22 FAMILY MEMBERS LOST

In Features /

By Liivi Sandy

The number of people killed by southeast Asia’s tsunami related to Cafe la Gaffe employee Victor Pakerathan exceeds the number of people who work at his restaurant on Baldwin Street.

More than 22 of his relatives were swept away when the massive tidal wave attacked the northeastern coast of his native Sri Lanka. In a desperate attempt to alleviate the damage done to his Tamil community, Pakerathan turned to neighbourhood restaurants for donations. He is collecting money on behalf of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization and it will go straight to the area where he is from.

“This is the best I could do from Canada,” Pakerathan says, adding that people in Sri Lanka can handle the disaster as long as they have the money to do so. Only one restaurant on Baldwin didn’t donate money.

In two days Pakerathan, 25, raised $2,000. Vegetarian Haven, at 17 Baldwin St. donated $400. “I’ve gone all over the street. I went to every restaurant on Baldwin and everyone [who donated] paid more than $50.”

All of the management at Cafe la Gaffe is Sri Lankan. Most of them are related, by blood or marriage.

“It feels like I have a fever,” he says of the shock and pain that came along with seeing the coverage in the media. “No Sri Lankans in Toronto had a happy new year.”

About a year ago at this time Pakerathan was lying on a beach in northeastern Sri Lanka. He says the tragedy is even more devastating for him because he made new friends and spent time with relatives who he knows are in trouble now.

But Pakerathan is relieved that the media is helping the rescue effort. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization sends supplies based on information they get from news broadcasts.

Pakerathan’s family in Toronto spent much of the holiday season collecting money. His sister’s children raised $50, an amount that Pakerathan says could provide one meal for 50 Sri Lankan families. Pakerathan wants the money to go his people, and by starting a grassroots collection jar, rather than donating to a bigger organization, he’s ensured that this will be the result. Almost 17,000 people are dead in northeast Sri Lanka. Pakerathan is from the island Punkuduthivu, near Batticaloa.

He’s concerned that not enough money is going to his region. “I can’t allow my people to die,” he says.

Pakerathan watches Tamil television to get updates about the disaster. He watches it not only because it’s in Tamil but also because he says there are new images and more detailed information released all the time.

He claims the Sri Lankan government, in an attempt to keep tourist dollars flowing, doesn’t tell the full story to Western countries. Many western journalists are in Colombo, the country’s capital and an area not hit by the wave.

Pakerathan hopes that the calamity will subside before he goes back to Sri Lanka in a year for his wedding. Until then, he’s doing everything he can to help from here.

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