Six months on from the deadly Sri Lanka bombings, this Australian survivor is giving back


A twist of fate meant Haneke Manoharan survived the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka earlier this year without any physical scars. Now, she has set up a charity to help those who weren't as fortunate. "I was one of the lucky ones", she tells SBS News.

She noticed the unusual travellers swinging around their oversized backpacks.

They brushed past her as they moved quickly inside the Table One Restaurant of the Shangri-La hotel in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo on Easter Sunday.

“I never thought they were terrorists, I thought they were rude,” Haneke Manoharan, 27, tells SBS News. 

Their eyes darted around the bustling restaurant, filled mostly with tourists on holiday.

“It never crossed my mind they were trying to work out where to plant themselves.”

Suicide bomber
One of the suicide bombers walking next to Haneke Manoharan minutes before he is believed to have detonated.

Haneke and her friend, Sam Nottle, were in the Colombo on an eight-day Easter trip.

That morning, the waitress tried to seat Haneke at the front of the restaurant, but couldn’t. It was that simple twist of fate that ultimately saved her life.

“I was one of the lucky ones that was able to walk away alive with everything still intact,” she says. 

On the morning of 21 April, three days into Haneke's holiday, security footage shows a suicide bomber walking just centimetres away from her.

As suicide bombers Zahran Hashim and Ilham Ahmed Mohamed Ibrahim blew themselves up at the hotel, so too did co-conspirators at the nearby Cinnamon Grand Hotel and the Kingsbury Hotel. 

There were eight attacks across the country, most in Colombo, the deadly work of militants inspired, and possibly directed, by IS, which killed 259 and injured hundreds more.

'I was terrified'

The attack happened at 8.40am. Haneke remembers feeling hungry and after being seated, made a beeline for the buffet table.

Then she heard a sound, a loud sound she had never heard before.

Then, blackness. Momentary silence gave way to ringing and screams in her ears.

Haneke Manoharan
Haneke has launched a campaign to raise funds for recovery efforts following the Sri Lanka Easter bombings.
SBS News

When she came to, she saw her friend hiding behind a table.

“I was terrified. I've never felt so scared in my life.”

When she finally stood up from her hiding spot, she came face to face with the bloodshed.

“The first thing I saw was a woman, and there was someone, maybe in her family, trying to wake her up. 

“She'd been wedged in against a table and her head was back and I don't think she was alive.”

“Then, there was just a lot of red everywhere and bodies everywhere and people who were injured, everyone was covered in blood.”

Giving back

Soon after returning to Sydney, Haneke decided to organise a fundraising campaign to help the victims of the bombings.

With a team of just under 20 volunteers, she organised a series of dinners, a self-published cookbook and an online silent auction.

“Starting DineForLanka was really about giving people an opportunity to contribute from all over the world,” she says.

“It’s something I have never done before so it hasn’t been easy, we have made some mistake along the way, but whatever we can raise will be worth it.”

DineForLanka has organised a series of dinners across the globe to fundraise for the Easter bombing victims.

On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, Haneke visited victims of the Easter Sunday attacks, some who were still recovering in hospital.

“There are people in hospital unable to go home or still having operations,” she says.

“I saw a man who had shrapnel extracted in the last week. People have needed multiple surgeries.”

Pramudith Rupasinghe from the Red Cross in Sri Lanka says the healing process for some people is still far from over. 

"There are people still living with the scars and the trauma they have sustained after the event. 

"There are recovery programs are still underway, and it may take some time for people to recover. It's not only physical injuries but also psychological injuries as well." 

A patient recovering at the Nawaloka Hospital in Colombo
A patient recovering at the Nawaloka Hospital in Colombo. He has had four surgeries to date.

Survivor’s guilt

Haneke says she often feels guilt that she does not carry any physical scars from the bombings unlike so many others who were at the churches and hotels which were targeted that day. 

"You start to realise very quickly that unfortunately, we're all just humans and we're all just flesh and bones," she says.

“What I’ve experienced is nothing compared to what they’re going through."

“A lot of these people [who were affected] already came from quite trying circumstances and now they've had their livelihood, their day to day ability to function, taken away from them.”

DineForLanka has already held dinner events in Sri Lanka and Thailand in the last month, featuring well known chefs  Dharshan Munidasa and Gaggan Anand. 

A lunch event has also been organised at top Victorian restaurant Brae.

“There have been a number of chefs that have helped tremendously,” Haneke says.

“We had to do a lot of cold calling to get restaurants on board for events and for people to contribute recipes for the cookbook.”

Gaggan Anand
Chef Gaggan Anand, right, cooking at one of the dinners organised by DineForLanka.

The money raised will be donated to Sri Lankan based charity Kind Hearted Lankans to help with victims who are still recovering from injuries sustained in the attacks.

“Having people unite over food is the core of DineForLanka,” Haneke says.

“It was really nice to see people come together in a really positive way to contribute collectively.”

 Botanik Rooftop Bistro & Bar
An event at the Botanik Rooftop Bistro & Bar in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Haneke hopes every bit raised can help those who are still recovering from the attacks. 

“We can't undo what's been done and we can't take away their pain.

“But what we can do collectively, is hopefully make a positive impact on their lives.”

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