WOCCU Reps In Sri Lanka Find CUs Helping, Hurting

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Two representatives of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) have arrived in this country to assess damage to credit unions and their members following the deadly tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in Asia.

John Ikeda, a project manager in WOCCU's Washington office, told The Credit Union Journal from Sri Lanka that the damage is "mind-boggling"

"To stand there and talk to a manager of a credit union who cannot find in a sea of rubble where the credit union once stood is unbelievable," he said.

Ideka has been joined in Sri Lanka by Normunds Mizis, WOCCU's Uzbekistan project director, who has worked in the region before. Both men made the drive from Columbo along the southeast coast of the country and have met with representatives of SANASA, the Sri Lankan credit union federation, which represents nearly one-million people in the country, and with credit union managers and chairmen.

"We've been trying to get an idea of the best way to use the contributions from the international credit union community," said Ikeda.

WOCCU and SANASA are estimating the tsunami damaged at least 800 Sri Lanka crdit unions, with more than 200 credit unions completely destroyed. A chief problem, said Ikeda, is that no records remain at many village-based credit unions, most of which had between 100 and 300 members.

"They were not computerized," he said. "I met with one credit union with no records. I met with another where the records had gotten damp but were being dried out. We are asking members to bring in their passbooks to help reconstruct the ledgers. There are some audit (records) available at the district (credit union) offices, but it is very difficult."

Initially, Ikeda said WOCCU is working to provide some salaries for managers so they can continue to work at determining who has died, who remains, and who is in the various refugee camps.

Once his work is finished in Sri Lanka, Ikeda said he would be traveling to Thailand, as WOCCU has learned credit unions in the city of Phuket have also experienced damage.

At this point, he said WOCCU and SANASA are discouraging any credit union folks from traveling to the country seeking to help. Canada's credit unions have already sent some personnel to assist. "The key here is coordination," he said. "Someone hopping on a plane could just drain resources."

Ikeda said he has been struck in Sri Lanka by the number of credit union managers who continue to work despite losing not just the credit union but their own homes, family members and businesses. "They're still there trying to put together the credit union," he said.

SANASA reported that in addition to working to distribute aid from other countries, its own credit union members collected donations, funding the transport of more than 200 truckloads of food, water, clothing and medicine.

Moreover, at presstime, J.K. Reginold, regional program coordinator for SANASA, estimated that over 15 of the 25 credit unions he supervises were completely destroyed, and that as many as 10% of members and staff at these credit unions may have been killed and most of the rest are currently in refugee camps along the eastern coast.

Reginold himself lost his house and several members of his extended family.

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