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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 18:01 GMT
Murali matches up to toughest test

By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC News, Galle

Muttiah Muralitharan
Sri Lanka's top spinner says money from abroad is still needed
The internationally known Sri Lankan cricket superstar, Muttiah Muralitharan, has been helping in the post tsunami reconstruction effort.

In the southern village of Seenigama, the organisation he has been involved with, The Foundation of Goodness, has begun building homes to replace those lost in the disaster.

The first one was completed on Sunday.

It was with a fanfare of drums, firecrackers and a crowd of local villagers looking on that Muttiah Muralitharan opened the first new home in Seenigama.

Proud owner

And it was a moment of utter joy in an area which has seen some of the worst of the devastation.

Nandavathi Kumara is the proud owner. Her husband died only weeks before the tsunami in a road accident. Then her home was swept away leaving her and her four children with nothing.

Sitting in her new bedroom with the smell of fresh paint hanging in the air, everything uncreased and shiny new, she described her joy.

"I love this home and little by little I will improve it.

"My one hope now is that the water will never come back and I can live here with my family in peace."

'Help the poor'

It is a small scale venture, a tiny step in the reconstruction process, but for the villagers it is a symbol of what can be done by private organisations, and Murali's role as an internationally known sportsman has certainly helped that process.

He has been involved in this village for the past two years trying to provide support through the foundation he runs with his manager Kushil Gunasevera.

"As cricketers we have more influence and more people recognise us and we can get funds from everywhere.

Nandavathi Kumara
My one hope now is that the water will never come back and I can live here with my family in peace
Nandavathi Kumara, Seenigama home owner

"So we thought we should help the poor, but unfortunately the tsunami struck and we needed more help than we expected, and so we are trying our best," said the man affectionately known throughout international sporting circles as Murali.

When the disaster struck they decided the priority was to build as many homes as quickly as possible.

Kushil has set up the headquarters in his house in the village.

"In our village about 150 houses were totally destroyed. We can build about 30-40 houses a month, so given that time frame to improve the infrastructure and what not, I guess I'm looking at a period of one year to put the village back on track," he said.

The building of this home and the planning behind it represents Sri Lanka's attitude since the tsunami - small scale and immediate impact.

Beat the bureaucracy

Ewan Wilson is a New Zealander whose charity Operation Phoenix is critical of the government's response.

"One of the barriers to any initiative to rebuilding in this country has been the bureaucratic red tape. The government has reacted extremely slowly, which has meant - despite requests to release land for us to build on - that hasn't been forthcoming," he said.

Dancers in the southern Sri Lankan village of Seenigama
The cricketer received a warm reception everywhere he went

"So we've been relying on the foundation here."

Murali and Kushil have managed to push on with the Foundation of Goodness despite the bureaucracy, but Murali's concern is that as time goes by the millions promised from abroad will not materialise.

"The international community and non-governmental organisations are doing a great job, " Murali said, "but the thing is a lot of countries have pledged [money] and I want to see whether the funds are going to come.

"There's still not much progress on shelter, nothing much has happened yet."

The people of Seenigama know they are lucky. It has an international star and therefore international commitment to keep it going.

The rest of the country is not so lucky. Help is coming, but it is slow. Most of those made homeless are still facing a summer in plastic tents.

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