Tsunami SOS

Empower and rebuild lives devastated by Tsunami

Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

sensitive, restless with a drive to make a difference, constantly looking for new cheese

Thursday, January 27, 2005

15 days after Tsunami - a report

Relief Tour II – Karaikal, Cuddalore and Pondicherry.

A report by Prema Lawrence

8 Jan 2005

Donations had poured in thanks to very generous individuals and organizations.

500 grocery packages with all the basic items to feed a family of 4 for 10 days were packaged at Axes Technologies, Bangalore, India. Software professionals were found measuring rice, dhal and sugar and packaging the same. 1000 kgs of rice and 500 kgs of dhal were packed separately. At midnight 7 members of Axes, Alex of Total Environment and Venki of 361 degrees left for Karaikal. Stoves, mats, new clothes, towels, blankets, buckets, vessels etc. were also sent to Kanniyakumari earlier in the day to meet an urgent request.

9 Jan 2005

Arrived at Karaikal at 3pm. Pradish a social worker from Pondicherry, Ganesh, Muruganandam and Manikandan (NEF, Karaikal) who had done commendable work in the area guided us. Visited the villages of Karaikalmedu, Kizhinjalmedu and Patinacherry.

People were just happy to talk to us and tell us their story. Did not really ask for anything. It seemed like they must be receiving a lot and are satisfied. Well, amazing to see contentment when you do not have a roof above your head, a pot of rice with a little dhal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they had milk and tea and biscuits that were treats provided. Most of them had two sets of clothes. Wonder, where they have a bath for I searched all over to find a toilet and was directed behind a broken home. Well toilets were never a necessity for them and the people of the huts have never used one I was told. Many of them were given stoves but no kerosene. The govt. had restricted it as a precaution to avoid suicides. The women complained that it took almost 2 hrs to cook a pot of rice. Suicide – there are other ways than just dousing with kerosene.

ü An opportunity to upgrade their standard of living and education on hygiene.

The fishermen could tell a cyclone from looking at the color of the sea even 24 hrs before a cyclone but this happened so quickly with no signs, something unheard of. They are afraid that they can’t tell the signs anymore. How would they know when Tsunami strikes again? Do we have any answers to prepare them for this?

Why live 200m from the sea? It can’t be safe; high tide can be dangerous too. The boats are heavy they said and have to be dragged into the sea and they cannot afford to leave them unattended. One sign a few minutes before the Tsunami was that the water moved back from the coast by about 500 mts. The first thought of the villagers was that they had to drag their boats 500m more into the sea and before they could wink they saw the sea rise like a wall and come at them.

ü If the housing is built away from the coast the fishermen could have sheds for their boats with security that could be insured from any natural disaster.

Another lady talked of fear amongst the people. Her daughter worked in a factory nearby but she is in shock and refusing to go back to work. When the children hear “Thani varidhi” (Water is coming) they sprint for the main road and all that arrives in the water tanker.

ü Counseling, counseling and more counseling the only solution.

Older men were found in groups playing cards and smelling of a drink too many. They had received a cheque from the Government for Rs. 10,000/- and Rs. 2000/- in cash, a bag of rice and vessels. Some families had stoves. Some of the money is in the bank but the rest may trickle into the arrack and wine shops.

One of the officials of a government aided Tamilnadu arrack society said that earlier their sales was around Rs. 40,000/- and now it is about a lakh.

ü Will relief given in cash be used wisely? Do the women have any control over the money? Unemployment has its vices. By providing relief without making them take responsibility can breed a community of dependent lethargic people. Something to be considered while providing relief. Our mission is now to rebuild their lives by empowering them.

ü Since my first visit I found that there were not many organizations there providing relief. Slowly the Tsunami fever is dying and the rest of the world will go back to their lives. Relief work should be phased out and volunteers need to go there in batches to uplift their lives. In a way the Tsunami has helped the world notice a community of people live with the bare minimum very much below the poverty line. We could help not just bring back their lives to where they were but uplift their standard of living.

Our visit to Patinacherry had us choking. The devastation was large. That was Day 15 after the Tsunami. We attended the ceremonies at 7 homes, some of them had 4 members dead in a family. The ceremony was done in the bare remains of what were once their homes. A small thatched shelter, a piece of the catamaran with a set of new clothes and some food was offered to the souls of the dead. It was like being in Tirupathi (a hindu pilgrim town) with large numbers of people with shaven heads. No words could console them but other members told us that they were happy to have us attend the ceremonies. In small measures our presence made them feel cared for. It was 11 pm at night and unwillingly we left the village promising to be back the next day.

10th Jan 2005

At 7 am we left for Kizhvanjur and Vadukunajur. These are partly fishing villages. Most of the villagers were farmers and reared cattle. They had received no relief. The lands where groundnuts were grown had all been washed out and cannot be used anymore because of the salt content in the soil after the Tsunami.

5 homes closer to the shore were completely washed out. 2 of the women were widows with children going to school. The villagers would not let us help only 5 families. They said that we had to provide for all.

There was a lot of anger at the administration and the govt. Officials stopped at the main road and asked for a report on the number of bodies. If there were none, they just drove on. The women were ragging an almost deaf old man, who they saved when the Tsunami struck. They said that they should have let him die because they would have then had a body and would have been noticed. Pradish, a social worker, who worked with us, has made a report to the Governor and he assured help to the village. Hope!!!

We then took our truck with material to Pattinacherry. We had forms with details to be filled up by our own volunteers, who went from home to home or just bare land where the people were collecting anything they could find of their homes. The details included a name, family details, basic description of the damage due to Tsunami, family loss and further assistance required that was assessed by the volunteers.

This gave the volunteers opportunity to listen to the woes of the villagers. The villagers then handed over the form to volunteers by the truck to collect their food packages. This really helped us control the distribution and collect data. The data will be entered on a spreadsheet with specific needs highlighted so those who want to help can choose to fund specific requirements.

11th to 15th Jan 2005

Toured more villages, Kottacherimedu & Kallikuppam in Karaikal Dist and Chandrapadi, Tharangampadi and Mandapathur in Tamilnadu.

It was a day spent just talking to people in the villages. In Madapathur, the Panchayat leader was convinced that his people can never go back to the sea and had to find some other occupation. The young men who disagreed were chided into silence.

Visited Sonakuppam in Cuddalore Dist. The village had 1200 families and had received very little relief, the scene was acres of land of homes totally washed away. The people longed for any relief they could get. It is only possible to reach out to these people by giving them some relief material, what we had could only cater to villages with less than 500 families. Spoke to about 15 families, they gave up their dear litre of milk to give us tea. There were 100 stoves stocked in the temple. With the help of a friend (Senthil Kumar of Real Image) 1100 stoves are being organized by Bhoomika an NGO in Chennai. World vision was building temporary shelters in the village.

At Kanakachettykullam close to Pondicherry, the children asked us for guides to their text books that had been given by the government. Exams were fast approaching and they needed guides to help them pass.

Conducted a drawing competition for the children. Got the children to pick up strewn plastic bags and paper left around after distribution of relief material.

Returned to Kanakachettykullam with the books for the children. A friend celebrated his birthday at the village and distributed cake. We also gave them footballs and carom boards to keep in the community center. The volunteers played football while others talked to the men and women.

Two educated women have been identified who will run a evening study center for the children to do their homework and get help with their studies. The salaries will be sponsored by us.

Gayathri of Chennai had initiated a collection at Chennai along with Sundar. The material was accompanied by Manohar and Dhandapani and distributed at Kannakachetty kullam. Almost got mobbed by some men who wanted the distribution by their rules. The distribution has not been fair and there has been a lot of partiality in the way relief material has reached the people (complaints from the villagers)

Relief has reached the affected but not to all. Some villages have received a lot more than others. This depends on the strength of the Panchayat groups and their connections with the government. Most of them depended on the NGOs to be noticed and aided. There has been an assumption that the affected people have received much relief. It depends on what can be termed as “much relief”. They now have the bare minimum to survive today and they do not know about tomorrow.

We continue to send trucks with relief material to reach the affected people accompanied by volunteers.

This report has taken into account all experiences, stories and the present scenario without repeating anything on a common note.

All that we heard cannot be recounted but here are a couple of heart-wrenching stories:

Dilip a very smart spirited kid lost his mother and siblings in the Tsunami. He saved a squirrel and gave it his brother’s name. He only talked to the squirrel for almost 15 days until a social worker broke his silence. He was very happy around us the whole day until his father full of spirit (not what you would wish for but arrack) dragged him down the road announcing to the villagers that he and his son were going to kill themselves because they were not provided a separate tent and he could perform the ceremony for his family. Dilip was trembling in fright when we ran to his help and hugged him. Will he lose hope on human beings again?

Is Dilip going to be ok??? Our group will sponsor Dilip’s education and basic nutrition but we have to monitor his well-being.

A woman staying at the local school rendered absolutely homeless spoke of her experience as she picked her children and ran to safety as the rising waters followed her. She had her two daughters on each shoulder and her son in her arms. But the water rushed at her with fury and her only way of escape was to jump and hang on to a window of a concrete house. At that time she had to decide to drop her child in her arms to do so. She watched her son being washed away and she sobbed uncontrollably. She then said something more shocking, I wish I had let go of one of my daughters and saved my son. The fate of the female child remains.

Is this memory going to ever be wiped away? Are the girls going to face the frustration of a guilty mother? How do we make her understand that the daughters are as precious as the lost son?

Other prominent issues and notable experiences:

Give what they need, not what you think they may need. Give without them losing their dignity. A reputed saree store had given fancy sarees still packaged in plastic covers that made some women happy until it was opened out to reveal large holes all over and not suitable for draping that angered the people for they were being treated like beggars.

A woman with 9 girls and yet hoping to have a son. The husband earns Rs. 50/- to 70/- a day of which 20/- is for his liquor. Miraculous how a family of 11 survives on Rs. 50/- a day.

A universal sad experience was how people complained that more boys and younger people had died and the girls and older people had survived. Old people were cursed at openly for surviving since their death could have fetched a lakh from the Government.

The old age pension is Rs. 200/- a month, less than Rs. 7/- a day. A pot of rice is all they cooked for 3 meals and depended on the neighbors and relatives for some curry, a condition not an after-effect of the Tsunami.

There were women with separated daughters who had children staying with them and they depended on selling fish to take care of the family. They need a means to survive soon. Pregnant women need extra medical aid and nutrition to ensure that they can give birth to healthy children and stay healthy themselves.

Can we ignore the plight of men?

The men may be whiling away their time and drinking more than they used to. Can they be blamed entirely when they have spent days with absolutely no occupation and no assurance of a better tomorrow?

Many of the men wanted another occupation and did not want to go back to the sea. Fishing is all they knew. Can they be happy in any other occupation? Should they be encouraged to get back to fishing? Those who were restless to get back did not have the means, boats and nets.

Myths and the evil pressures of society - A man should not cry, has to be strong, does not really need counseling, needs to bounce back and be responsible for his family

A man who lost his wife, son and grandchildren – needs to find a meaning to live.

How do you counsel a man who begged his wife to hold him and be saved but she let herself be washed away because she could not hold on to her clothes as the fury of the water tore her clothes away?

A family that had 1.25 lakhs at home and 20 sovereigns of gold but did not ever have a bank account. The man had built up his standard of living now has to start from scratch.


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