Westmont Magazine In the Wake of the Wave
As she ate breakfast on a quiet Sunday morning, Rehana Wijesinghe ’00 was unaware of the wild wave about to wash over the Sri Lankan coast. She first learned of the vicious tsunami when her father phoned from India where he was vacationing. He wanted more information about the Dec. 26 disaster.
Like other residents of the capital city of Colombo, Rehana wasn’t concerned at first. “Sri Lanka floods often because of the monsoons,” she says. “But I soon learned the tidal wave had caused devastation on all sides of the island, ravaging the coastline with 30- to 40-foot waves from the Jaffna peninsula in the north, down the east coast and around the south to the west coast.
“A few hours later the images of destruction filled the television screen,” she recalls. “There was water everywhere. Places familiar to me were shattered, and I couldn’t imagine how things would ever be the same.
“People had this unforgettable look of fear, sadness, hopelessness and trauma in their eyes. I could not help but cry at the sight of hundreds of dead bodies. I could hear mothers crying out for their lost children.”
“The coastal region of Sri Lanka has been completely destroyed,” Rehana reports. “Roads, bridges, houses and other infrastructure can only be restored through donations to the various relief organizations that offer relief and rehabilitation programs.”
Like many other Sri Lankans, Rehana responded by getting involved. “I have donated money and medicine and helped out at the World Vision International Center to package items for the affected areas,” she says. “I am also working on getting water filtration systems so people will be able to get clean drinking water.
“It is amazing how individuals, regardless of race or religion, are joining hands and providing aid,” she notes. “The first week, most people took time off from work to assist in distributing food and medicine.”
Despite these efforts, much remains to be done. “There are hundreds of orphans and a million displaced people who have no place to go,” Rehana says. “The papers were full of notices of missing people. The trauma is unimaginable.”
Rehana appreciates the outpouring of aid that has reached her country. “But prayer is what Sri Lanka needs the most,” she says. “Only God can help ease the pain.”
After graduating from Westmont with a major in engineering physics, Rehana earned a second degree in electrical engineering from UC Santa Barbara. She worked briefly in Santa Barbara as a hardware engineer, but she decided the position didn’t fit her.
“I always had the drive to go back to Sri Lanka and share the knowledge I had gained to help the country grow,” she says. So she returned in 2004 and gave herself a year to choose a career and a place to live.
While she assists in relief efforts, Rehana continues working on a community-based project that promotes information technology in rural areas.
“Since the recent disaster that has befallen this beautiful nation, I have a desire to stay and do whatever I can to help this country get back to normal,” she says.
Rehana’s time at Westmont has shaped her thinking. Adapting to a new culture and dealing with homesickness made the first year difficult. “Fortunately, God gave me understanding new friends and the multicultural meetings enabled me to adjust to my new environment and feel accepted,” she says.
“One of my most memorable experiences was my first Potter’s Clay. What touched me the most was the willingness of students to give up their comforts and time for a week to work together and help poor people from another culture. This experience and many similar ones in later years have increased my desire to be in a place where I could help people in need.”