On December 26, 2004, a deadly East Asian tsunami killed an estimated 181,000 people. Our hopes and prayers went out to the millions of families touched by the tsunami. "It is the outpouring of intense compassion, the yearning to help strangers across the globe that is truly, I believe, more powerful than any tsunami," Oprah said. "Together, if we choose to be, we all can be the ultimate force of nature."
Millions of you wanted to help. So Oprah's Angel Network teamed up with three worldwide relief and development organizations that will be working in the area of Arugam Bay and the town of Pottuvil, Sri Lanka and donated $1 million to help their efforts.
Arugam Bay was a seaside paradise, tucked away off the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. The only way there was a bridge from the nearby town of Pottuvil, a remote village of white sandy beaches, swaying palms, world-class surfing and colorful fishing boats. Waves of water reduced most local businesses to rubble. Mercy Corps is helping people rebuild their lives by rebuilding their livelihoods. These women who lost everything in the disaster are learning to earn a living by sewing trendy surfer shorts.
When the tsunami hit, there were only five hotels left standing. One year later, there are 42 hotels and 53 restaurants. Thanks to Mercy Corps, a 70-year-old widow can run her tea shop on the beach, serving breakfast to fishermen. And a baker whose shop was flattened is back baking 600 loaves of bread a day. Mercy Corps is also helping impoverished fishermen stay afloat by providing materials to repair nets and boats.
After the tsunami, thousands of people were left homeless. Habitat for Humanity is rebuilding homes for many people who lost everything they had. Volunteers are building 150 homes for those who lost everything. As of March 2006, 50 houses have been completed and happy families have moved in.
Oprah's Angel Network joined forces with Free The Children to break ground on a new vocational training center! At Oprah's Angel Network Center For Learning, adults will get the job training they need to rebuild their shattered communities. And the children will receive an education and desperately needed school supplies.
The Oprah's Angel Network Center for Learning is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. The school is built entirely of galvanized steel, strong enough to withstand another tsunami. Of the 200 students in attendance, half are women.
Nate Berkus, who has helped dozens of guests on the show decorate their homes, was vacationing in Sri Lanka with his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, when the tsunami hit. As the currents swirled around the two, they tried to keep their heads above water. They were separated and reunited in the mayhem. When they both grabbed and held onto a telephone pole and to each other, the water calmed. "And then all of a sudden we felt the water surge again and [Fernando] looked at me and said, 'It's not over,'" says Nate. "And I felt his hand on the back of my shirt and I felt his hand slip away...And then I was drowning again."
Nate lost Fernando in the tsunami, but visited The Oprah Show to share his story
and introduce us to a "band of brothers," a network of other survivors who helped him through the ordeal.
Eventually Nate returned to work, doing what he loves. However, when Nate got a call from The Oprah Show producers asking him to return to Sri Lanka for a follow-up, he said he wasn't interested. Then, Nate says, he had a change of heart. "What I feared the most would probably be the biggest gift that I would receive."