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Thursday, July 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sri Lanka's tsunami orphans take heart from Seattle connection

Seattle Times staff reporter

How you can help


Contact Asiana Education Development at www.asianaeducationdevelopment.org or 206-284-7441.

Moyer Foundation "Care for Each Other" bracelets to benefit AED are available for $2 at www.moyerfoundation.org, 206-298-1217, or at Bartell Drugs and area Caff Appassionato and Thriftway stores.

Adam Salmon doesn't talk much about his injuries — the fractured wrist, the bruised ribs and severe concussion that landed him in a hospital in Sri Lanka in March when he veered to avoid hitting a motorcycle and rolled his light truck.

He still feels the pain, but it's an inconvenience, not an obstacle to the work this Queen Anne resident continues through long, trying days in this tsunami-devastated island nation.

"The biggest challenge is seeing people still living in refugee camps and they don't understand why. There are a lot of people still displaced," said Salmon, 44, executive director of the nonprofit Asiana Education Development (AED), which had nine of its 71 schools on Sri Lanka swept away or severely damaged.

Among his greatest concerns is that the children of Sri Lanka will need help for years to come, long after tsunamiinspired donations dwindle off.

The rushing seas of Dec. 26 killed an estimated 178,000 people in 11 countries, with another 50,000 missing and presumed dead. The toll included more than 31,000 in Sri Lanka, where 12,000 — 15,000 children died and another 9,000 were orphaned.

Children were particularly vulnerable, Salmon said, because many rushed to the sea to watch fish flopping wildly in shallow pools created as the water receded just before the tsunami struck.

"I will never forget those first 10 days we were working ... and finding children clinging to pieces of debris or trees," said Salmon, who flew from Seattle to Sri Lanka shortly after the disaster.

A particular danger in Sri Lanka was land mines placed during a 20-year civil war between the government and rebels who control the eastern part of the island.

"I will never forget walking through the minefields that were underwater, but realizing people were trapped, and forgetting that the minefields were right below us — yet not one on our team complained or showed any fear," Salmon said. "I will never forget the look in the eyes of the survivors who had lost everything. That will be with me forever."

In the half-year since the tragedy, AED has distributed 56 40-foot shipping containers of emergency supplies, including medicine, food, water, tents, school supplies, pots, pans, cooking fuel, clothing and toys.

It has also reopened four damaged schools and started 18 new ones in temporary facilities, and begun forming plans for a village to accommodate 250 orphans.

When U.S. Marines arrived shortly after the tsunami, AED was designated their main local contact. "Seeing U.S. servicemen and women saving lives, and working at heroic efforts to do so, will be something I will never forget," Salmon said. "When the Black Hawks [helicopters] were eventually called back to Okinawa, the pilots and flight crews took up a collection for the work of AED; it was one of the most humbling moments of my life."

Salmon, who has a master's degree in behavioral science from Seattle University and is working toward a doctorate in education, went to Sri Lanka in 1994 to start a publishing company to produce books dealing with AIDS awareness and drug education.

Struck by the needs of children there, he established Asiana Education Development in 1998.

He has been working in Sri Lanka steadily since the tsunami, except for a three-week visit back to the states in March, partly for additional medical treatment for his injuries in the truck rollover.

In that same accident, Tom Dougherty, executive director of the New York-based Doctors of the World, also in Sri Lanka to assist in emergency efforts, suffered a broken collarbone and several broken ribs.

Among the groups helping Asiana Education Development has been the Moyer Foundation, created by Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen, who read about Salmon's post-tsunami efforts in a Seattle Times article.

Since then, the foundation has raised $150,000 for AED through its "Care for Each Other" bracelet sales and a benefit at Sport Restaurant & Bar.

Even before the tsunami, Sri Lanka had a large number of orphans, due to an estimated 64,000 deaths in its 20-year civil war. Recent episodes of violence, sparked partly over how aid funds are distributed, have threatened the fragile cease-fire negotiated in 2002.

But despite the difficulties, AED efforts have continued. Volunteers working in Sri Lanka with AED this summer include six interns from Seattle University and Western Washington University, six students from Garfield High School (including Salmon's two daughters) and one from Roosevelt High School.

In addition, volunteers from around the United States include a doctor, engineer, nurses, a teacher and a school psychologist. Members of Engineers Without Borders and Architects Without Borders have also visited to help.

Seattle architect Robert Humble, who recently returned from a week in Sri Lanka, is working on plans for a 3.5-acre Safari Boys Village, where AED will house 250 boys at Pamunugama, on the island's west coast, 12 miles north of the capital city, Colombo.

Pamunugama is already home to the organization's Samudra Sri orphanage, housing 216 boys and girls. When the new camp is built, 250 girls will be housed at Samudra Sri and the boys will move to the new village, a separation of genders required by the Sri Lankan government.

The boys' village will include 20 or more small residential buildings with live-in "dorm parents," a half-dozen large structures, a central courtyard and areas for adventure around a small lagoon.

Designed to be "socially and ecologically sustainable," the campus will include ways to collect and reuse rainwater and provide "passive cooling" from features such as concrete floors and prevailing breezes.

Humble, who met Salmon about two years ago, said the AED director's dedication and sense of purpose inspires others.

"I just think he has a lot of energy, a lot of drive and a really big heart," Humble said. "Anytime he puts his head toward something he just goes full bore and gets it done."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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