Relief teams from Britain's Royal Navy are in eastern Sri Lanka to help clean-up devastation wrought by last month's deadly tsunami.
Father Joseph Mary steps into his parish church, St. Ignatius, located in a village outside the eastern city of Batticaloa. Branches and debris litter the nearby courtyard, which is surrounded by the remains of damaged houses, but the church itself is nearly immaculate.
"The whole church, maybe one to two feet of sand and mud and dirt and whatever you can think of was here,” he said. “All these benches were floating outside, but they have done a wonderful job."
"They" are members of the Royal Navy, British sailors deployed to Sri Lanka to help with the relief effort after the December 26 tsunami killed more than 30,000 people.
Altogether, about 300 British sailors from the HMS Chatham and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Diligence, have been sent to do what they can to help local communities here. They have given out emergency medical supplies, repaired fishing boats and cleaned salt water out of wells, making the water drinkable again.
In the areas surrounding the city of Batticaloa, the British sailors have also cleaned up and restored what they can of two churches an act, which may seem symbolic. But Father Joseph says it will encourage people to return home from refugee camps to start the task of rebuilding, and in turn resume their lives.
"Because a village, whether it is Catholic or Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim, is built around the priest,” he added. “They look to the priest, who stays, who does not run away. Helping the people, the community, [who] gives them strength."
The British sailors have noticed that for the traumatized people of this area, a little effort goes a long way. Lieutenant Commander Simon Dalziel is a Royal Navy spokesman.
"We have found in some areas where we just started clearing debris and so forth, the locals join in, and its given them incentive, perhaps the little nudge they need to realize that all hope is not lost and they can recover and move on," said Mr. Dalziel.
Father Joseph Mary says he would like to see a British invasion of Sri Lanka for the purpose of reconstructing the devastated coastal areas. That may be too much to hope for. But for many, the British and other international assistance may be just the start Sri Lankans need.