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DATE OF VISIT – 24th AND 25th JANUARY 2005

Members of the team:
Dr Mohini Giri Dr Pratibha Jain Dr Sumitha Mrs Jigyasa Giri Mrs Radha, from the People Watch Mr Louise, from Action for concerned citizens

When women make up their minds to go to the Tsunami affected areas, there is no stopping them. 24th January '05 early morning, saw four women bundled in a car which was small for them but not for the thinking process that had started. After a six hour journey, we reached the once beautiful coastal village of "Palaiyar" at around 1330 hours. In spite of their sorrow and deprivation, the women of the village spotted a shaded spot where some days ago ten houses stood but today it was bare. They quickly brought out chairs for us, urban women! We immediately got down to work. We called the "Meen Shakthi" members to find out the progress of the work from last time and much to our joy, the two village girls Kavita and Revathi had meticulously kept accounts, registered the society, got the SHG register, went on a membership drive, made 870 members. We sat down and asked them about their priorities. Each one wanted to empower themselves with some economic venture. Their focus had become sharper since our last visit, a week ago.

Three priorities were identified:

  1. Schooling for the children with boarding and lodging facilities.
  2. Fees to be paid for the girls and boys who were doing correspondence courses of MA & BA at high school and some for college too.
  3. As a part of the Self Help process, to start with sewing centre.

We observed that most men and women were restless without any means of livelihood. Most urgent demand was the government must do the assessment of damage to their boats. They kept repeating that they want their livelihood back, they wanted their fishing equipment to be attended to immediately.

Malai said that they have only done fishing and they don’t have any other skill. Anjamma said that they want boats, demands were articulated for houses and education for the children. She said that, this Rs 4000/- given by the government was not sufficient for the range of problems that they were facing.

Many of them, found the given rations to be inedible.

Grievances of individual cases:

  1. The sea had given them self sufficiency and certain self respect. They did not seem comfortable with the public distribution system of rice and other things.

  2. We agreed with them about fishing infrastructure, but also explained that in the meantime, certain other steps need to be taken. Ponamma agreed and said that they wanted to be helped till they could go back to the sea.

  3. There were women like Tamil Vani and Sentamizh whose children were studying in various boarding schools for whom they were unable to pay any further fees.

  4. Also few girls like Suganthi and Suji studying MA Sociology through correspondence were unable to pay for their final exams, since their means of livelihood were all washed away by the waves.

Having heard their grievances which we have thus managed to summarize above, we went ahead trying along with them to make immediate and long term decisions which would benefit the members of the M.S and thereby the entire village.

  1. First Mrs Giri reiterated the importance and need for the setting up of this self help group – M.S and explained that it would help these women find their own strength and voice.

  2. She congratulated Kavita and Revathi for the diligently and properly get the group going with the bill book, ID cards, registration book, bank accounts etc.

  3. Promised them that recommendations would be made to the various boarding schools where children of M.S members were studying, to waive off their fees until they were able to get back to earning a livelihood. If need be the local MP would be approached with the above plea.

  4. For those children who were orphaned or semi orphaned, Mrs Giri suggested strongly that they be admitted into a convent identified by Ms Iyer and her in Tarangabadi where she had already made a request for admission for about fifty such children on her previous visit. At least here they would get their education, a roof and a certain amount of normalcy. Their guardians / parent(s) could visit them at regular intervals.

  5. Also promised to get 5 kg of rice for each family to tide over a few days.

  6. Ten sewing machines seemed an immediate need to start some of them into the vocation at tailoring. Mrs Giri promised to try to get these machines, as soon as possible.

  7. In the area of tree plantation on the coast, a decision was taken to request the Forest Department to speed up the process since they had only planted thirty coconut trees and fifty casurina trees till now.

The other two major issues discussed was:

  1. The repairs of damaged fishing equipments
  2. The cleaning up of the village after the holocaust.

It was found that more than 200 boats were damaged, some less, some more. No nets remain. The cost of calling a local mechanic to repair the boats is also very high. But the biggest stumbling blocks is that the government agencies in charge have been extremely slow in assessing the damages. So a group formed in the village came to a consensus that if they took on the onus of rebuilding their broken boats and homes and clearing up the village, they will not be allowing for a proper assessment of damage, thereby in all probability losing out on rightful compensation.

Therefore a very strong decision was taken and a promise made by Mrs Giri that she would write letters and speak directly to the politicians or officials concerned to speed up the process of assessment. She said she would speak to Mr Mani Shankar Iyer about all these recommendations.

One other observation was that the villagers were very scared to live too close to the sea. They were willing to shift 500 meters away as recommended by the government if only their homes could thus be built.

By the evening, through efforts made by members of our team we were able to make contact with one Mr Sagarwal Bohra at Sri Kali who agreed to donate good quality ponni rice to all these families [5 kg each ] within 1-2 days.

In the midst of all these adult issues being dealt with, while all the pain was being felt, we collected children around us in the relief camps and did a beautiful workshop with them using "The Karadi Tales". They read along with the tape the story of "The Foolish Crow" in tamil, song along, danced along...... forgetting their tears, their fears even if just for half an hour..... even though a brief relief, a mild catharsis, their smiles and laughter and love were well worth it – for them for us, for hope.

25th January, 2005 Morning

  1. Kavita and Revati came to Myladathurai and brought a list of children desirous of going to school.
  2. They also brought a list of girls who need fees for their forthcoming exams in February and March.
  3. They got registration numbers of the Meen Shakti

Action Taken

  1. 10 sewing machines have been given to start a sewing center at Polayar.
  2. Fees for two girls were given
  3. A list of children wanting to go to boarding school handed over to Sister Theresa Convent
  4. Kavita was asked to look around for a place for sewing centre

25th JANUARY 2005

After our visit to Palayar and our interaction with the fisher folk there, this village of Poraiyar seemed much more resistance to help from us, more because they were completely distraught, blank and confused. This village has faced 294 deaths. The still wet soil spoke a sordid story.

It took quite a bit of struggle before we could even sit them down to talk them. Finally Mrs Giri managed to get at least some interaction out of them.

The men felt that they were in no position to learn new skills apart from fishing and fishing related occupations. So their plea was to help them and the widows with money to set up vegetable shops, co operatives etc. Mrs Giri agreed and explained to them that such help was meted out in Godhra and Kashmir where the victims of these situations were trained in accounting etc. so that they could set up their own shops like vegetable shops, meat shops, ironing etc. But she also reiterated the need to train for other occupations. She explained that it was necessary for them to form self help groups and to train for at least 3-6 months in a training cum production centre which she would help set up in order to know their capabilities and skills in other trades.

The women were more open to this idea and led by 2 of their clan – Renuka [W/o Mohan Kalaimani ] and Sushila [W/o Ganesan], they expressed that they were willing to learn and take help. They also, like the Palayar women, wanted some sewing machines. A representative, Ms Veronica of a group called ROSA who was with us said they could give free training in sewing after which GOS could help with getting the machines. Even adolescent girls were eager to get trained in other vocations.

In this village also there were young girls who were mid way through their 12th standard or college and some who had completed 12th standard but now sitting at home due to lack of income after the Tsunami. We found that 50-60% of the children of this village were going to school.

What was most heart rendering here was that though there was this small group of women ready to battle with life and willing to enroll into empowerment programme, the majority were too dumb struck with their grief. The men and older children were focused on getting their rations from the PDS. Younger kids were crying or blank. We saw very few kids smiling or playing!

We also found that there were other self help groups in this village but they were confused and lost with no direction.

We had taken Kavita and Revathi of Palayar with us and they spoke to these women and told them what they were doing in their village and about “Meen Shakthi” This motivated the women of Poraiyar to break ice with us a great deal.

On Mrs Giri's previous visit to this village, she had appointed a few of the women to form a self help group and called it "Gangai Shakthi". But unlike Palayar, here we could not even identify those women except for one Sasikala who was widowed by the Tsunami. But she was too blank to think or even interact very much.

The following are just a few nerves of those scarred for life by the Tsunami:

  1. Tamilarasi – widowed by Tsunami, has 2 children studying in government schools.
  2. Sakubhi- widowed by Tsunami wants to somehow start a business of selling clothes.
  3. Kannachi Panjanathan – has a daughter studying in 10th standard. Doesn’t know how to continue her studies without income.
  4. Lakshmi Arumugham – Although widowed before Tsunami, has now no means of income for her 2 sons studying in 7th & 8th standard.
  5. Jayanti – Husband left her years back. Has 4 children. Makes wire baskets, although her son has got 906 marks in 12th standard not getting any opportunities anywhere.
  6. Muthubekyam widowed by Tsunami has 3 children.
  7. Kannimozhi – Studying in 12th standard. Wants to do a course in nursing, doesn’t know how.
  8. Sundaramurthy Kullamma-widowed by Tsunami.
  9. Thangappan –Husband Lachmanan’s leg injured badly by tsunami.
  10. Srirangam [W/o Palanivel]- Lost their 16 year old daughter in Tsunami
  11. Punitha and Sivalingam - Lost their young daughter Darshini who was studying in the 3rd standard
  12. Sivasami Amudha – Lost her 5 year old daughter
  13. Srinivasan – Lost his wife Amudhavalli and daughter Ganga
  14. Jayanthi Manimaran – Lost 4 year old son Yogesh

And the silent wailing searches on and on and on..... endlessly.. hopelessly.

We straight went to St Theresa convent and handed over the list of children desirous of joining the boarding school. Our team Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha did "The Karadi Tales" for over and above the 100 children which was greatly appreciated.

The Sister promised to take as many children as possible and also promised to help in identifying a suitable home for the widows and single women of that area. Renuka is also searching for a home for the marginalized women.

It was a tiring but fruitful journey and by god’s grace we will achieve our goals.


Report of Tsunami Relief Work at Nagapattinam
Part III: Dr. Giri's Third Trip to Help Tsnami Victims
Part IV: Dr. Giri's Visit to Tsunami Victims in Tarangambadi

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