- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

Best friends Jack Schwab and Scott Dahl departed for South Asia last month expecting mostly to help tsunami victims rebuild their homes. What they found was survivors who needed more than just shelter.

“Our goal was to get as many people out of the camps as fast as we could,” said Mr. Schwab. “But our primary mission ended up being to provide love and comfort to these people who have been so devastated by what happened.”

Mr. Schwab and Mr. Dahl began planning the mission soon after the tsunami hit Dec. 26. They said their desire was to help was born, in part, out of regrets for not responding last fall to the series of hurricanes that hit Florida.

Talk of the South Asia trip spread so quickly around his McLean community that four friends asked to join. And one month after the tragedy, the Sri Lankan Help group was on the ground in South Asia.

The group spent a month traveling among aid camps along the Sri Lankan coast looking for homes to rebuild, wells to pump and people to help.

“We just went to where there was the most need,” Mr. Dahl said.

About 300,000 people were either killed or are still missing as a result of the tsunami that rolled across the Indian Ocean.

By the end of February, group members had rebuilt 15 homes, built numerous transitional homes, provided supplies for the camps and orphanages, and built a toilet for a village of more than 100 people.

They also spent a lot of time just comforting families and children.

“We met a lot of people who had lost family members, and the language barrier made it difficult at first,” Mr. Dahl said. “But we would just hold hands, hug people and provide comfort any way we could.”

The group returned Feb. 22 but is still collecting donations to support about 100 additional projects in the region, Mr. Schwab said.

“Native Sri Lankans who are rebuilding homes … will call me to say where they are in the process and what they are doing,” he said. “But it’s difficult because I cannot see what is being done.”

The men plan to return in August to continue rebuilding and bringing essentials.

Still, they say the nonessentials such as art supplies they brought were often just as important.

“The pictures gave the kids the opportunity to share with us,” Mr. Schwab said. “These kids have seen things American adults will never see. Even though they’re laughing and playing, they still have a lot of pain inside.”

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