C. John Rose

We received the following paper by the Rural Organisation for Awareness and Development (ROAD) from our partner PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in India). ROAD, a PRIA partner organisation, is a civil society organisation based in Kanyakumari District in Tamil Nadu, which was badly affected by the disaster. It assists PRIA, particularly by providing medical support and food supplies. The head of the organisation, C. John Rose, reports on these activities.

Solidarity with Tsunami Victims in the Coast of Kanyakumari District

Mobilising Civil Society Participation

Day One: December 26

When the tsunami hit the Colachel shores in Kanyakumari District on December 26, 2004, ROAD’s project officer, Mr. Saleel Kumar, was at Colachel visiting the area. He hired the taxi of a willing driver and removed about 30 people from Kottilpadu village to safety. He also removed about 15 injured people to nearby hospitals. He joined a team of local youth to remove the bodies of some dead people.

When the ROAD office got the information about the tsunami disaster, the ROAD team visited Colachel and assessed the needs. The team helped some survivors to reach temporary camps. ROAD formed teams of friends to visit the deprived people and instill in them a sense of confidence and courage. ROAD arranged food packets prepared by its SHGs and the Youth Club members, and distributed them among the people in three camps. In successive days ROAD’s SHGs and Youth Club members collected clothes and rice and distributed them to the affected people.

PRIA’s Solidarity

Dr. Rajesh Tandon (President, PRIA, New Delhi), sent a message of solidarity to ROAD and encouraged relief work in affected areas. Dr. Tandon also wrote to PRIA’s friends, regarding the enormity of the tsunami destruction, commending its partners’ relief work. ROAD’s work in Kanyakumari coast merited special mention in the letter.

With PRIA’s contribution and local participation, the ROAD team distributed kitchen utensils to tsunami-affected families in Colachel area, so that they could cook and eat the rice/cereals given by the government and NGOs. Colachel area includes Muttom and Simon Colony Panchayats where ROAD has had programme interventions since 1999 with the assistance of PRIA. These Panchayats are within the Block area of Kurunthancode (vide: PRIA Annual Report 2003 – 2004, p. 11). In between these two Panchayats is the Colachel Municipality, where ROAD’s interventions started in 2002. The tsunami destruction involving lives and properties in this area, therefore, immediately stirred ROAD to action.

ROAD organized clearing of debris and garbage in coastal colonies in Colachel with the collaboration of its SHG members, youth from its Youngsters’ Youth Club and a team of students from Rai University (Mumbai Centre).

ROAD’s relief work consisted also of interacting with the survivors who lingered around what was once their house. They showed the place where their belongings were buried under the debris. Our relief work  

team members dug the place or cleared the debris and got them some

of their belongings, including boxes, vessels and furniture. Once the

debris was cleared, the people could move into a space where they could sit, cook and lie down. The activity was marked by opening-up and growing rapport between the relief workers and the survivors, leading to ROAD’s solidarity support in rebuilding their lives.

RAI Students

The 17-member team of students from Rai University (Mumbai centre), of both sexes, was a godsend at this juncture. If relief work is reckoned in terms of material inputs, this team’s association enabled ROAD Team to engage in trauma-therapy for the children who were still in fear and were withdrawn due to the tragic experience of the tsunami. The students, along with the ROAD team, engaged in counseling of women and youth, and consoling the injured and bereaved. Since they could not converse in Tamil, a team of teachers and the Principal from the National Matriculation School (of which the ROAD Director is the Founder-Correspondent) and ROAD team members joined them to make the interaction free of language barriers and the rapport quite empathetic. The trauma-therapy sessions were conducted in the temporary camps set up by the District Administration for tsunami survivors, followed by counseling of women and youth, and meeting the injured in hospitals. Sports were organized on beaches for youth and children in order to drive away sea-fear from them.

Thalir Solai Childcare Centres

While many NGOs and INGOs engaged in relief and rehabilitation activities, ROAD found some inadequacies to be addressed. One such gap was the childcare. The orphaned children were adopted by governmental agencies. But the school-going children and children in camps needed attention. Therefore, ROAD organized two Childcare Centres, named Thalir Solai in Tamil at Colachel (Maramadi) and Mela (West) Manakudi. The Centres, which started functioning from Febru- ary 7, have an effective strength of 157 children – 62 at Colachel and 95 at Manakudi.

The children in the two Thalir Solais are provided with space for psycho-social dynamics, study and group interactions. The aim is to enable them to come out of their traumatic experiences and depressive psyche, so as to stimulate creative activities for building up their future. In this ‘cradle’ context the vulnerability of families is clearly ascertained and their needs are identified at close range for further actions. The two Thalir Solais have helped the ROAD Team to interact with 120 affected families directly and with an equal number indirectly. ROAD’s vulnerability data is more accurate due to sustained personal contacts, although the number of persons/families covered are comparatively few. The needs of Thalir Solais are many and they are partly met by local participation. OXFAM India has constructed toilets for the Thalir Solai at Manakudi.

Tsunami SHGs

During the interactions with the tsunami-affected persons, ROAD discovered that many men and women had lost their livelihood and felt lonely. Therefore, ROAD encouraged them to come together to interact together and do something collectively to re-build their lives. This group of persons started realizing that by coming and interacting together many post-tsunami problems can find solutions. Even the scheme benefits announced by the Government can be secured through collective actions. Instead of organizing a separate association, this group of tsunami victims, who belong to various castes and creeds, decided to form a Self Help Group. This Group is named TSUNAMI SHG of men, Colachel. Its first decision was to conduct a public function at Colachel on March 12, in which a scientist explained about the tsunami, followed by a prayer session led jointly by Hindu, Muslim and Christian priests. The scientist’s exposition of the tsunami and the subsequent prayer session were intended to address the lurking fear and the environment of hopelessness among coastal people. The men’s SHG has stimulated action among women, who have now formed TSUNAMI SHG of women, which has made a bold decision of marketing fish to inland women’s SHGs. Both the SHGs of men and women at Colachel are helpful in making the functioning of Thalir Solai there effective and participatory. More SHGs are emerging in the coastal villages of Azhikal and Enayam.

Visitors

The following visitors met the ROAD team or visited our office and ROAD’s programme areas: Mr. Binoy Acharya (UNNATI, Ahmedabad), Ms. Alana Officer (HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL, New Delhi), Ms. Roopa (OXFAM), Ms. Priya Anand (MURRAY CULSHAW CONSULTING, Bangalore), Mr. Pooran Chandra Pandey (VANI, New Delhi), Mr. Arjun (CARE India), OXFAM India Team and Mr. Prakash of Christian Mission Service. Their suggestions and insights have been very helpful in planning and implementing our programmes aimed at childcare and vulnerability reduction among tsunami victims.

Civil Society Participation

ROAD’s approach of mobilising the civil society response to the tsunami disaster is receiving a good response. OXFAM India has built two toilets for the Thalir Solai at Manakudi. Two inland Self Help Groups of ROAD provided money (Rs.500) and mats (costing Rs.450) for this Thalir Solai for Easter celebration. Christian Mission Service (CMS), based at Coonoor (The Nilgiris), has given a positive nod to ROAD’s request to provide livelihood accessories, such as sewing machines, bicycles, etc. to 10 men and women in Colachel and Mela Manakudi area (belonging to the families of Thalir Solai children), who lost such accessories in the tsunami. A group of friends in Coimbatore, under the leadership of a University Professor there, have come forward to supply some clothes to Thalir Solai children. These friends are mobilising materials from the Coimbatore (textile) mills.

Rebuilding Families

Rebuilding tsunami-devastated families in coastal area is one of the objectives of ROAD. To survivors who have lost their kith and kin in the tsunami, life is bleak without the union of family life. Widows and widowers, as well as orphans, have started feeling the itch of family union. Some men and women have received compensation from the Government so that they can think of a new family life. At the same time, according to local tradition, a re-marriage is possible for surviving widows and widowers only a year after the death of the spouse or a family member. But there are other lonely men and women who are eager to have a life-partner, but do not have the family backing for finding a partner or celebrating the marriage. In this context, the ROAD team is trying to unite surviving men and women who are interested in re-establishing their family circle. The first man who approached ROAD for rebuilding his family is from Colachel and the mate identified for him is from (West) Manakudi. ROAD’s SHG leaders on both sides are the negotiators. The marriage will be celebrated as a community event, without the hassle of dowry and other unnecessary expenditures, thereby setting a model for an ideal marriage and family union.