Temples and mosques take central role in UK's aid effort

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The Independent Online

They are bringing their offerings to the temple. Outside, a line of cars is pulling up, crammed with plastic bags full of clothes, sacks of rice and cartons of soap. Inside, saffron-robed monks, sari-clad elderly women and young men in jeans all lend a hand, packing these goods into endless cardboard boxes.

They are bringing their offerings to the temple. Outside, a line of cars is pulling up, crammed with plastic bags full of clothes, sacks of rice and cartons of soap. Inside, saffron-robed monks, sari-clad elderly women and young men in jeans all lend a hand, packing these goods into endless cardboard boxes.

If the Sri Lankan community in London had the billions available to Western governments, it would undoubtedly give it immediately to help their homeland. But it does not, so the people give what they can from their homes and small businesses. Much of it is coming here to the Sri Saddhatissa Buddhist Temple in Kingsbury, north-west London, which over the past couple of days has transformed itself into a key centre for collecting aid.

And the dedicated efforts of their worshippers have been mirrored in countless mosques, temples and embassies as expatriates and Britons alike flood them with aid. "Almost every one here has been affected in some fashion: they have relatives or friends who have been made homeless or are missing and they all want to do something to help," said the Venerable Homogama Kondanna, one of the temples' senior monks.

Although Buddhists make up 70 per cent of the dominant Sinhalese community, he stressed the aid was for everyone: "Mother nature does not discriminate, so neither do we."

One member of the temple, who has returned to Sri Lanka, lost nine family members; many others simply do not yet know how their loved ones have fared.

In the cramped rear room, overlooked by a large statue of the Buddha surrounded by votive candles, the floor is strewn with clothes. Only a small portion are old, mostly they appear barely worn or new; some have come straight from shops. The mountain of white labelled boxes grows, added to every few seconds, ready for the airport. "They would have worked all night if they could, but we told them to sleep for a few hours," said Mr Kondanna. Copious amounts of rice and vegetable curries, eaten at communal tables and washed down with tea, sustain them.

This small but crucial contribution to the world's aid effort has gathered strength since Sunday as worshippers turned up spontaneously for communal support and to offer help. As well as immediate aid, the temple is hoping to raise £1m in the long term to help rebuilding.

Whole families are helping. Mahesha Senanayake, 37, from Watford, came with her husband and two children. She lost two families of distant relatives in the devastation in the Galle area. "We spent all day watching for news on the television. We were so helpless, it's terrifying. But we came here to do what we can," she said.

At the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, people have also been turning up with clothes, blankets and money.

Sangthong Dhammacaro, a monk, said: "We have had Thai people and English people coming with donations which we pass on to the Thai embassy, which has also been collecting."

Meanwhile, the Swaminarayan temple at Neasden, north-west London, and the Hare Krishna movement at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire have been raising funds in the Hindu community.

Appeals for donations were made at British mosques at prayers yesterday while Muslim Aid has already made £100,000 available for food, clothing and medicines. All the embassies of countries affected by the disaster said they had been flooded with phone calls as well as offers of help. They have set up dedicated appeals.

A spokesman for the Indonesian embassy said: "The embassy has set up a fund to receive donations and will channel them to the relevant relief organisations in Indonesia. Every penny will be used to aid the victims and to reconstruct towns and villages."

Hassan Sobir, the Maldives' high commissioner, said: "We have received very touching letters from many, many British people who have spent holidays in the Maldives along with £50 or £100. It is very welcome."

The High Commission has also set up a relief fund. A spokesman said: "We need all types of basic medical supplies, water and purification tablets, tents, blankets, canned food, generator sets, lighting, stoves, fuel and utensils."

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