Tsunami, 5 years old

By Jane Sutton-Redner

A little girl bears the name of an unforgettable disaster. (Hasanthi Jayamaha/WV)

One of the frustrations of working on a quarterly magazine is timing. It’s not easy to be nimble with content. Working several months ahead to get everything perfect and hit our press deadline, we often can’t jump on breaking news for a current issue. And later on, the story seems dated. For example, last month was the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic Asia tsunami, and the great stories coming out about it are too late for Winter (already printed) and Spring (just about wrapped up)–and probably too old for Summer.

Ah, but now, there’s this blog. I want to share a story that’s already been featured on the Huffington Post and a few other places. It’s about a little girl who just turned 5 on Dec. 31, a girl named Tsunami. She was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, just days after an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia sent tsunami waves crashing into several countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing more than 200,000 people.

Tsunami, 6 months old, with her mother, Sarojini. (Jan Butter/WV)

I remember reading the first story about this little girl in 2005. Beyond her name—Sumathra Tsunami Tharanga, which means in Sinhalese “the tsunami wave that came from Sumatra”—there were other fascinating story details. Her father, named Lucky, had been a magician before the tsunami, but afterward, local interest in magic tricks dried up, forcing him to work as a tuk-tuk or taxi driver (which he still does today). Tsunami’s mother, Sarojini, already a mother of two, resisted going to the hospital to deliver the girl—now we know that she was afraid to be alone. Lucky was the one who named the baby, and Sarojini didn’t like his choice. “I didn’t speak to him for days,” she said.

Hasanthi Jayamaha

At the time, I thought it would be great to track this little girl some years later. Lo and behold, a talented colleague in Sri Lanka, Hasanthi Jayamaha, has. Thanks to Hasanthi, we see Tsunami today, a beautiful girl who just finished preschool (she is a World Vision-sponsored child). Her parents say she loves the beach, but she’s afraid of the water. “I guess it is because I experienced the tsunami while I was pregnant with her, and the fear I went through has affected her,” said Sarojini.

Sarojini, Tsunami, and Lucky. (Hasanthi Jayamaha/WV)

For a child born amid death and fear, Tsunami has brought a lot of joy and hope—not just to her family but to many of us following her story. Who better than a child can help us move on from the painful past and focus on a promising future?


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