We’ll be back says Sting’s Trudie
By Feizal Samath
What struck UNICEF goodwill ambassador Trudie Styler, wife of British pop star Sting during a visit to relief camps and schools in the southern town of Hambantota last week was the determination and resilience of the children and people of Sri Lanka.

"I was amazed by their stories," Trudie said in a telephone interview with The Sunday Times on Thursday afternoon from the Colombo airport as she and her famous pop-musician husband were going back home.

A UNICEF ambassador since 2004, Trudie, Sting and two of their four children were in Sri Lanka for nearly two weeks, holidaying at exclusive southern resorts like The Galle Fort Hotel and Taprobane Island, owned by British businessman Geoffrey Dobbs.

But the holiday was more out of a desire to help Sri Lanka after the tsunami with tourism being the worst hit industry after a string of hotels were destroyed and devastated by the tidal waves. Tourist arrivals also fell to a trickle in the immediate aftermath but have been picking up in recent weeks.

Visiting schools in Hambantota and Galle, Trudie, 52, says she was moved to tears by the stories related by children and others affected. "These were heart-breaking stories," she said, emphasizing however that she was even more amazed at the Sri Lankan resilience and spirit and was moved by it.

"They told me how it (tsunami) happened and how their lives were devastated but also spoke of how life must go on," she said adding that, "these (stories) are going to be an inspiration in my daily life when I get back home." "I have so much and so much to be grateful for - but I'll remember these faces for a long, long time."

Trudie said she was unaware of plans by Sting to write a song on Sri Lanka's tsunami but said they were both keen to return to Sri Lanka. "Come back to Sri Lanka? We would love to… and bring the rest of our children too," she said.

Apart from Trudie and Sting's support for Sri Lanka's tsunami victims, one of their sons, a university student, is arriving here next week to work for two months as a volunteer.

Trudie who shares her husband's concern for the environment, which led to the creation of the Rainforest Foundation in the 1980s along with a Brazilian Indian to help save rainforests, was instrumental in ensuring that Sri Lanka - through UNICEF - gets half the money raised at a post-tsunami fund raiser concert by Sting in Australia.

She said that at her request, 500,000 Australian dollars from that concert - half the proceeds -- was allocated for UNICEF projects in Sri Lanka. "We wanted to do something for Sri Lanka."

A UNICEF official, who accompanied Trudie on her field visits to Galle and Hambantota on Monday and Tuesday, said they are in the process of working out ways of using this generous contribution. "Trudie plans to raise more money for Sri Lanka when she returns home," the official said.

The Sri Lankan holiday and visits to schools like Zahira and St. Mary's in Hambantota would probably leave a long-term, indelible impression not only on Trudie but also their nine-year-old son, Giacomo who separately visited children at a Buddhist temple in Galle.

"He loved every minute of it … playing with the kids, chatting, laughing. One of the most wonderful things about children is that they click together in whatever circumstances, whoever they are … there is some kind of bond."

The Sunday Times had been tracking the couple since Tuesday, February 15, after learning that they had arrived on a SriLankan Airlines flight, initially for a holiday followed by Trudie's visit to camps as a UNICEF ambassador. Their 14-year-old daughter Coco made up the foursome.

The paper's effort to also interview 54-year-old Sting, whose real name is Gordon Sumner, didn't materialize due to problems with the phone lines from Weligama where they were staying on Wednesday.

In the brief 10-minute conversation over the phone, Trudie repeatedly referred to the extraordinary impression she got about the people of Sri Lanka and the unity that came with the tsunami. "There were all these people - Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus all together ... I found a strong sense of unity, much stronger than I had expected."

It was not only children who moved the celebrity couple but also others affected by the tsunami, so much so that Trudie and Sting plan to be involved in some micro projects initiated by Dobbs, who is heavily involved in post-tsunami relief efforts in the south.

“I went to the fishing yard, saw boats being rebuilt and heard the tragic stories of fishermen and the wives and children they lost. We also visited a project where women make rope from coconut fibre," she said.

Asked whether Sting would like to perform in Sri Lanka, Trudie said the pop icon was scheduled to perform here but local organizers called it off due to logistic problems. "There were some issues on transportation."

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