English Teacher owes her life to the kindness of Buddhist monks

By Graham Russell, IC croydon.co.uk, Jan 14 2005

London, UK -- MORE than 100 children and parents turned up at a school fundraiser to ensure that a temple in Sri Lanka could continue to save people's lives - just as it did for their teacher.

The 680 raised will be sent directly to Buddhist monk Siri Vijaya and the Una Watuna temple in Sri Lanka that saved the life of student teacher Cara Whitehead and those of her friends.

Miss Whitehead, 22, on a break from her work placement at Greenvale Primary School in Selsdon, said: "While I was sick he looked after me. He defended us from looters. I owe him my life."

Miss Whitehead was using the Christmas school break to work in a Sri Lankan elephant orphanage in Pinwala when she and nine co-workers decided they would treat themselves and spend Christmas by the sea in a hotel near Galle.

Miss Whitehead said: "We were on the balcony when people started running up the street. At first we thought it was a parade. Then we saw the water coming."

Miss Whitehead ran downstairs to find out what was happening. "A man said to me, 'The sea is coming'."

Badly injured people, some completely naked, started pouring into the hotel building to seek refuge from the deadly force of the waves.

After the first wave had passed Buddhist monks from the nearby temple arrived and urged Miss Whitehead and her friends to come with them to higher ground before the next wave arrived.

For the next day and night the monks fed, clothed and treated them all, including victims of the wave with severe cuts and bruises.

Miss Whitehead, who was suffering from a fever, said: "I was quite ill so they kept waking me up to make sure I was OK."

At this point Miss Whitehead and her friends still thought the flood was a localised event and had no idea of the scale of the disaster until someone told her 600 people had died in Galle.

Rest was made impossible by the continual ringing of a warning bell every time somebody saw a swell in the sea.

Miss Whitehead arrived back in England a week later because she could not face the thought of staying in the devastated country after what she had seen.

She said: "There were bodies everywhere, with people crying amongst piles of rubble."
Miss Whitehead plans to finish her teaching placement at the school in February and complete her Postgraduate Certificate of Education qualification in June.

If anyone would like to donate money to this appeal, please contact Greenvale Primary School on 020 8651 2833.
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