The Undiscovered Reality

Earlier, ‘Tsunami’ was just a word for me. But now it is an experience…

It was a privilege for me to be one among the chosen four to represent Maharashtra at the Tsunami Rehabilitation Work Camp. This camp was held from 20th May to 5th June, 2005 at Chennai and Nagapatinam village which was organized by the All India Catholic University Federation, (AICUF) in collaboration with an NGO called South Asian People’s Initiative (SAPI). I participated in the camp because although I heard lots about the Tsunami and the relief work but being geographically far away I was unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation. The camp would give me a first-hand experience and an opportunity to understand the survivors by stepping into their shoes. Through this camp I was personally able to contribute towards the rehabilitation efforts by devoting my time for a worthy cause. 35 participants froma all over India were divided into three groups to work in three villages namely Puddupetai, Perumalpetai and Kodiyakadu in Nagapatinam district. I was posted at Puddupetai village.

On the first two days, we were briefed on the scientific and psycho-social aspects of the Tsunami, the difference between relief and rehabilitation and about how women, children, students and Dalits are affected by the Tsunami. This orientation was done in order to inform us on what to expect when we go to the villages.

In the villages, we stayed in shelters constructed by a Delhi based NGO just like the villagers. The shelters are made, of bamboos and tar sheets which do not provide any ventilation. They are very small and can comfortably accommodate only 6 – 8 people. There is place neither for a kitchen nor for storing clothes and utensils. There was only a bulb in each shelter and we lived without fans in the scorching summer heat. Each group took along with them brooms, sickles, crowbars, rakes, spades, gamelas, buckets, mugs, plates, tumblers and mats. In the absence of toilets, we took our buckets to the fields to relieve ourselves in the open with weeds and flies bothering us all the time. This was an extremely difficult task. We had to pump water from a bore­well because there were no taps. We used that water for bathing and washing. The water had become very salty and our washed clothes had a layer of salt on them. We had an extra shelter so the girls had the ‘luxury’ of a bathroom while the boys had to draw water from a well and bathe there.

We met the village head and as directed, we performed the tasks assigned to us. Playgrounds outside Balwadis were being used by the villagers as dumping grounds. We cleared all the garbage and restored the playgrounds. It was rather strange to see the villagers complain about not, having a place of worship because they defecated and disposed garbage inside the temple. We cleaned the temple and made it useful The seashore is lined with tall and thorny shrubs and spiky shells which enter the flesh of a person if stepped onto them. When the Tsunami occurred, people especially women and children could not escape because their long hair and saris got entangled in the shrubs. We dumped the shells and the shrubs into a pit and covered it. People were disposing garbage into a canal that supplied water to the fields making it a sewage canal. We spent two whole days removing the garbage so that water could flow freely. Soon after, it was very disheartening to see a lady dump garbage into it right before us.

There was a cyclonic rain and the water entered the villager’s houses. They panicked as they thought that another Tsunami had occurred. People were scared because it was 26th May and coincidently the Gujarat earthquake occurred on 26th January and the Tsunami on 26th December. With our implements, we immediately made a path to drain the excess rainwater. Since we became wet while doing this, the villagers offered us dry clothes to wear.

We visited the members of the Dalit community. The Dalit village is secluded from the main village. Post Tsunami, each family was given just one sack of rice which got over very fast. They also got Rs. 4000 which was spent in reconstructing their houses while some women complained that the money was squandered on alcohol by the men folks. They do not own any land thus they work on other people’s land. Now they are unemployed because after the Tsunami the agricultural land has a thick layer of salt rendering it useless for the next 5 years. They support themselves by doing menial jobs. Their children die of starvation and malnutrition due to poverty. In some places, women were denied their share of relief materials under the pretext of having lesser physical strength than men.

We received immense support from the villagers. During our work, they kept drinking water for us. They also offered us tea, coffee, cold-drinks and food. Though they had little, they were very hospitable and gave us the best they could afford. The villagers taught us generosity.

From this camp, I learnt how to live in the most basic human conditions it taught me simple living because I am blessed with comforts at home. At the end of the day, I knew I had a house to go back to but these villagers would have to live like this forever. It has sensitized me towards the discrimination of the marginalized sections of society. I was indifferent about the sufferings of the tsunami survivors but now I can connect with reality. This camp has taught me the dignity of manual labour. We should also be sensitive to people’s needs and cultures. I feel that if I could live with ­minimum human conditions, I can live anywhere in the world. Ultimately, life prevails and all that comes out of life prevails despite any calamity.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “

  1. Good insights on the situation. I appreciate your altruism. A person would need guts and determination to live in such trying situations despite comforts at home. Indulging in maunal labour is a gigantic task for a first timer but your post says it all. Good going!!!

  2. Tom

    Wow, that must have been a great experience for u. Apparently i was there too and i know exactly how u felt when you came over there. It was nice to see someone mention this on a website. Hope everyone reads it and gets minute picture of the Term Tsunami.

  3. hmmmmmmm.. have heard of this before from u. well written and its good to kno that the camp has taught u a lot. we all need to learn frm experiences… sometimes, anothers.

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