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Direct from the field: Sri Lanka Rebuilding

2 November 2005
By Francesca Koe


Scuba POP, is a group of Bay Area PADI scuba instructors who are donating their professional expertise to help the Tsunami-devastated village of Madiha, in the district of Polhena, located in the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka.

When we set out on this mission we were primarily focused on post tsunmai aid for people and saving the reefs of Southern Sri Lanka. We really wanted to stop the fisherman from hurting the reefs. But since we arrived our priorities have slightly changed; we still want to save and re-energize the reefs but first we must ensure that the people are safe, well-trained and have true viable choices for a sustainable livelihood.

The people we are training are without a doubt the kindest, most gentle and considerate folks we have ever met.

Their kindness is only matched by their desire to learn and hope for a better future.

Through close collaboration with these fishermen of Madiha/Polhena, our new main goal is to find alternative ways for them to earn fair wages in a safe, sustainable job. As of now, they risk their lives every day -- due to tremendous economic pressure and inequality -- to simply feed their families. It is due to their unfortunate circumstances that they are employed to collect ornamnetal fish destined for aquariums around the world. Sadly, they are making pennies on the millions of dollars some big corporation is exploiting them for. The kind of diving profiles we have seen them follow every time they dive are both stunning and scary. It is simply a matter of time before they all get seriously hurt or killed, since their reckless dive profiles stack the odds against them.

So to help them we must not only train them to be safe divers but we must also provide them with access to other options for work.

As a part of our mulitifaceted approach, we are training them to not only be safer divers, but also to become dive professionals, and as such provide them with the option to earn a living in the dive industry, even to help fellow fishermen from neighboring towns become safer divers themselves, (something they've mentioned to us as a concern). The reefs around Madiha have been decimated through years of over fishing and collecting. This is where our artistic concept for an underwater memorial comes in.

We'd like the memorial to serve as a magnificent underwater space that invites reflection and respect for the victims of the 2004 tsunami, as well as inviting the viewer to experience the ocean not only as destroyer but as creator - to be aware of the ocean's inherent healing and wonderous nature. At the pinnacle of our creative vision, the memorial would be a gesture of rememberance, a healing space, a fantastic dive site, a protected marine park and an experiment in sustainable aquarium fish farming.

The beauty of it all will be when we start building it; to be able to actually employ our newly trained 'fisherman'

divers and offer them another choice for making a living. Our efforts will come full circle as they help to build and maintain the underwater installation and become an integral part of their own solution.

We are well under way in talks with the ReefBall Foundation, the Sri Lankan Navy and the University of Ruhuna to help partner with us in these ambitious efforts.

Please stay tuned into our little project as it grows from one inspired, small idea into a global initiative that bridges gaps and worlds alike, for the common good.

If you'd like to make a donation please head over to http://www.scubasf.com/ for more information.

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