Helmut Kohl's Unfulfilled Dream
After the demise of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl recently, news about his survival out of the killer tsunami in 2004 December surfaced once again. Kohl was 74 at the time. His escape from the tsunami in Sri Lanka had been described in diverse forms, both in the German media and the Associated Press at the time, with a slight variance.
Kohl had travelled to Sri Lanka with some friends during Christmas vacations and decided to stay in a down South tourist hotel, especially for Ayurveda therapy. As he watched from the third floor hotel balcony, he had witnessed the sea changing its behaviour with a petrifying sound, and immediately a titanic wave rising up with immense force that made the seawater to swoop below him.
When the water level rose up to the second floor level, Kohl had to struggle across to leave the building. There were varying descriptions at the time about his rescue operation and survival. But according to eyewitnesses, the writer found out last month, it was the local folk who rescued him out of the water and sheltered him for a couple of days until he was airlifted. Apparently, the German Government had wanted him to move out of the disaster zone immediately, but he vehemently had refused and stayed back to see the extent of damage, and vowed to help Sri Lanka to organize relief for the affected people and children in the area.
Immediately after the catastrophe, Helmut Kohl had wandered around Galle area for a few days, and it was then he had seen the extent of devastation that had taken place to the Mahamodera Maternity Teaching Hospital. According to local folk and some of the staff at the hospital, an Ayurveda doctor, who lost two of his sons during the tsunami, convinced him to help the damaged hospital, when in fact he decided to build a brand new maternity hospital without any fanfare.
Mahamodera Maternity Teaching Hospital in Galle is a large complex with about 400 beds, which plays the role of frame of reference for the whole area of Southern Sri Lanka for maternal and child health speciality, providing maternal care, neonatal care and training for medical students, nurses, midwives and postgraduate doctors, who study in the areas of obstetrics, gynecology, neonatology and sub fertility.
A team of doctors, guided by Dr. Quintus de Zylva, arrived in Sri Lanka from Australia on 27 December 2004, with the compliments of Quantas Airlines on an emergency flight via Maldives to Colombo. When they landed in Colombo they had to make an inland detour to reach Galle as “the main bridge on the road to Galle had been washed off.” Subsequently, Dr. Quintus de Zylva published an article that evoked great sympathy in Australia towards tsunami suffers in Sri Lanka.
AuSLMAT (Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team) was formed soon after the tsunami to help in capacity building and provide equipment to Sri Lanka. Members of the AuSLMAT have been visiting Sri Lanka once or twice a year ever since. Up to now, the AuSLMAT has made more than thirty trips to Sri Lanka since the tsunami disaster and visited areas such as Batticaloa, Valaichennnai, Yala, Matara, Akuressa, Weligama and Galle. AuSLMAT has also contributed towards setting up of the Cath laboratory (catheterization) and the emergency Centre at the Karapitiya Hospital.
On 3 July 2017, Dr. Quintus de Zylva arrived in Sri Lanka again with a team of specialists and presented a discourse on interventional cardiology (branch of cardiology that deals specifically with the catheter based treatment of structural heart diseases) on the medical staff at the Karapitiya Hospital from 3 July to 5 July. Dr. Jennifer Johns gave a lecture on 'Heart Failure' at the Matara Hospital. Later the team preceded to the Akuressa Hospital that is another infirmary AuSLMAT has already supported. Finally the team visited the Batticaloa and Valaichennnai Hospitals.
Angela – the tsunami baby
Immediately prior to the tsunami chaos a local woman named Rohini, in a state of advanced pregnancy, had rushed to the Balapitiya Hospital in a three-wheeler. The hospital staff in turn had transferred her to Galle due to her blood pressure being too high. Dr. Samarasinghe, a postgraduate trained in obstetrics and gynecology in New Zealand had been serving in a peripheral hospital in Sri Lanka near Matara for some time. On this ominous morning, he was performing an emergency caesarean operation on Rohini when the water flooded the hospital and cutting off the power supply completely. Despite theatre lights going off, Dr. Samarasinghe had managed to complete the operation and deliver a baby girl with the help of torchlight. As the water level increased, the newborn baby and Rohini were placed on a trolley in a hurry and wheeled up to the main Karapitiya Hospital. The healthy, bright-eyed baby girl was named Anjala.
AuSLMAT has kept in constant touch with Rohini ever since, and every time the team visited Sri Lanka both the mother and daughter had been visiting the AuSLMAT team as a mark of gratitude. Angela will be 13 on 26 December 2017 and it was her ambition to have a bicycle as her birthday present. When Dr. Quintus de Zylva heard about her request, he arranged with the help of his Sri Lankan philanthropic friends, Valarie and Peter Weerakoon, to gift a brand new bicycle for Angela's birthday to coincide with the donating couple's wedding anniversary. Consequently, Rohini and Angela visited the AuSLMAT team at Calamander Unwatuna Beach Resort on 7 July 2017 for the presentation of Angela's advanced birthday gift ceremoniously. The AuSLMAT has also taken the responsibility of sponsoring Angela for her education where she attends a local school at present.
When Helmut Kohl pledged to build a brand new maternity hospital for the benefit of Matara folk, the Helmut Kohl Foundation allocated the requisite funds and the work began in 2006 on a four-acre block of land acquired from the Department of Irrigation at Karapitiya. However, nine months after the work commenced, the scheme came to an abrupt halt amidst allegations of malpractices, corruption, inefficiency and indifference on the part of health authorities as well as the local construction company that coordinated the funds from the Helmut Kohl Foundation, for having a 'free run' in the absence of adequate transparency.
When the writer visited the Karapitiya Helmut Kohl's proposed hospital site last month, all he could see was the new building had reached only up to roof level, and the project apparently was in a limbo state, after 13 years! The cost of the estimated project for the new hospital with 600 beds had been around Rs 900 million.
The security guard at the Karapitiya Hospital entrance did not allow anyone to meet any of the officials inside the hospital building stating there was a German delegation at that very moment. He also sounded that the German Embassy in Colombo was presently involved in the continuation of the project in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Government. He did not permit anyone to take photographs of the half completed new hospital building. However, the writer managed to capture from outside the hospital perimeter where on the boundary wall a banner with Helmut Kohl's picture read "Helmut Kohl, Founder of Maternity Hospital, May he rest in peace".
The usual pattern in Sri Lanka has been to blame one another continuously, be it the previous regime or the lackadaisical approach of the Yahapalanaya, while it is the public that has to face the full brunt of all the party-political sins. It is a great pity that the new Karapitiya Maternity Teaching Hospital could not be completed prior to Helmut Kohl's demise – needless to say, this generous German would have been the happiest person on earth to have observed how the people in Galle, who rescued him from the tsunami, benefiting out of his philanthropy.