Telluride’s Bruce French is a chef to rock stars, including Bruce Springsteen and U2. After watching the tsunami crisis on television, he packed his gear, cashed in frequent flier miles and got on a plane to Sri Lanka. He will stay until May, after which he goes on tour with Pearl Jam. Initially, French approached the Red Cross but was turned down. So he went on his own, meeting and joining up with others along the way.

Most of the relief caravans passed by Peralya on their way to the bigger town of Galle. More curious travelers stopped at the village to gaze at the wreckage of a passenger train that had been washed off the tracks, killing at least 2,000 people. French’s entourage stopped. And stayed.

What French and the others have accomplished is pretty amazing, considering they did it without assistance from any outside relief agency:

Peralya on the island’s southwest coast…[has] turned into an enclave of volunteers who work side by side with villagers to tile roofs and install water purifiers. Now the village has a makeshift school, a medical clinic, a dental tent and an $8,000 bank account. Fishing boats have been replaced. Hundreds of temporary homes are being built. The outsiders helped them re-tile the roof of their library, originally built by UNICEF. The library books had washed away, so [they] set up a medical clinic in the building. ….One month after the calamity, the village bustles. Children go to school in a tent. Bulldozers clear vast piles of rubble. Newcomers just pitch in.