Ex-Juneau resident aids tsunami victims

Sproul represented Christian nonprofit in Sri Lanka and India

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

Everywhere he went in Sri Lanka, former Juneau resident John Sproul saw the devastation caused by December's tsunami.

Homes turned into rubble. Train tracks were twisted and torn up. Lush rice fields remained covered with saltwater.

This was two months after the gigantic waves distorted the coastlines of many Southeast Asian countries and killed at least 250,000 people.

"People walked on the street, looking stunned and shocked. They would come up to us and asked us when the next tsunami would come," said Sproul, a fishery economics specialist who lived in Juneau between 1998 and 2000 and worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Sproul and specialists in housing, finance, agriculture and small business represented Healing Hands International to help identify short-term and long-term relief goals.

Healing Hands International is a Christian nonprofit that has provided more than $51 million in relief and aid to 59 countries all over the world. Sproul was sent by the Stockton Central Church of Christ in California.

On Tuesday, Sproul, who is on vacation in Juneau this week, spoke at the Juneau Church of Christ about the long-term relief needs in the tsunami areas. About 50 people attended.

"A lot of people have donated money to the disaster," said Sproul, a former member of the Juneau congregation. "I simply informed people how the money was used and how much they have helped in small and big ways."

Healing Hands International has collected about $2 million in donations from Church of Christ congregations around the world.

Bruce Baird, evangelist of the church, said he hopes the presentation will bring awareness of people's responsibilities toward mankind.

When he was doing fishery assessment in Sri Lanka and India in February and March, Sproul helped local fishermen repair boats and gave them new fishing nets. His group also gave away sewing machines so the women could start a seamstress business.

Healing Hands International offered residents a matching fund for their subsidies from the government.

Because the tsunami temporarily changed the fish habitats of many coastal areas, Sproul suggested fishermen use different gear and nets for off-shore fishing.

Sproul also recommended that residents build a shellfish farm in areas submerged permanently after the tsunami.

"Instead of farming rice, they can farm shellfish," Sproul said.

Some solutions take time. Because the tsunami has caused water along the shore to become murky, migrating fish move farther off the shore. Many of the fishermen's boats are unable to reach the fish.

"They will have to wait for another season," Sproul said.

Sproul's team said the long-term needs of the areas include education and housing for orphans, rebuilding huts for fishermen and securing school supplies.

"We can help only a person at a time, one family at a time," Sproul said. "Our goal is to help people get into a better position to support themselves and their communities."

Church member Kevin Henderson, 48, said he appreciated Sproul's presentation.

"It has been in my heart for a long time to be more sensitive to the humanitarian needs of others in the world," Henderson said. "As Americans, we are so wealthy, compared with the rest of the world. It will be embarrassing if we don't help more."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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