Marty Webb still remembers receiving a call from his wife rita as he boarded the plane to meet her in Sri Lanka for a beach vacation. "All of the sudden, one sunny morning, not a stormy morning, a sunny quiet morning, that all changed," he says. The date was December 26th 2004, the day the tsunami hit, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating the region.
The region was forever changed, but so did life for the Webb family. For the past six months, the couple has lived in the country. Marty retired from UW Eau Claire, sold the couples' home, and travelled overseas to continue helping with reconstruction.
"Roads in the south and guest facilities in the south have been repaired. When you go there now, you might have to look closely to see evidence that this disaster struck just a year ago. That is not the case in the east and the north, "Webb describes. "Those areas remain devastated. Cleanup has taken place in some of those areas, but people have not been provided with new housing at this point that sort of recovery is going to take a significantly longer period of time."
Webb says that is due in part to a decades old civil war that has recently re-ignited, including a killing over the Christmas weekend. "One of the hopes after tsunami, right after tsunami, was that it would help bring people together, but from my observations, over the last several months, if anything it exacerbated the differences between the two," says Webb.
Despite the violence, the Webbs are seeing positive changes, including the rebuilding of schools, thanks to a $9,000 donation from Altoona and Fall Creek students earlier this year. "The most rewarding time of my six months there was being able to apply those funds."
They will continue to live and work in the country, in hopes of helping to rebuild of the island and the lives of the people who live there.