The Auroville Tsunami Relief Effort
After the initial relief effort which followed the terrible Tsunami waves of 26 th December 2004 : the camps, the feeding of people, the distributing of clothes and essentials, it was realized that what we needed to put into place was a team which could look into a long term effort of relief. On 1st January the camps were thus dismantled and the second phase of our work started.
Our Tsunami nerve center is now fully functioning: computers are humming, emails are downloaded online, the telephones are ringing nonstop and there is an unceasing flow of volunteers, each one knowing the task assigned to him or her. In one corner the groups which have been to the villages are preparing lists of who needs what, in another a woman sits at a computer answering the incoming phone calls and emails – mostly full of offers to help and donate. Around a round table groups huddle to make plans, for local action and for regional, national and international cooperation. This quake whose dark ripples reached so many shores, is still uniting people. Old warring groups are cooperating to recover on the spot, and planet-wide in cyber space the waves are full of communication and cooperation.
Every day there are two briefings with the coordinators, one in the morning and another in the evening. Tasks are reviewed, proposals are made and plans charted out.
We've got three field teams: one for the 5 villages to the north, one for the 5 villages to the south, and another for the Auroville beach communities. They visit each village, meet with the leaders, and assess what the needs are, find out what relief they've already received from government and other agencies, and try to fill in the gaps. We're trying to build up relationships that will continue past the crisis – both with the villagers and with the government. We are receiving a lot of gratitude from the villagers, and praise from the government officers – our response has been one of the most immediate and effective.
One of the major efforts happening at the moment is CLEANING-UP the affected villages. Every morning at 9AM , two buses start from Aurelec and fan out to different villages for helping in the cleaning-out of the debris and collapsed houses. As Alok, one of the coordinators of the clean-up says: “there is a very important psychological element in the cleaning, because what happens usually in the villages affected, is that some politicians, or some NGO's come, distribute food, blankets, or even some cash, and then after the photo op, everybody disappears, leaving the villagers slightly baffled. What we do is come, stay, work and we interact with them, we ask them which part of the village they want us to clean and eventually they join us and we will all work together, which creates a bonding that endures the next day and the day after that”.
The Auroville teams started by cleaning the streets of the villages and clearing the rubble of the destroyed houses. Now we are slowly coming to the backyards of the houses and will eventually shift to cleaning inside the houses. What the volunteers need at the moment is gloves, rakes, spades, tarpaulins, various tools (or better the funds to purchase them locally). Eventually some of these tools are left behind every day, so that the villagers can continue cleaning individually their houses. “And food, laughs Alok, because we are famished after working several hours in the sun.” Today, 2d January, about 100 volunteers: Aurovillians, visiting students from the US and Germany, as well as guests, cleaned-up the village of Ganagachettikullam, near Eternity, one of the worst affected villages. “Lots of work remains to be done there” emphasizes Alok. We estimate that it will take another three weeks to clean-up all the villages under our rehabilitation plan”.
Simultaneously, a large distribution effort is underway. The goodwill which this occasion provides is contagious. When we went to the Pondicherry stationary store, Messrs. Singaram, to buy notebooks for the school children, instead of filling our order they gave us 1250 notebooks! A local school teacher bought notebooks for all the children of his and the neighbouring school. The women of the inland villages filled three jeeps full of clothes for the people who had lost everything. We also are buying a bunch of volley balls and footballs, because one of the problems at this stage is the lassitude of people who've lost everything and feel helpless before the task of starting from scratch.
The next step, after cleaning and distributing essentials, is of course rebuilding of the houses and helping the fishermen to buy some boats and nets so that they can start earning their living again, but that will take some more time.
The organization, especially the financial transparency required for a large operation like this, is already in place and being perfected. Some of our oldest financial heads are here, advising the younger leaders, building up a new organization so much like we did 30 years ago! This is the greatest gift of the crisis, bringing us together, villagers and Aurovillians, old and young, in all varieties, and a chance to throw ourselves energetically into doing good.
We also have a report from the Auroville beach communities rehabilitation team, which is constituted of two groups of Aurovillians working at different levels. Simone and Marc are visiting all the beach communities and meeting with all Aurovillians living there. They listen to them, record their immediate needs and propose them counselling. Francis, Dhanapal, Rolf, Bunty and Ashatit are in the process of assessing the material damages and work out solutions. The survey of the communities hit by the tsunami has already started and will be completed in the next days. It has been decided to first secure the land and properties of Auroville by establishing temporary fences and re-establishing the water systems wherever necessary. Security problems have been reported in Eternity and 2 guards will be hired to patrol the community during the night. “The rehabilitation of the beach community, says Ashatit, the team coordinator, is a process that will take time and will be linked to the funds available. It should be understood that all needs, even crucial ones, cannot be always met on the spot due to the limitation of the resources available”.
We thank all our supporters and contributors, here, in India and all over the world for their efforts