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Part III: Dr. Giri's Third Trip to Help Tsnami Victims
Palayar, 22.02.05

Three of us (Dr. Mohini Giri, Mrs. Jigyasa Giri, Dr. Pratibha Jain) set out from Chennai on the morning of Feb 22, 2005. We were accompanied by Mrs. Vimala Tandon and Ms. Priya Tandon (from the Jewish Centre, Washington) since they were new to the places we were visiting and wanted to see our work, and if possible to help us by raising funds. Our destination was Palayar, where we had been last month. On the way, we stopped at Sirkali to meet Mr. Sagarmal Bohara to discuss the purchase of sewing machines and a place for starting a home for marginalised women. We moved on and reached Palayar at 2.00 p.m. There we had a meeting with the core members of Meen Shakti at Kavita’s residence.

Discussion points:

  • To reassure the other members that activities would soon begin in full swing for their benefits out of funds received

  • They were unhappy about the quality of rice received from our donor a month back, but did not want any more rice just now.

  • They were upset that the government had not taken any further action apart from the initial amount of Rs. 4000/- per family

  • They expressed an urgent need for cooking oil.

  • A place to start a centre for vocational training. Kavita very graciously offered the first floor of her home to start the centre

  • We motivated them to send any five girls to Chennai to train at a beauty parlour for six months

  • A request letter from 2 local schools, Ramesh Matriculation and Shakti Matriculation for uniform and school shoes. The Principals of both the schools came to meet us and gave us a list of needy students. We appreciated them for the quality of English language of the children as we had seen during an activity that we did later and assured them that we would try to raise the funds

Actions taken:

  • Spoke to other members at length about the vocational activities and to have faith in the core members. Mrs.Giri explained that it takes time for a cheque to mature and also to have patience and not to worry that the core members would misuse the money for their personal benefits.

  • We checked the quality of rice and apologised to them on the donor’s behalf and that we would speak to the donor about it. Later that evening, we spoke to the donor who assured us of more stringent supervision on the relief materials received by his organisation for donations

  • To send money for 2-3 kgs of oil per family of Meen Shakti members within a week

  • Finalised the first floor of Kavita’s house for sewing and computer classes after inspecting it for a rent of Rs.800/- per month plus electricity per month. A list of women who wanted to enrol in the sewing classes was given to us

  • Pratibha and Jigyasa conducted an audio book activity with 50-60 children when they returned from school. The children enjoyed it immensely, so we donated a tape recorder and 10 karadi books on the spot to Meen Shakti to carry on the good work for English language learning for the children.

  • Mrs. Giri gave Rs. 2000/- to Kavita for the expenses incurred towards Meen Shakti activities

  • The next day saw a very different first floor in Kavita’s house with six new Sewing Machines that were installed.

  • Sugita, a young teenager and Revathi, a young divorced mother were immediately keen to come to Chennai for the beauty parlour training.

  • That evening, Revathi and another girl came along to Sirkali to learn the methodology for teaching at the sewing classes. Mr. Bohra explained to them in great details and gave them notes as well. An amount of Rs. 2000/- was given to Revathi for stationery equipment for the sewing classes. One of the Meen shakti members will be the trainer. The idea is to employ as many people as possible within the community. We also decided to pay the trainer Rs. 25 per student per month, of which we will pay Rs. 20 and the student has to pay Rs. 5/- only.

TARANGAMPADI – 23/02/2005

Before visiting the village itself, we met the head of the self help group, Renuka at Poraiyar who took us [as per prior telecon] to see some houses which we could convert into a home for women in difficult circumstances. Renuka had brought along with her the register of membership with photographs and addresses of Gangai Shakti members. Renuka is a good worker and shows a lot of potential for leadership. After visiting some potential homes we went to meet the dynamic Mrs Saraswati Vetrivel, the head of the special village panchayat. She immediately showed us two more houses and we liked the spacious house of Mr & Mrs Jayaram at Poraiyar.

The house is ideal for running our home, but needs massive resurrection. Keeping this in mind, we moved on to meet Tsunami affected villages at Tarangampadi. Most women of Gangai Shakti needed assurance regarding their membership and wanted a vocational training centre immediately.

We offered the same courses and facilities which we had at Palayar like beautician course, tailoring etc.

Men were sitting listless and it is important that they be given livelihood options as soon as possible. After having a very good interaction with the women for nearly two hours, wherein Mrs. Giri explained the swadhar scheme and assured the villagers of no selfish motives, we went to St Theresa’s school where we met 600 orphan girls. Jigyasa and Pratibha conducted an audio learning activity with the children of class V. As always it was a great success with the kids and it felt good to leave them with happy smiles.

On the other hand, Mr Rajkumar and Mr Ganeshan arrived. Mrs Giri appraised him of the houses and he immediately contacted the owner Mr Jayaram and fixed it up for us at Rs 3500/-per month as rent. An advance of Rs 1000/- was given. We went to the premises once more and although found the premises very suitable, we still felt it would require atlest 5-6 lakhs to make the building liveable and the boundary wall had to be built for security reasons.

Our entire group had a meeting on the feasibility. In the mean time Renuka identified a smaller house in Tarangampadi belonging to Mr & Mrs Ali. We went to see it and we decided to initially start our work in that house which would serve as a day vocational training centre. We requested Mr RajKumar to help us procure 6 sewing machines and 2 computers. We paid an advance of Rs 5000/- as 5 months rent to Mrs Ali [receipt yet to be obtained]

We asked Renuka to take charge of the building and we had already identified a sewing teacher among the self help group to appoint her as a teacher. This is just the beginning. We will slowly and surely move towards empowering a greater member of women. We were very happy to have met Saraswati, Sister Mary and Mr Rajkumar who were of tremendous help and support to us. We gave Rs 3000/- to Renuka for expenses towards registration of the self help group etc.

Overall, although the problems are many, we felt that the women are less traumatized now and ready to learn to find other means of supporting themselves and their families.

Some personal grievances and hopes:

  • Amudha, a teenager had lost her sewing shop to the tsunami. Is willing to teach sewing at the institute or even come to chennai for 6 months to work.
  • Jayanthi – Son's name – Arivadakam. Passed 12th with flying colors. Wants help for college admissions. She is very keen on having a tailoring machine to make a living. We hope to get her one.
  • Jayakanthi willing to train as a housemaid in the city.
  • Prabhavati wants a cycle to go to school. She is in Class X. wants help to get admission in Std XI in Poraiyar.
  • They requested Mrs. Giri to speak to the governement for increase in ration and rice quantities given to them. There are 1,900 ration card holders in this village.

Future plans:

  1. Appoint an MSW to look after both the projects-Palayar and Tarangampadi
  2. Make as many women as possible economically independent
  3. Teach English lessons to as many as possible
  4. Collect folk songs and lullabies from the local women
  5. Take indigenous recipes of food items to market some spices which they would make and package.

Some grievances of government representatives – Mr Rajkumar and Mrs. Saraswathi Vetrivel:

  • They feel that NGO donors are creating problems and making beggars of the villagers. They come with not enough material and without consulting the government. They feel the need to restrict independent donors.

  • There are rifts between fisherfolk and non fisherfolk affected by Tsunami right from the leadership level to the bottom rung. Therefore, government is not able to concentrate on permanent solutions.

  • Fishermen do not want to go fishing unless they are fully compensated by the government for each and every loss incurred.

  • Mr. Manishankar Aiyer has allotted 5 boats for the village. These officials felt that now the fishermen are fighting amongst themselves over this. Mrs. Giri suggested that the boats should be given to the self help groups – Meenshakti and Gangaishakti – and they have the be used in turn on a rental basis. This suggestion was positively accepted.

  • There is no proper government list of the fisherfolk so far because they have been self sufficient. So very difficult to identify the truly affected families. Even those affected lie to get more out of relief operations. Fishermen have asked for cash, not nets and boats from CM Jayalalitha. That is also creating problems.


Report of Tsunami Relief Work at Nagapattinam
Part II: Dr. Giri's Second Visit to Tsunami Affected Areas
Part IV: Dr. Giri's Visit to Tsunami Victims in Tarangambadi

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