The New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will dispatch two professional staff members to Sri Lanka this week to oversee programs funded by its massive relief effort, even as the second major earthquake in three months created new need in the area ravaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster.
The JDC has raised over $18 million to help victims of the disaster in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, the countries hardest hit by the tsunamis, which were caused by an undersea earthquake.Eliot Goldstein and his wife, Rebecca Bardach, will go to the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo to ensure that programs run by non-governmental partner agencies benefiting from the JDC funds are running smoothly.
“We are investing quite a lot of money and want to be accountable to our donors,” said Judy Amit, JDC’s executive director of overseas ventures. “We want someone on the ground monitoring the projects we will be funding.”
Goldstein is originally from Washington, D.C., and Bardach is from Berkeley, Calif. They are scheduled to spend three months in Sri Lanka. Attempts to reach them Tuesday were unsuccessful.
A key focus of their work will be rebuilding and reopening destroyed schools and working with the elderly, children and the handicapped, as well as aiding development of villages and towns. “There are so many international nongovernmental organizations working there,” said Amit, who has visited the region four times since the disaster. “To have an impact, we have to find the right niche that will reflect JDC’s expertise.” That may include, she said, advice on water desalination, farming, or “any of the issues on which Israel has achieved world standing.”
Amit said about 20 percent of the funds raised by JDC had been used to provide temporary shelters, food and household items in the aftermath of the disaster. Now, the majority of funds are also being used to provide school equipment in India, and in Sri Lanka, programs are aiding women, children and the elderly in some 2,000 families.
Monday’s earthquake off the coast of Indonesia was of lesser magnitude than the one in December and did not cause tidal waves. About 330 people were reported dead Tuesday from the quake, mostly on the island of Nias, but some speculated the toll could climb as high as 2,000.
“People had to be evacuated, there was fear and anxiousness but no tsunami aftereffects,” said Amit.The American Jewish World Service announced Tuesday that volunteers from organizations funded by the group had evacuated coastal towns after an early warning system set up after the tsunami disaster was activated. “The damage appears to be isolated to the island, but the psychological effects of this quake on an already traumatized population will be devastating,” said Julia Greenberg, deputy director of international programs at AJWS. The organization, which raised $10 million in tsunami aid, has awarded more than 30 grants to community-based organizations in South Asia and Somalia, totaling nearly $2 million.
Amit says she is encouraged by the impact her group is making in areas where little, if anything, is known about Jews and Israel.
When word spread of Monday’s earthquake, she got on the phone, around 1 a.m. Israel time, and began to call partner agencies in the affected area. “The reaction was amazing,” she said. “People were so moved that we had been in touch with them and were thinking about them. The most moving response I got was from the director of an organization in India that was just one word: ‘Shalom.’
“That response says it all.”