French duo rebuild lives in stricken Sri Lanka

28th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

KATUKOHILA, Sri Lanka, Jan 28 (AFP) - In the month since the tsunami struck Sri Lanka, Frenchmen Pierre Layac and Jacques Quentin have bought six fishing boats for use by devastated locals, have been operating a pre-school, are building another and are sponsoring a relief medical team.

KATUKOHILA, Sri Lanka, Jan 28 (AFP) - In the month since the tsunami struck Sri Lanka, Frenchmen Pierre Layac and Jacques Quentin have bought six fishing boats for use by devastated locals, have been operating a pre-school, are building another and are sponsoring a relief medical team.

Backed mainly by donations from private individuals drawn to their website www.green-hope.org, the pair have grander visions of building houses for fishing communities left homeless by the disaster.

"We can't sit back and do nothing but cry," said the energetic Layac, 49, in this village close to Sri Lanka's battered west coast, where he and Quentin have bought property.

The pair, well known in France for organising the annual Chalon street theatre festival, had acted immediately on hearing about the disaster, using their large premises here to set up relief operations.

With the help of locals, they cooked and packed meals which they began distributing among hungry survivors sheltering in temples and schools and government buildings.

This according to 54-year-old Quentin was the most difficult phase as bodies were still lying in the streets, the stench of death was overwhelming, roads were almost impassable because of debris and shocked survivors were in panic after rumours another tsunami was coming.

After near-riots over the food a few days later, they decided rather to put their energies into expanding a project they had started here two years earlier to help poor fishing families educate their pre-school children to give them a fighting chance when they begin government-aided education at age seven.

Their first Green Hope school which had been in the planning for months was opened on December 24, two days before the tsunami struck.

Fortunately it is sited in the slightly inland village of Dodaduwu and was not affected, so Layac and Quentin ensured schooling for the 34 pupils carried on uninterrupted.

With donations starting to flow after French television networks featured their heroics on newscasts, the pair turned their attention to buying boats which they could lease out on the basis of the catch being divided between themselves and the fishermen.

The money earned this way would be ploughed back into their Green Hope school projects.

The first two boats - small powerboats - arrived this week, while two traditional catamarans and two deep sea trawlers are in the process of delivery, they said.

In between negotiating the boat purchases, meanwhile, the Frenchmen have been plotting to rebuild a pre-school destroyed by the tsunami. On Thursday, they went to the site of the school, in the devastated village of Pereliya, just up the coast from Katukohila, to hold talks with the principal about getting the project up and running as quickly as possible.

They have already had plans drawn up and a meeting scheduled for Friday between the principal and the architect, they hoped, would clear the way for the project's launch.

"The first thing we need to do is clean the site," an impatient Layac said, as he began clearing away the debris himself - an act which prompted members of the local community to launch a full-scale clean-up operation of the school grounds.

As if these projects are not enough, the pair through their website attracted two French medics whom they are sponsoring to help out at the main field hospital at Pereliya. They are also supplying the medicines for the team. They hope soon to begin building houses.

"We can't live in the community and do nothing when it is affected by a disaster like this," Layac said, adding his and Quentin's off-and-on association with Sri Lanka dates back some 20 years.

"We are compelled to do as much as we can to help."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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