Dr.Shilpa Govardhan Reports From Nagapattinam
Dr.Shilpa, my friend, is volunteering in Nagapattinam and she has this to say about the situation:
OK, this may not be necessary, but I will mention anyway that the death and devastation that is on an awesome scale. Entire villages have been wiped out, without even a trace. So, the media has'nt really exaggerated on that account. But what it fails to do is take into account the sheer tenacity of life, and the relentless determination of the people themselves to get their lives back. If ever there was a genre of people who accept calamity, embrace it even, and then move on, they are these sea folk.
Their concerns are these: the generosity of their neighbors sustains them now, but what of later when the wave of benevolence dies down, and they become simply the forgotten victims of just another natural calamity? And they are a very proud people- the accept the charity only because they have to.
The only thing that they really want is their boats back. To go back to the sea which caused all their sorrow, and collect from her again what they have all their lives.(Their own words by the way- they have a very strong poetic streak in them.)
This is not a simple task, as it seems to be on the surface. Each catamaran (which is their simplest kind of boat) itself costs about 60,000, to say nothing of the larger ones which cost anywhere from 2, 00,000 to 10, 00,000 Indian Rupees. To add to this, the builders of the catamaran are a dying race, and they might possibly not be anyone left who could carry on the job. And each boat that was lost had about 3 to 4 nets in it which again costs about 30 to 40,000 Indian Rupees each.
The economic losses are huge; each family has lost in addition at least 50,000 in cash (They don't believe in banks. They store the money in their homes. And they are quite a financially secure race). Add to this their homes, schools, community halls, clothes, utensils and the amount is staggering. So what they really need now are funds. Donate to a reliable organization whatever you want to. Do not, for heaven’s sake, take it upon yourselves to come and donate to the people themselves. It not only fosters greed, it has led to chaos on an unbelievable scale. If you do want to come down yourself, then contact the village head.
The degree of organization here would put the biggest MNCs to shame. Each family has been given a card, colored according to their proximity to the shore. The head collects all relief material, and only when they have enough for all the people, they start distributing resources, using a checklist!
What would really be appreciated would be volunteers who can spare a week or two of their time, who are willing to work among them to see that they get their due, and to help them improve sanitation to prevent outbreaks. They are beautifully responsive to teaching- if only for a day or two. So, reinforcement is required, but they will tell you themselves what they require and how you may help. One just has to ask.
Volunteering need not be now. There are several NGOs that are planning an intervention of at least one year and they need all the man-power they can get-I know of one called Action Aid in Madras. There are definitely others.
Oh yes, and the government has to be congratulated on its swiftness and efficiency of action. They are most willing to follow suggestions too.
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