February 16 2006 The Press

One couple's mission to bring hope to a shattered area.

THE world awoke to sobering scenes of chaos on Boxing Day 2004 as the devastation left in the wake of the Asian tsunami began to emerge from the subsiding waters.

Images of the wreckage were beamed around the world, accompanied by the sombre revelations from news broadcasters covering what should have been the festive season graveyard shift.

But while most of us looked on in disbelief as the death toll made staggering leaps, one local couple set out on a quest to help rebuild the shattered lives of forgotten tsunami survivors.

Other events have overtaken the Asian disaster, but after a year, with poor conditions and thousands still living in temporary camps, the shadow of the tsunami has only grown  longer.

Dr Tush Wickramanayaka and husband Mark Cutter have been raising money to build a children's hospital since the disaster and their dream is about to become a reality this week as the first stones are laid in Sri Lanka, the worst hit and worst prepared country.

Barnet mayor Andreas Tambourides took up their cause after it emerged that two local students were among the 20,000 children who perished in the terrible tidal wave.

Many lost their lives because vital at-the-scene resuscitation equipment was not available.

On February 3 he handed a cheque to the tearful couple for 10,000 raised by Barnet residents, which will go a long way to meeting the 100,000 building costs for the hospital. It will be only the second of its kind in the country.

The special ceremony at Hendon Town Hall, in The Burroughs, was attended by embassy emissaries, including the first secretary of the Sri Lankan High Commission.

"We started the appeal to build an orphanage but, because of local laws, we were unable to build one," Dr Wickramanayaka told The Press.

"We called the government and asked them to tell us what we could do to help and the hospital was one of the projects on the list they sent us.

"We wanted to do something for the children who had lost their parents and their homes.

This will be the first children's hospital in the region. We have come a very long way and work will be starting very soon. Every penny raised will go directly to helping the project become a reality.

"We were not sure that we would be able to build the hospital because of local bureaucracy, but the one thing we were sure about was that we would be able to get the funding because the response to the tsunami from the public was incredible.

"We knew we would need 100,000 to complete the hospital but we only started to get funding in June last year. Now we have raised 97,000.

"We have never done anything like this before and, with all the other disasters which have since happened and with reports of lots of money for these appeals going astray, it has been hard and we are still struggling.

"Many people are numb to the pictures we see on television, but the Sri Lankan people are still in distress and have no life ahead of them.

"We are very lucky to have a roof over our head - those people had all of that. They may have been poorer than us but they were normal people going about their lives and it has all been taken away from them. Our lives will not be complete unless we  help them

To make a donation, call Barnet Tsunami Appeal chairwoman, Councillor Lynne Hillan, on 020 8445 5101.