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Sri Lankan orphans saved by selfless caretaker

Sri Lankan orphans saved by selfless caretaker

Reporter: Mick Bunworth

HEATHER EWART: The Boxing Day tsunami has left a generation of orphans across Asia whose long-term
needs will extend far beyond the provision of emergency food and shelter. Spare a thought, then,
for those children who were already orphans before the walls of water struck. With so many of their
countrymen and women gone or battling for their own survival, these children face a particularly
desperate future. Two days before Christmas, we brought you the story of Sri Lankan-born Sydney
woman Sharminie Niles, who had made it her mission to bring some joy to the orphans in her home
country by sending them Christmas presents. The 7.30 Report's Mick Bunworth travelled to one of
those orphanages at Batticaloa on Sri Lanka's east coast with Ms Niles' cousin, Melbourne surgeon
Chris Hensman.

MICK BUNWORTH: From the front, Jesu Ashram orphanage looks to have emerged intact from the tsunami
that swept through Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka. But at the back of the building,
which directly faces the ocean, Melbourne surgeon Chris Hensman discovers nature has done the work
of a large bomb. This place had been home for 35 orphans who, on Christmas Day, had opened presents
donated by Australians. They would not even have had 24 hours to enjoy them. 7.30 Report viewers
might remember Chris Hensman's cousin, Sydney lawyer Sharminie Niles, who was featured in our story
two days before Christmas. For 10 years, Sharminie Niles has organised Christmas presents to be
distributed at Sri Lankan orphanages. Jesu Ashram was just one. When her cousin left to offer his
medical skills to the people of Batticaloa after the disaster, she asked him to check on the
orphanage.

SHARMINIE NILES: When we heard this, I thought, "What's happened to them?" I mean, they're the
unknown numbers. They're the children whose parents are not there to cry for them, and it just
suddenly occurred to me: how many of these children are still alive, how many of them are in
refugee camps? They've now moved perhaps from an orphanage into a refugee camp, or are they there
at all?

CHRIS HENSMAN: Here, we had really no idea. So coming on the ground, hearing the stories, recalling
for the first time and hearing from people what had happened, it brings it all into perspective. I
don't think we really do understand, living in the west and away from this disaster, the true
impact.

MICK BUNWORTH: Chris Hensman takes us to meet David Daniel, the man who delivered the gifts to the
orphans. He translates their tale of survival. On Boxing Day morning, the children could hear the
water coming before they saw it. Panic broke out and they were trapped in the yard. Quick thinking
and calm directions from the building's caretaker saved all 35 orphans, but he paid with his own
life and that of his wife and child.

KAVITHA KISHNAPILLAL (SURVIVOR): The gate was closed. We couldn't do anything, then the brother
asked us to jump over the fence. Then he asked us to get onto that tree. Then when we got onto that
tree, he was trying to help his own wife and kid who were running from the home, but we saw the
water was taking the brother and one of his daughters, then the wife also.

MICK BUNWORTH: But if you go to Batticaloa's hospital, you realise how miraculous it was that any
of the Jesu Ashram orphans survived at all. There are 190 people on the major casualty list here,
but 4-year-old Tanisraj, who's just had septic tissue removed from a deep gash in his back, is in a
fortunate minority. Most of Batticaloa's small children, including his three siblings, are dead.

MICK BUNWORTH: Doctor, why are we not seeing many children here in the hospital?

JEEPARA PETHAMBERAM (SURGEON, BATTICALOA HOSPITAL): Because the children and the ladies were at
home, and because of the tsunami, almost they are drowned, and children couldn't cope with
drowning, and almost when they were brought for treatment, they were almost dead. We could save
only about 20 children.

MICK BUNWORTH: At Batticaloa's St Cecilia's Convent, we meet another tiny boy who miraculously
defied the tsunami's might. Nilukshan Jayasulan is just 16 months old. No-one here knows how he
survived, just that both his parents are dead. He's an orphan, but not without family. His aunt,
who's lost a daughter, arrived at the convent the day after Nilukshan.

GERALDINE RAGEL (AUNT OF SURVIVOR): When I arrived here, he saw me and he came running over to me.
He hugged me and he was happy. The child didn't go to anybody else. He came running to me.

SHARMINIE NILES: It is very emotional because it's to do with children. While it has affected the
wider community hugely - many families have been broken up and disrupted - but it is the children
that really tug at my heart, to think that there are that many children that have either been
washed away or have been further disrupted - having been orphans, they are further disrupted;
they're now finding themselves in refugee camps, on the streets. There are other children who were
perhaps, you know, in happy families that are just finding themselves just all by themselves.

MICK BUNWORTH: Australians like Sharminie Niles and many others had shown their preparedness to
help before the destruction, but you can't help but wonder if compassion fatigue may condemn this
country's orphans to a life of even greater hardship.

KAVITHA KISHNAPILLAL: I have lost everything, what you gave and even what I had - everything, I
have lost. Now, I am with only this frock and blouse.

CHRIS HENSMAN: Those children have to really be owned by using living in the west. We've got to
understand that this is a long-term project. Long after the camera and the lights and all the
razzmatazz is gone, we need to hang in there, be committed and to invest into the lives of these
kids, who otherwise will find it very hard to survive in today's world.

KAVITHA KISHNAPILLAL: I want to live happily, but I don't know what to do.

MICK BUNWORTH: But there is hope. Sharminie Niles has been inundated by offers of help since the
tsunami. The front yard of her home in the Sydney suburb of Epping has become a hub for those
wanting to get involved. Where there were once brightly coloured Christmas presents, there are now
the rudimentary items required for survival.

SHARMINIE NILES: This is so big. What can we do? I mean, can we possibly do anything - it is so
big? And then my thoughts went back to how we started off with the orphanages, with something very
small, and it did make a difference, and so I then started to ring around and get organised with
help, seeking help, asking for help in terms of what we could do to help, and of course, that help
has come in abundance now.

MICK BUNWORTH: As incongruous as it may seem, Christmas presents, delayed by the tsunami's effect
on Sri Lanka's infrastructure, continue to arrive in Batticaloa. These deaf children represent some
of Sri Lanka's most disadvantaged citizens, but the gifts that Australians sent before this
disaster struck are now, belatedly, bringing them some joy. It remains to be seen whether the
Christmas spirit can be converted into sustained year-round generosity.

HEATHER EWART: For anyone wishing to join Sharminie Niles in helping Sri Lanka's orphans, you can
visit her website at www.helporphansnow.org.au. Mick Bunworth with that report.

Threat of violence still hangs over Aceh

Threat of violence still hangs over Aceh

Reporter: Norman Hermant

HEATHER EWART: The devastated Indonesian province of Aceh is now the focus of a huge international
aid effort. But before it took the full brunt of the deadly Boxing Day tsunami, Aceh was best known
for its long and bloody civil war between Indonesian troops and guerillas fighting for
independence. Prime Minister John Howard told a worldwide television audience today that he was
confident neither Australian troops nor aid workers would be at risk and that Australia would
maintain its presence in Aceh for as long as needed. But at least one expert has warned that this
long-term commitment of foreign troops and aid workers could become an irresistible target for
militant Islamic groups such as those behind the Bali bombing. Norman Hermant reports.

NORMAN HERMANT: After more than two weeks of stories filled with death and destruction, images of
the tsunami still have the power to shock. On the streets of Banda Aceh, the latest footage to
emerge shows how quickly a stream of water became a torrent, then a churning mass of brown water
and debris that swept through the city. Cars, trees, people were washed away just minutes after the
powerful undersea earthquake off Aceh's coast. Now, the biggest relief operation the world has ever
seen is under way. Indonesia's military, TNI, is working hand in hand with armed forces from around
the world, granting them free movement in a part of Indonesia torn by bitter insurgency, closed to
the outside world just weeks ago. Australia is playing a major role.

TIM LINDSEY (UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE): We should be there helping Indonesians, and I think it will
be remembered for a long time to come. It would also be remembered for a long time to come if we
pulled out of this, if we withdrew from the package because of the threat to aid delivery.

NORMAN HERMANT: The defence force will soon have about 900 personnel committed to the relief
effort, and there are estimated to be more than 1,000 Australians working with aid groups on the
ground. It's a huge operation, and there are analysts who know Aceh well who warn there are serious
risks.

TIM LINDSEY: The fact that this relief is needed and is welcomed by most Indonesians and Achenese
doesn't mean that there aren't groups who wish to sabotage it.

NORMAN HERMANT: The Free Aceh Movement, known by its Indonesian acronym, GAM, has been fighting for
nearly two decades. Indonesians see very little of this conflict - just the images the government
wants them to see on television. Glimpses like these - pictures taken behind GAM lines in a bitter
war - are extremely rare and show a well-armed rebel force. It's this environment that Australian
aid workers and defence force personnel are entering in Aceh. The Prime Minister has told the
country Australia will stay as long as it is needed. He's also told a worldwide audience on CNN
that he's confident Australians won't be caught in the middle of the battle for Aceh.

JOHN HOWARD (PRIME MINISTER): We're not in the business of picking sides. That is an internal
domestic matter for Indonesia. We are there as a friend, trying to give practical help, and I'm
sure that the overwhelming majority of the local Achenese and the Indonesian population generally
will see it in those terms.

NORMAN HERMANT: But Indonesian expert Tim Lindsey says it's not the Achenese, nor GAM, who are the
greatest threat to foreign aid efforts there...

TIM LINDSEY: This is not a simple situation of aid going into a settled society. This is a
fractured and divided society with extreme poverty, trauma and so forth.

NORMAN HERMANT: ...rather, it's small militant Islamic groups from elsewhere in Indonesia, some
with links to Jemaah Islamiah and cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, that may have the most to gain from
disrupting the flow of aid.

TIM LINDSEY: My point is that we are seeing groups that subscribe to Jemaah Islamiah-style
terrorist ideologies moving in to Aceh. It's the small deviationists, is a term used in Indonesia -
the small marginalised groups that follow this aggressive militant jihadi organisation, that most
Indonesians would regard as deviant sects - who are moving in that present a problem, because they
are openly hostile towards western meddling in Indonesia, and in particular in Aceh because of its
symbolic value as the most Islamic part of Indonesia.

NORMAN HERMANT: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says it's an issue he has already discussed with
Indonesia's government and its military leaders.

ALEXANDER DOWNER (FOREIGN MINISTER): We've been cautious, for example, with our military in
ensuring that they're not armed. They're happy not to be armed. TNI, the Indonesian military, have
committed to providing appropriate security for them, and that, I think, sends a message to these
sorts of groups that we're only there for humanitarian assistance, not to achieve any military
objective.

NORMAN HERMANT: Tim Lindsey says the situation is too volatile to leave the protection of
Australians up to TNI.

TIM LINDSEY: I think Australia's going to have to give consideration to negotiating with Indonesia
in order to allow the ADF people to bear weapons. This is a war zone, and this is not like the
Ramsey intervention in the Pacific and other areas; this is a far more complex situation, and
there's a very strong argument to say defence forces need to be carrying weapons for self-defence.

NORMAN HERMANT: Alexander Downer argues, ultimately, the goodwill derived from the huge relief
effort will help protect Australian workers and soldiers.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think, though, when it's seen what the humanitarian assistance we're providing
is actually doing for the communities, it's a little unlikely that Islamic extremists would see
advantage in attacking people who are providing that sort of help.

NORMAN HERMANT: But that thinking, says Tim Lindsey, may be too optimistic.

TIM LINDSEY: Some Islamic terrorist groups don't really care what the public thinks. It has to be
understood that if you look at Jemaah Islamiah's approach to terror, it's not interested in getting
approval; it's interested in destroying the confidence of the Indonesian population in secular
governments. If they were to attack aid workers, yes, they'd be extremely unpopular, but they would
demonstrate the limitations on the government's capacity to actually deliver aid, and so I think
there's plenty of different reasons why attacks could occur.

NORMAN HERMANT: The Foreign Minister says the government has no evidence that any attacks are
imminent, but it will be watching - closely.

HEATHER EWART: That report from Norman Hermant.

Aceh infrastucture damage hampers aid effort

Aceh infrastucture damage hampers aid effort

Reporter: Heather Ewart

HEATHER EWART: Among the Christian-based international aid organisations on the ground in Aceh is
World Vision. The Asia Pacific manager of World Vision is Conny Lenneberg, and I spoke to her a
short time ago. Conny Lenneberg, are you able to move freely around Aceh, or are there no-go zones
dictated by the Indonesian Government?

CONNY LENNEBERG (WORLD VISION ASIA PACIFIC MANAGER): No, we're able to move freely around the city
of Banda Aceh and several of the locations along the west coast. The only impediments to movement
at the moment are the destruction of infrastructure. The roads are closed and we're unable to
access the west coast, where there's been a lot of damage, because the roads are still closed, and
there's limited options to fly down there.

HEATHER EWART: We're getting reports back here that you are being restricted in your movements by
the Indonesian Government. Are you saying that's not the case?

CONNY LENNEBERG: We haven't experienced that. We were last night advised by the coordination
meeting that the Indonesian Government is asking us to advise them when we move out of the city of
Banda Aceh, and that's because of their concerns about our security, but they are inviting us to do
assessments of the west coast and start responding to the needs of those communities down there
that, to date, we haven't really been able to reach.

HEATHER EWART: Do you feel that you are going to be able to deliver aid to those areas most in
need, as it stands at the moment?

CONNY LENNEBERG: At this stage, we feel very confident we're able to do that. We've been invited to
come in by the Indonesian Government. There's a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions here,
and there's desperate need, and it really requires a very large and coordinated response of the
international community to address the basic needs of people and to look at the longer-term
recovery. So what we're experiencing is very much cooperation and a welcome from the Indonesian
Government for us to be here.

HEATHER EWART: On that point - do you feel safe, because Indonesian authorities have spoken of
their concerns about militancy in the region?

CONNY LENNEBERG: It's been an area of a longstanding conflict, and so when we move into these areas
as outsiders, we need to be very sensitive to that context. We're working with our local
counterpart, World Vision Indonesia, which has obviously a very good understanding of their country
and very good relationships with the government with a whole range of organisations, and so at this
stage, we're feeling very comfortable working here.

HEATHER EWART: Can you explain how the aid effort is working there at the moment, in very difficult
circumstances?

CONNY LENNEBERG: At the moment, I'm here doing assessments and providing overall programming,
strategic programming for the longer term here for World Vision's program, and the assessments are
demonstrating that we're really responding to basic needs within the city. So there are small
groups of internally displaced people around mosques and other public institutions, and we're
obviously getting the food and water and starting to meet the shelter needs of these communities,
but we really now need to look at the longer-term livelihood response, more permanent shelters,
because people are living under tarps. There's a monsoon season here, so it's incredibly wet. In
terms of getting further outside of Banda Aceh, we're not able to access very much beyond the
immediate surrounds of the city without helicopters and boats, and so that's proving a real
challenge. The UN went down the west coast about two days ago and has given a security clearance,
and that's really the point at which the other agencies can start going in to assess the needs and
respond to the basic needs of those communities. So food, water, sanitation, health care is the
immediate priority along the west coast now.

HEATHER EWART: How are you dealing with complaints there from some Islamic militants that you have
a western Christian-type agenda?

CONNY LENNEBERG: We deal with that by being very transparent and talking about our history. World
Vision has one objective for being in Aceh, and that is to respond to the desperate needs of the
community that's been devastated by this tsunami. It's an unbelievable devastation when you go down
to the coastline and you see areas that are completely flattened, and 10 days after this tsunami,
they're still clearing bodies, and people are bewildered about how to really begin the recovery
phase, and so as long as we remain focused on that objective, people are understanding that, and we
as an organisation, as all aid agencies, need to be sensitive to the local situation and ensuring
that we're working in partnership with the local people.

HEATHER EWART: So you feel quite welcome at the moment?

CONNY LENNEBERG: Very welcome. We have two houses, and I was walking between them for a couple of
blocks just very early in the evening, and people were saying to me, "Welcome, welcome here", and
that's what I'm hearing from others around the city as well. There's no sense of threat within
Banda Aceh.

HEATHER EWART: Are you in for the long haul?

CONNY LENNEBERG: World Vision is certainly here for 5 to 10 years. The recovery phase and
rehabilitation phase of this natural disaster is going to be really long term. So within a few
weeks, hopefully, we'll have much better supply lines to meet basic needs, but to begin recovering
- the fishing industry is destroyed, a lot of the business sectors are destroyed here. We're
hearing that the geography along the coast is destroyed. Many communities have been absolutely
decimated. So what we don't know is how many communities want to stay here. People are moving away
because of the trauma. Last night we were all shaken out of bed by a fairly substantial earthquake
at 5 in the morning, and we all ran outside, and you could just hear wailing around the city.
People are still incredibly traumatised. So the issues about how you address that in the long term
and rebuild the economy and the infrastructure that's been destroyed are enormous. We've heard that
most of the health centres are destroyed, many of the schools are damaged and destroyed, roads and
bridges are out, and of course, housing is just completely decimated.

HEATHER EWART: Well, thank you very much for joining us, and good luck with your efforts.

CONNY LENNEBERG: Thanks very much, Heather.

Loggerhead sea turtles return to Mon Repo

Loggerhead sea turtles return to Mon Repo

Reporter: Genevieve Hussey

HEATHER EWART: Five years ago, the future for Australia's loggerhead sea turtle population looked
grim. Numbers had plumbed to record low levels, and the Queensland and Federal governments had to
force drastic changes on the fishing industry to keep them from dying in trawlers' nets. This year,
scientific teams are monitoring turtle numbers to see if the tide has turned. A huge effort over
the past 30 years to identify, mark and tag baby turtles is finally showing results as the
long-lived ocean giants return to the Queensland beaches where they were born to lay their own
eggs. Genevieve Hussey reports.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: These baby loggerhead turtles struggling from the sand at Mon Repo Beach in
south-east Queensland are some of the first to hatch at the nesting site this summer.

COL LIMPUS (QUEENSLAND PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE): These little hatchlings have got a sharp little
spike on the tip of the snout to cut their way out of the eggshell. They've got sharp claws on
their front flippers to help tear their way out.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Scientist and turtle researcher Col Limpus is watching these hatchlings begin a
journey that will take them thousands of kilometres across the Pacific Ocean. In 30 years' time,
with luck, just one of these animals will be back as an adult to lay its eggs on this beach.

COL LIMPUS: Can you give me a tag history on K65315?

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Col Limpus grew up in Bundaberg near the Mon Repo nesting beach. He has spent his
life recording the habits and biology of these amazing creatures.

COL LIMPUS: When we started, we thought that loggerhead turtles would nest on every beach in
Queensland - they nest on all our beaches; why wouldn't they nest everywhere else? And we were
quite surprised to find that they're only concentrated here in south-east Queensland, and in fact,
this beach is the most important nesting beach for the south Pacific.

NEWSFILE: For the past five years, the research team has identified, tagged and recorded the
turtles as they come ashore for the annual breeding season.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: In the 1970s, Col Limpus began a quest to find out where loggerhead turtles go
and what they do during their lifetime. Over almost a decade, a group of volunteers helped him clip
small marks on the shells of 130,000 baby loggerhead turtles to identify them throughout their
lives. Last year, the first of those babies came back to Mon Repo Beach to breed. This year, two
more have returned.

COL LIMPUS: We know that they were born on this beach, we know which year they were born because we
tagged them, and now they're coming back as breeding adults for their first breeding season, and
we're solving a question that has been talked about for hundreds of years: does a turtle come back
to where it's born? How old are they when they start breeding? Those sorts of questions, no-one had
ever been able to categorically answer; it was all guesses, and our turtles are teaching us the
answers to that.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: In the early 1970s, Barbara Matthews volunteered to help with the baby turtles.
She became so involved in the research, coming to the nesting site every Christmas became a way of
life for her family. 30 years later, they're still helping out.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Is it amazing to have clipped those hatchlings about 30 years ago and to see them
back again? What's it like to see that happen?

BARBARA MATTHEWS (VOLUNTEER): As I said, it's just the sort of cream on the cake. When we sat there
hours after hours collecting them and then clipping them and having to be so careful with them, but
to now see them coming back, to have known that they've been able to record some of them in the
feeding grounds as well, but to actually see them coming back is just fantastic.

GLEN MATTHEWS (VOLUNTEER): With the hatchlings coming back after 27, 28 years, it was really good.
All those years running up and down the beach with buckets of hatchlings have paid off after all.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: And it's not just new generations of turtles coming to this beach. Barbara and
Glen Matthews' son Beren is also continuing the family tradition.

BEREN MATTHEWS (VOLUNTEER): I've got a passion for research; sort of growing up with it, it's one
of those things that I just enjoy it. There's a few families that are the same as us, so we're sort
of the kids of the turtle research.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: But just five years ago, the prospect for Australian loggerhead turtles looked
grim. Their numbers had plummeted from thousands of nesting females to just 500 a year.

COL LIMPUS: If we didn't do something about it, we could see the demise of our turtle population.
The term "critically endangered" could be applied to it; that's how serious the rate of decline
was.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Scientists believe the prawn-trawling industry was responsible, with turtles
drowning after being caught in trawl nets. In 2001, the Federal and Queensland governments
introduced compulsory turtle exclusion devices called TEDs on trawling nets in northern and east
coast fisheries. TEDs leave a gap in the net through which turtles can escape. Scientists
monitoring turtle numbers say using TEDs has made a difference.

COL LIMPUS: Four years into it, it's looking very encouraging, and we're fairly comfortable that
we've slowed, if not halted, the rate of decline of our eastern Australian loggerhead population.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: The fishing industry says it's paid a price, but the benefits are undeniable.

JOHN OLSEN (SEAFOOD INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION): In some fisheries in particular - for example, scallops
and catching Moreton Bay bugs - the losses of product are very considerable, very considerable, and
in some areas, in fact, it's almost impossible to work with them. So there's no question there's
been a very significant price paid by industry for the introduction of TEDs.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: While some fishermen have been hard hit, ecotourism is taking off. A carefully
controlled program allows tourists to see the turtles laying their eggs.

BOY: It was champion.

MAN: We're locals and it was fantastic - it was worth it. It was great.

GIRL: Yeah. We always wanted to see one.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Despite the successes, loggerhead turtles face an uphill battle for survival. A
growing long-line fishing industry overseas has the potential to kill loggerheads, and their
ability to breed may be under threat from toxins in the marine environment. A study with the
University of Queensland is finding surprisingly high dioxin levels in some turtles.

COL LIMPUS: By sampling the turtles in Moreton Bay, we've got a measure of how much they
accumulate, and then by sampling the eggs coming from those females up here at the nesting beach,
we can look at the extent of the passage of the toxins from mum into the next generation.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Despite the problems, Col Limpus remains confident the loggerhead turtle will
survive, and he believes his lifelong quest to protect them has been worth every moment.

COL LIMPUS: I grew up in the area, and the turtles were something that we all enjoyed. They were
just part of the landscape around us. I'd like to think that my grandkids and their grandkids in
turn would be able to enjoy the same sorts of things that I've enjoyed.

HEATHER EWART: Genevieve Hussey reporting.