February 16, 2005 | By: Aimee Nielson

News coverage in 2005 has been dominated by stories of the devastation of a powerful tsunami in Asia. Jessamine County Extension Homemakers wanted to show people there is more to these countries than the horrific images of destruction.

A program called “Beautiful Lands: Thailand and Sri Lanka” focused on the rich heritage and culture of these two countries.  Jessamine County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Science Marisa FitzGerald coordinated the program.  She feels a special attachment to the areas because her mother is a native of Thailand and they have family still living there.

“It is a beautiful place and even though there is a lot of devastation there are still parts of the country that weren’t affected and they are beautiful,” she said.  “We are hoping to show that side of it -- the land itself, the physical beauty, the people and the customs.”

Participants in the program were treated to a menu of authentic Thai and Sir Lankan foods including Thai spring rolls, coconut rice, pork and shrimp toast, fruits, desserts and beverages. Tables displayed maps, fabric, art work and more to introduce guests to the area’s culture.

Lavanya Wijeratne grew up in Colombo, Sri Lanka before pursuing a degree in the United States.  She’s now a chemist for the state.  On a holiday trip home, Wijeratne was stranded in airports as news of the tsunami began to spread.  She said at first they were told it was just a large tidal wave, so she was not prepared for the tragedy she saw in her homeland.

“It was almost like when 9/11 happened in the United States,” she said.  “It was non-stop coverage and everyone was watching television.  Lots of people got together and began a relief effort and prepared meals and shipped them out to the victims. That’s pretty much the way it was the entire two weeks I was there.”

None of Wijeratne’s family was directly affected by the tsunami but like most people there, she personally knew some who did not survive including her childhood dentist.  She had difficulty getting her paperwork in order for her return trip to Kentucky because there were literally no workers in many businesses.

“We have such a long history of more than 2500 years in Sri Lanka,” she said.  “Even though it was a huge catastrophe that we will never forget, we don’t want the tsunami to define us. It’s important that people know our culture, our heritage and more about our country than this disaster.”

Participants also were encouraged to donate to the disaster relief efforts of UNICEF during the program.  FitzGerald emphasized that it was a small way that Kentuckians could help people affected by the tsunami.


Source: Marisa Fitzgerald 859-885-4811