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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 16:19 GMT
Teacher's Sri Lanka mercy mission
Janette Smith
Janette Smith has handed in her notice to become a volunteer
A Scottish teacher is giving up her job to take her skills to Sri Lanka where she hopes to help the young victims of the nation's tsunami disaster.

On hearing the news of the disaster Janette Smith decided she had to help with the relief effort first-hand.

A week later she handed in her notice at work and is now in the process of raising funds to fly out and help.

However, the 47-year-old is not stepping into the unknown as she used to work in Sri Lanka as a volunteer.

She spent more than 10 years teaching for non-governmental organisations in the country's southern provinces - which have been worst affected by the tragedy.

I tried to contact all the friends and when I spoke to them and they told me what had happened it became clear as to what I had to do
Janette Smith

After seeing the devastation caused to many of those places, where she spent such a large part of her life, she felt compelled to drop everything and become a volunteer once more.

Miss Smith first became aware of the tragedy on Boxing Day while visiting her brother in Norway.

She said: "I was watching a television and I saw a picture of Galle bus station which was under water.

"I thought, 'I know that place', and from there I saw more and more pictures of what was happening but because it was all in Norwegian I didn't really understand what was going on.

Janette Smith and her former colleagues at SHIA
Janette Smith worked out in Sri Lanka with SHIA for several years

"It was only when I returned to Glasgow on 28 December that I realised the full scale of what had happened.

"I tried to contact all my friends and when I spoke to them and they told me what had happened it became clear as to what I had to do."

She then spent the next few days trying to figure out how she could offer her assistance and planned to join up with one of the big aid organisations as soon as she was able.

But after speaking to her former colleagues at the Swedish Disabled People International Aid Association (SHIA) in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo they devised a plan of their own.

"I was in constant contact via e-mail and telephone with the SHIA coordinator Mr Wanniarachchi and some of my other friends," explained Miss Smith.

'Much worse'

"I described to them what I was seeing on the television over here and they described to me what it was like over there.

"And from what they told me, it seems to be much worse in reality than what we can imagine.

"In the end Mr Wanniarachchi asked me to join him as he said he needed someone strong to help him so I agreed I would come out as a volunteer.

"But from what my friends were telling me, aid from the biggest charities is just not getting through to people on the ground and they are just crying out for clothes and cooking pots and simple things like that.

"So I got together with a Dutch volunteer who I used to work with at SHIA and we decided to set up our own non-governmental organisation (NGO) and do what we can.

"We're hoping that our smaller scale approach may help more people out and prove more successful in getting aid to them."

As her skills lie in the field of education, Miss Smith and her former colleague decided to specialise in that field.

Aid being handed out in Galle, Sri Lanka
International aid is having difficulty getting through, Janette said

She explained: "We can't do too much but we aim to work with children from the refugee camps and orphanages because those are the skills that we possess.

"What we want to do is to try and bring some sort of normality back to the children who have been affected by the disaster.

"So often children are ignored in these kinds of situations and we're hoping that by teaching them again we can help take their minds off the horrors they have experienced and the ones that surround them.

"We plan to concentrate on the four areas which we know and help as many children as we can - tens would be too little, hundreds would be more like it and if we could help thousands then that would be dream."

Even though her plans are in the earliest stages, Miss Smith has already started the process of setting up her very own NGO and handed in her notice as the education coordinator at the Dungavel Immigration Centre on Wednesday.

'Not such a big deal'

"I was pretty nervous because I had only been there for six months and I usually try to last about six years in most jobs," she said.

"It was a bit of a shock for them and it's become the shortest job I've ever had but I don't think they could refuse considering the situation over there.

"They've been really good to me and realised it was what I wanted to do.

"All I have to do now is to start raising funds for our organisation and start ringing around places to try and get them to donate clothes and toys and whatever we can for the children when we get over there.

"People have been telling me that they think it's a really big thing that I'm doing but it's not such a big deal to me because I'm going back to somewhere where I lived for 10 years and places and people that I know.

"I'm just hoping I can be of some help to them."

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