20-year-old daughter, they missed the adventure as the massive
Southeast Asia earthquake caused a tsunami that has killed hundreds
of thousands of people.
Sadly, Fernando's cousin, Harshini, and her husband forged ahead
on the trip to Yala where they were killed by the tsunami.
"That morning, on Dec. 26, we were getting dressed to go to the
beach a few miles away, but a call came from my brother who told us
to wait, to go nowhere because something was going on," Fernando
said. "He told us to turn on the television."
It was only then they realized what was happening.
Both the cousin and her husband's bodies were discovered a few
days later in the rubble of what was once a beautiful hotel on the
shores of Yala.
Fernando, who teaches at St. Robert's Bellarmine School, and
Damascene Perera, her younger brother and owner of Regency Tea in
Colombo, Sri Lanka, visited the area days later, bringing with them
aid packages containing kettles, spoons and a few other necessities.
"It didn't take long to see the devastation," Fernando said. "We
went to a shelter set up in a school and they had all these orphans
gathered there in one section and families in another."
She said it was amazing to see the Catholic priests and nuns
working together, sorting clothes, handing out medicine and cooking
for about 1,500 survivors.
"The relief response locally was amazing and even the poorest
people were helping to gather clothes to bring to the shelter,"
The survivors were stunned as they walked through rubble that once
was a village, looking to recover anything that would be of use.
"This was so sad because there was nothing left," she said.
One thing that stuck in her mind was the sight of a lone dog just
The caring and love she felt from friends and loved ones when she
returned home helped salve the wounds, she said.
St. Robert's had a relief fund drive going for tsunami victims in
her honor by the time she got back.
The school turned Wednesday's "jeans day," when students wear
denims instead of the normal uniform, into a fun way to raise money
for the fund. Each jean clad student could drop a $1 bill or change into the jars set out in each classroom.
To date they have raised $2,030.
Fernando's students were especially happy to see her.
In her absence they made cards welcoming her back, and when they
saw her they greeted her with plenty of hugs.
The students also made cards to be sent to the children in Sri
Lanka, each bearing a rainbow and a note. One card said, "Please stay
away from the water. God bless you."
"We're making things for children who lost their parents," said
5-year-old kindergartner Miguela Gonzaga. "I put two quarters in the
jar today for the poor people."
The school plans on continuing the fundraiser over the next few
months. School officials are also planning a walk-a-thon to raise