left homeless.

"We are also carrying out trauma counselling for the survivors and hopefully will be able to carry on that work for another couple of months," Sumathipala said as children accompanied by their guardians enjoyed the day out.

Five softball matches were in progress simultaneously at the Galle ground, which could take over a year to recover from the salt water devastation.

Curator Jayananda Warnaweera said it would cost 300 to 400 million rupees (three to four million dollars) to refurbish the ground to international level.

The world's highest Test wicket taker, Shane Warne was here last week to meet tsunami survivors. On Sunday another Australian, John Brumby, the treasurer of the Victoria state government, was visiting.

"Two weeks ago I was at a friendly match between two clubs and they raised 20,000 dollars to help tsunami victims," Brumby said.

"There is an enormous sympathy and support for Sri Lanka," Brumby said.

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