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 Post subject: Extraordinary people - A man build a whole village
 Post Posted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 5:16 pm 
Uptown man plans seventh tsunami relief trip to Sri Lanka

“I have 11 more homes to build. Then I'm done with the whole village,”

@ Southwest Journal / Sunday January 15, 2006

( Kingfield, Southwest Minneapolis) He's here, he's there, Evan Balasuriya appears to be everywhere. Sometimes he's in Uptown, where he operated the Sri Lanka Curry House for nearly 25 years, raising funds to return to his native land. Sometimes he's back in Sri Lanka, where a tsunami rose up from the Indian Ocean and destroyed thousands of lives on Dec. 26, 2004.

Balasuriya has been back to his native country six times since the deadly wall of water took 216,000 lives worldwide, most of which were claimed in India and Sri Lanka. He grew up in southern Sri Lanka, the son of a government doctor.


When we first covered Balasuriya's story (“Wave of Relief,” January 19, 2005), he was preparing for his first visit there to help tsunami victims.

“You are helpless so far away,” he said then. “You see everywhere you grew up, people are dead. You are mad because you're helpless. So then you're sad because you can't do anything. Then I decided I'm going to do something about it.”


There and back again and again

In his half-dozen trips, he and the 113 volunteers he has taken with him have built 54 homes in the village of Veevara (population 400). They've served over 10,000 meals, built a community center and shower stalls, as well as repaired a handful of homes that survived the tsunami.

When the energetic 63-year-old talks about how much he has accomplished so far, it can almost appear that the end of his mission is in sight.

“I have 11 more homes to build. Then I'm done with the whole village,” he said. “Eleven more homes to build and about 20 homes that just need some repair work, and we shall need to paint the homes.”

He needs to raise about $83,000, he said, so that he and a handful of volunteers can return to Sri Lanka to do the work.

Certainly not something that can be done in a weekend, but it appears to be doable. But then he ups the ante.

“My goal was to somehow finish the project by the first anniversary, which is December 26, but that's very, very difficult,” he said. “But that was my dream.”

Though he acknowledges that he's not likely to realize that portion of his dream, he quickly adds that finishing up the rebuilding of Veevara is only one of his dreams.

Sweet dreams and hard realities

“There's so much work to be done,” he said. We went down south about four weeks ago; there are so many villages that need to be done. In fact, the village right next to my village is a huge village; my goal is to go work [there].”

That village of a thousand people will take more than a million dollars to rebuild and repair, he said.

“It's totally devastated,” he added.

First, however, he needs to finish up Veevara by building 11 more concrete-block homes; each costing about $3,000 a piece. By American standards, that's an astoundingly small amount of money. But he says he can build a 500-800-square.-foot home, with a living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen with the money.

There are several drawbacks to the homes: most don't have running water or electricity, and they all have asbestos sheet roofs.

“We talked to construction guys and they said [the asbestos] is safe if you don't tear it so that there's dust,” he said. “We were worried about the kids, but they said it's safe.”

He said part of the $83,000 (of which only $2,000 has been raised thus far) would be used to provide each house in Veevara with an electric fan to help ward off bothersome flies.

“I feel so bad for the children,” he said. “We got rid of some flies by moving the garbage, but they keep coming.”

Long-term dream

Eventually, Balasuriya wants to get a small café going in Uptown, next to the Uptown Theater, where the food of his homeland can be served up to take-out customers.

“I wouldn't be working there, but I can get some cooks I can get from Sri Lanka, and do a little take-out place and get that place to raise more funds,” he said. “When people come to take out food, they can drop off a dollar or two.”

That might sound like a far-fetched dream from someone else, but coming from Balasuriya, who will be making his seventh trip to Sri Lanka in a matter of days, it sounds realistic.

He said he believes he will finish the Veevara project by Jan. 29: the anniversary of his first trip back to Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

There's no stopping now, he said. There's so much work and so little of it being done by the local government.

“Hardly any work is being done because of government infighting,” he said. “It's the usual. I mean, there's no work [being done].”

None, perhaps, until he returns.

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