Canvey Rotary Village, Sri Lanka
Boxing Day 26th December 2006. An earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a devastating Tsunami which killed more than 30,000 in Sri Lanka and thousands more in Indonesia. One million Sri Lankans were made homeless in just minutes.
As always Rotary International began collecting tons of clothing and sending emergency boxes to the stricken areas. Canvey Rotary did its part. As Vice President at the time I began to wonder how anyone was going to make any impact on an event of such magnitude. Certainly Canvey Rotary, a club of just 22 members at the time was even less able to do as much as some of its larger neighbours. Timing made things even more difficult because only about a week before we had collected a customary several thousand pounds with our annual Christmas sleigh. How could we start asking for more money?
It occurred to me that if we as a club were unable to raise the sort of money needed for such a disaster, perhaps we could get businesses and organisations involved. I put the idea to club and they were unanimous in their support. Collecting money from business for a seemingly abstract concept is not easy. Smaller businesses don’t have an abundance of money and larger ones have investors who don’t like spending it.
So the idea came to me that I had heard a presentation at district about a small housing project in, of all places, Sri Lanka. I contacted a Rotarian involved in the project (unfortunately I can’t remember his name), who put me in touch with a Rotarian in the Colombo club. We discussed the houses and he sent me a floor plan. Initially the cost of a house was estimated at £1000. So now we had a mission: to get businesses and organisations to sponsor a house. To make the proposition more attractive, we as a club undertook to affix a sign to each house, e.g. “Furtherwick Park House”. They would also get a framed certificate to hang in their premises.
A number of members were able to persuade local organisations, schools and churches to sponsor a house. But the campaign was given a massive boost by a single donor. This came about because a business contact of mine was managing director of a large company based in Birmingham. I knew that they were due to hold their annual pro-celebrity golf event at the Belfry. I put our case to him showing him what little I had in the way of drawing etc. and our proposition that houses would be named after sponsor organisation, and he was very interested. At the post tournament dinner he gave a very supportive speech about our campaign following which the assembled guests voted unanimously to give us the entire proceeds of £20,000. We now had £30,000 to build a village. Job done. Not so.
Delay one. The Sri Lankan government had set aside a large plot of land in the devastated Hambantota, only to decide that the area was too vulnerable being only metres above sea level. They designated another area further north but at the time this area was where much of the civil war fighting was taking place. Not good.
Delay two. My Rotarian contact in Sri Lanka somehow attracted the attention of the dissident Tamil fighters who promptly burned out all of his trucks. Naturally he was distracted for a time while he sorted out his personal affairs. To his credit, having done so, he was back on board.
Delay three. The original estimate per house had been £1000. This suddenly rose to £1500. I was sure that there was no intention to cheat us, but at the same time we had made commitments. So I told them we wanted twenty five houses to exactly the same specifications for a total of £30,000. ie, £1250 per house, or we would call it off. After a short delay I got confirmation that they would comply. The rest was relatively plain sailing other than the slowness of progress, but we had to accept that things were difficult and dangerous there.
We designed a certificate and had house name plates made at the club’s expense. Again the generosity of people never ceases to amaze me. I found a company of specialised sign makers in Rochford. Because of the heat and humidity in that part of the world, I felt the signs had to be robust or they wouldn’t last more than a couple of years. This company had a process whereby the graphics are acrylic and embedded right through the sign, meaning no fade or deterioration. The downside of this is that the process is expensive. When I explained what the signs were needed for, they, without prompting offered to do them for the cost of the materials.
In all we completed the twenty five houses which consisted of two bedrooms, a living/ kitchen area and washroom. Each house stands on a large plot allowing the occupants to grow food.
Because our project resulted in a new home for 25 displaced families we were able to erect a sign at the entrance ‘Canvey Rotary Village’.
28th September 2020