Humble hero saving lives

The aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka.
The aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka. Kevin Farmer

SWAMPED by children and adults desperate for food, former Sunshine Coast man Dusan Jacenko has launched his own mission of mercy to thousands of homeless in Sri Lanka.

On Friday, we were on hand to watch unbelievable scenes as Dusan, accompanied by his Sri Lankan wife Champika handed out bread and other items to hundreds of clamouring tsunami victims.

On the trip from Colombo to Galle in the south, there are more than 80km of devastated homes, about the same as if the entire Sunshine Coast coastline were wiped out.

Hundreds of homeless wait on the side of the road for food, water, clothing and basic bedding. Others are returning to their own piles of rubble during the day to see what they can retrieve. In most cases, it is very little. Others have already begun building walls.

As soon as Dusan pulls up in his four-wheel-drive, children, mothers, fathers and grandmothers run from a kilometre or more away to receive their own pink bag of hope. Inevitably some miss out.

At times, it is a chaotic frenzy with some pushing and shoving. At one stop, Dusan could not even get out of his vehicle despite repeated pleas from him for people to move back. He said he had no choice but to drive on.

"It was scary for me, he said.

The previous weekend, Dusan had handed out rice and other basic necessities at a temple which has become home to the homeless.

After a day of being swamped, he said he would reconsider how he distributed to the poor but said the work must continue.

"At the moment they need to be fed somehow, he said, adding that many of the people in the area were not getting any regular supply from aid agencies.

"The majority of these people had nothing to begin with and now the little they had has been lost. We need to help them.

But Dusan is adamant he is no hero, saying he is one of many Sri Lankan people now rallying to feed their own.

Dusan manages a garment factory in Bentota and asked the 380 workers there to help their own by making food and supplying other items from home as well as a handwritten letter of support for those devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

"We think about you always and will do whatever we can, one reads. "We are so sad to see what has happened to you, another says, promising to also help so people can rebuild their future.

Most of Dusans factory workers are lucky. They live further inland so they have not been as directly affected. But two have lost their homes and Dusan is already planning to help them rebuild through the donation of building materials.

Dusan first contacted the Sunshine Coast Daily by email, urging us to start an appeal for Sri Lanka, soon after the tsunami hit.

His email arrived about two hours after APN Newspapers chief Mark Jamieson told our editor that we would launch an appeal to raise $1 million.

Dusan, formerly of Landsborough, has lived in Sri Lanka for five years and fears the tsunami could now lead to long-term depression, begging, suicides and the like.

He said it was vital Sri Lankans were given help to rebuild their own lives rather than rely on handouts. But in the short term, he said they needed food to survive.

Dusan is applying his own brand of tough love to workers hit by the disaster. He said while they were given days off after the tragedy, he has urged them to return to work rather than spend their days wandering through the rubble.

"You need to shake them and say Have a look, you have lost your house, you have lost your clothing but is your mother alive? Is your father alive? Is your brother alive? Is your sister alive?

"You can rebuild your house but you cant rebuild your mother.

Dusan said there were a lot of private companies and individuals in Sri Lanka now rallying to help victims, taking their own lorries and other large vehicles with aid to areas not being reached by relief workers.

Topics:  boxing day sri lanka tsunami

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