India: From a Disaster Graveyard into a Thriving Community
Indian Villagers Focus on New Hope, Five Years after the Tsunami
Mr Anjappan Kumar remembers the day five years ago when the devastating tsunami that killed thousands in southern Asia and Africa hit his village.
“The 26 December tsunami claimed 86 lives in our village, destroyed nearly 500 houses and 200 boats were destroyed. The village looked like a graveyard,” Kumar, 33, recalled, his voice breaking.
Prior to the tsunami, the residents of Thirumullaivasal in the southern district of Nagapattinam in India’s Tamil Nadu state, worked as laborers handling catamarans and trawlers for their employers for a small wage. They lived in mud huts without toilets or other sanitary facilities. Their homes situated in low-lying areas were prone to flooding and subsequent destruction, which necessitated repairs costing nearly USD 100 annually. They could hardly afford such sums, and used to borrow from the money lenders to restore their houses.
Today, with the help of the Lutheran World Service India (LWSI), the community and six other villages in the district are thriving. Villagers are catching and marketing fish, sharing income, saving money, maintaining their boats and nets, and enjoying life with their families and friends. “The last five years of our life [has been] really better and prosperous,” says Kumar, who heads an LWSI-supported boat group.
LWSI, an associate program of the LWF Department for World Service (DWS) started operating as a DWS country program in India in 1974, responding at the time to refugee needs after the Bangladesh war of independence. Its current work with the ever-growing population of rural and urban poor is focused on mainly empowering disadvantaged communities to enhance their quality of life and attain self-reliance. It responds to disaster across the country and implements long-term integrated development projects in eastern India.
Free from Explotation
In Thirumullaivasal the LWF program worked with the villagers through organized groups of five, providing each with a mechanized fiberglass boat with engines and nets. “LWSI has given 35 boats for the 175 families in this village. We are now employed; we are not dependent on anybody. We catch and sell fish ourselves, share our profits and save some money for our future and to maintain the boats. We are free from exploitation,” says Kumar.
Working together with the global church emergency body, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, LWSI assisted communities with immediate relief following the 2004 tsunami and helped with rehabilitation programs in 18 villages in the districts of Cuddalore, Villupuram and Nagapattinam.
The assistance provided included emergency food and housing, and long-term projects to help villagers return to a normal life. In some cases, the people’s living conditions are even better than they were before the tsunami.
As Kumar says, “My income has increased; being a member of the group, I am able to save money for my children’s future. I will send my children for higher studies.” He has even purchased some gold in preparation for his daughter’s marriage.
Improved, Hygienic Standards
The quality of life has significantly improved for the entire village. The villagers now live in permanent houses built with LWSI support. They no longer use kerosene or firewood for cooking and basic lighting as their new homes are equipped with gas ovens and electricity. Sanitation too has improved, with clean water readily available and sanitary toilets. Some of the residents have used their savings to equip the houses with television sets, amenities that were unheard of in this community before the tsunami. Kumar for example, has installed an overhead water tank fitted with a pump to ensure running water in his house. He has also put up a wall around his home for added security.
Kumar and his group view life differently—with new hope. Villagers attend community meetings to decide on development issues; women have formed self help groups; and their children are going to school regularly.
To ensure future sustainability of the local communities, LWSI continues to work with villagers on community-based institutions that will help maintain their improved living conditions, including micro-credit, village development committees, community-based disaster preparedness groups and programs on gender sensitization, health and leadership training.
Today these villages in Nagapattinam no longer resemble the graveyards that Kumar described. Instead, they are thriving communities, thanks to the partnership forged with Lutheran World Service India.