Day 9 – Amani Toomer and Tony Richardson’s Tsunami Trip Draws to a Close
J. Ethan Medley, NY Giants
February 19, 2005

Today was our final day of the trip, and with our planned visit to Ampara canceled, it was fairly low-key. After getting out of the hotel for a little bit, we all returned to pack our bags while Amani, Yola, and Tony prepared for the afternoon press conference. Members of the local and international press came out to hear first-hand about our trip and experiences in Sri Lanka, along with members of the World Food Program (WFP) and representatives from the US Embassy. Also in attendance was Aaron Taylor, former NFL offensive lineman and current ABC College Football analyst, who is in Sri Lanka working to build temporary housing for those in need. A friend of Amani and Yola, he heard our group was in town and came over to catch up briefly before our departure.With the press conference finished and our bags packed for the airport, our group gathered in the hotel restaurant to say our goodbyes and exchange a few last stories. I also asked Tony, Amani, and Yola what they would remember most from the trip.

“You really never know how prepared you are to enter a situation like this,” said Richardson. “You prepare for the worst, but I actually saw worse conditions than what I could prepare for. It was an interesting opportunity to be able to see everything that comes into place after a disaster like this in a short period of time. Besides all of the food that is provided by the United Nations World Food Program, I was also able to speak with representatives from the UN Development Program, who are putting together some of the long-term plans that will help this country in its rebuilding process. If there is one thought that really stands out to me, it is that there is a lot more work to be done here. We just scratched the surface on this trip, witnessing some of the process, but this will require a four or five year plan for people’s lives to be fully restored.”

“Sri Lanka has been such a different experience from Indonesia,” said Yola. “It gives me hope that the rebuilding process can begin. Banda Aceh (Indonesia) was overwhelming and makes you question how the rebuilding will ever get done. Here in Sri Lanka, that process has already begun and you can see pieces starting to come into place, which gives you hope.”

“In general, I’m very thankful for this experience,” she added. “I will go back home a changed person, refocused with thoughts of these people, their lives, and what they have lost. That will be with me forever. If I was expecting anything, it was to come here and see people who sad, devastated and broken, but that was hardly the case. Instead, people are working, playing, having fun and coming together. You see compassion and hospitality everywhere you go, despite the tragedy. While we were here, they welcomed us into their lives and tried to take care of us while we were trying to take care of them. That is what strikes me the most.”

“I have also learned the power of individual effort on this trip, and I encourage people to help other people throughout the world. You may think that the little thing you do is insignificant, but I have witnessed many people and organizations concentrate on small pieces of a major disaster in order to make a big difference. So, I encourage everyone to do what they can.”

“I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to help first-hand with the relief work that is taking place here, and to bring attention to the devastation that these countries are continuing to rebuild from,” said Toomer. There are two things that have really stood out on this trip. The first is obviously the destruction that we have witnessed, which far exceeded what I thought we were going to see. Even after seeing images that were shown on TV, there is no way to prepare yourself for the amount of damage that was caused by the tsunami. It is just hard to imagine that water can generate enough force to cause the sort of destruction that we have seen. On the other hand, the second thing that stands out to me is the positive attitude of the people who we have had met. While seeing what they have lost is hard emotionally, they have made us feel good, and I hope that we have had the same effect on them. It’s funny, because they have no idea who we are, but they are just glad that we have come to help and be with them. It has also been wonderful to get to know everyone from the World Food Program, and to be a part of everything that they do to make sure that people have food to eat and water to drink after a disaster like this. It will take the people here many years to rebuild, and their lives will never be the same, but it is encouraging to know that they have more than enough character to help each other through the process.”

With our trip finished and our final goodbyes said, we all set foot in different directions. Tony Richardson headed to the airport to catch his flight, which would ultimately take him back to Kansas City. Amani and Yola headed back to their hotel room to get ready for their flight tomorrow for India, where they will spend several days backpacking. Joined by Zach Abraham and Renae Moravia, two of the WFP members who made our trip possible, I went to catch my flight back to New York. Our westward flight would bring us to the United Arab Emirates, up through Iran and then over Europe, completing a two-week trip that would bring us entirely around the world. Reaching home in a relatively quick 20 hours, the trip provided a final perspective of just how small the world really is, making us all more neighbors than we usually realize.

Set-up in 1963, WFP is the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2003, WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries, including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people. Currently, WFP is helping to feed more than 850,000 people in Sri Lanka, with a large logistics network spread throughout the country. For more information on their efforts in Indonesia and throughout the world, please visit www.wfp.org.

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