The battles of survival


IS THERE a more haunting word in English than 'if'?

For survivors of tragedy, this tiny word is incised into the soul, a scar that remains forever.

Tsunami survivor Ian Cohen's conversation is peppered with the word.

If he had caught the train in which thousands perished. If he had arrived hours earlier to the Sri Lankan surfing village of Hikkaduwa and been asleep as the waves crashed in. If one more wave had shattered the wall he crouched behind.

Looking drawn and still clearly shocked by his experiences, Mr Cohen described being 'mesmerised' by the waves as they crashed around him, only to later realise: "That there were people dying so close to me.

"It feels so devastating that there was nothing you could do..." his voice trailing off.

Having arrived back in Byron Bay on Monday, the Broken Heads-based Greens MP cannot answer the questions of if or why, but he can answer the next: What now?

Today he will speak at the Australia Day tsunami fundraiser at the Beach Hotel, Byron Bay, hoping to raise funds to help the survivors of the devastated country.

And he knows first-hand how just a little money can bring so much hope.

After the tsunami, Mr Cohen travelled with NGO workers from Greens SL (Sri Lanka) to some of the more devastated areas ? a Buddhist monastery where 1000 homeless villagers sheltered, he helped sift through the rubble, load trucks with rice and chillis, saw those living under tarps and aid workers struggling to provide food and water.

The NGO group took him to the Sambodhi Disabled Residential Centre in Galle, a home for 120 disabled children, 40 of whom died when the tsunami hit.

Tears flowed yesterday as he recalled the sight of walking into a room where the wheelchairs of such vulnerable children were piled high, mangled after being thrown about by the waves.

After asking the Australian High Commission for some funds, the Greens SL NGO workers spent the next four days working around the clock to repair and reopen the centre.

"It was like something from Heaven had happened. This is the sort of thing we can do," Mr Cohen said.

Fixing the children's centre and bringing hope to so many lives cost a mere $500.

"I want all of the funds raised to be deftly targeted at those most in need: The children, the disabled," Mr Cohen said.

The tsunami fundraiser at the Beach Hotel begins at 3pm.

On Saturday, the Byron Bay Services Club will host another tsuna- mi benefit.

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