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Mission To Shelter Orphans Stymied

After Tsunami, Costs Skyrocket

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2005; Page B01

BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka -- The search for real estate in an area economically ravaged by the tsunami has confronted Dayalan Sanders with a surprising problem.

Batticaloa -- for years an economic wasteland as a result of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war -- has turned into a boomtown. Hotels are overflowing, restaurants are packed, and late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles bearing the names of such agencies as CARE and the Red Cross roar through town. Signs on houses advertise that they've been converted into headquarters for various aid groups.

During the tsunami, Dayalan Sanders, formerly of Gaithersburg, rescued 28 orphans in his care. He plans to build them a new home.

_____More From The Post_____
Fundraisers Aid Victims Of Tsunami (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2005)
Saving the Orphans (The Washington Post, Jan 12, 2005)
Orphanage Destroyed by Tsunami Gets Boost (The Washington Post, Jan 9, 2005)
Sister Provides Her Own Tsunami Aid (The Washington Post, Jan 6, 2005)
Outracing The Sea, Orphans in His Care (The Washington Post, Dec 30, 2004)
Md. Woman Seeks Help Reviving Sibling's Dream (The Washington Post, Dec 30, 2004)

That demand for housing has sent prices soaring. Sanders, who gave up a life in Gaithersburg and returned to his native land to operate an orphanage, found himself priced out of the market when he set out to find a new home for the 28 children in his care.

A month after Sanders and his orphans made a miraculous escape when the tsunami swept in, he found two houses in need of repair, for which the landlord wanted $500 a month for both -- paid a year in advance.

That's at least twice the normal rate, fueled, Sanders said, by the humanitarian groups who need to house their workers and supplies.

"We can't compete with them," said Sanders, a U.S. citizen whose family still lives in Gaithersburg. A decade ago, he founded the Samaritan Children's Home in a small fishing village a few miles from Batticaloa.

For the past four weeks, Sanders, his family and many of the orphans have crowded into a one-story church as he was outbid for one house after another.

Sanders, 50, earned worldwide attention and admiration when he rescued his family and the 28 children in his care from the tsunami. He loaded them into a small motorboat just as a 30-foot wall of water approached, and he outmaneuvered the raging water to take them to safety.

Many others in the Batticaloa area, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, weren't as fortunate. More than 2,800 were killed; 2,300 were injured; and 1,000 are missing. Thousands were left homeless and jobless and now live in tents scattered across the area.

Among the homeless were the residents of the Samaritan Children's Home. The idyllic four-acre compound -- dotted with cabanas and whitewashed cottages on a sliver of beach slipped between the ocean and a shimmering lagoon -- was washed away.

Sanders, who had funded the facility himself in part by selling his Gaithersburg townhouse, had no insurance.

His mother and two sisters, who all live in Gaithersburg, have been energetically attempting to raise the $400,000 or so needed to rebuild the orphanage. At a dinner this month at Grace United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, they raised $140,000: $70,000 from the event and $70,000 from a matching contribution from Ford Motor Co. Other contributions have also flowed in.

Sanders is stunned by the pace at which donations have mounted in the United States. "I saved penny by penny to build the [orphanage]. I thought I was never going to be able to rebuild," he said. "I never thought that people from the U.S. would be so magnanimous."

But he worries that the money could go quickly in Batticaloa's overheated economy. He needs to rent bulldozers and earthmovers to clear out the rubble of the orphanage before he can start rebuilding. He'll have to hire laborers and bring in building materials -- all of which are in high demand as Batticaloa digs out.

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