THE HUMANITARIAN WORK OF EMBRACING THE WORLD ENDURES
 

The 26th of December 2009 will mark the fifth anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which took 230,000 lives, displaced two-million people and destroyed or damaged 370,000 homes. The relief-and-rehabilitation work conducted by Embracing the World (ETW)1 in the wake of the disaster stands today as one of the most multi-faceted, comprehensive and sustainable disaster-relief projects ever undertaken by a non-governmental organization. What made ETW’s relief and rehabilitation work unique was its holistic nature—virtually every aspect of the tsunami victims’ lives were considered and improved. In the end, many victims stated that—thanks to ETW—they were better off after the tragedy than they were before. Some of the projects ETW completed include:

Amma's housing project* Construction of 6,200 homes throughout southern India and Sri Lanka * 7.5-million meals * Medical and psychological care for 30,000 * Provision of 100,000 sets of clothing * $350,000 U.S. in financial-welfare assistance * Re-establishment of economic sustainability through education and vocational training * Construction of a $1.3-million-U.S. evacuation bridge * Educational Camps for 10,000 tsunami-affected children * Immediate Shelter for 4,000 * Provision of 700 fishing boats     Ultimately, the value of ETW’s tsunami-relief work reached $46 million U.S. It is a work that has been praised by the United Nations, the President of India as well as political, community and social leaders across the globe. Presented here is a basic overview of the Amrita Tsunami Relief & Rehabilitation Project.   For photographs of ETW’s tsunami work, please contact us at www.amma-pr.info.

 

tsunami The Amrita Tsunami Relief & Rehabilitation Project

  The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit wide swathes of India’s east coast, along the shores of Tamil Nadu, where more than 13,000 people were killed. On the west coast, a 20-kilometer stretch of Kerala was also hit, including the peninsula on which the ashram of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma)2, the headquarters of ETW, stands. In the neighboring villages, 140 people were killed. Thousands of people, including the 20,000 people in Amma’s Ashram that day, were evacuated under Amma’s direct supervision. Within hours, Amma’s nearby Amrita University was converted into a giant relief camp, with food, shelter, clothing and medical attention being provided for the survivors.    Within days, Amma announced that ETW was pledging to provide $23 million U.S. in aid for the tsunami victims in India (this became $46 million by project’s end). Separately, after Amma met with the President of Sri Lanka, ETW offered $685,000 U.S. for relief work in both Sinhalese and Tamil communities. For the next two years, ETW volunteers looked after every aspect of the victims’ needs—fulfilling not only basic needs but providing homes and infrastructure far superior to what they had lost; psychological counseling to help them get back on their feet; and vocational training so that they did not have depend for their livelihood on the unpredictable sea. This opened new doors for both men and women, who were often taking up employment for the first time in their lives.  

Immediate Shelter for More than 4,000

On the day of the disaster, despite its headquarters being submerged in several feet of water, ETW created three relief camps at the local campus of Amma’s Amrita University on the mainland across from the peninsula. About 4,000 people stayed there for the first 15 days after the tsunami. About 2,000 of these remained there for four months.   On January 13, 2005, construction of nine shelters was complete—each equipped with electricity, ceiling fans, separate bathrooms, running water and TVs. In Alappad, Kerala and in Samanthampettai, Tamil Nadu, ETW provided shelter for 550 families. At the relief camps, ETW volunteers organized sporting events, as well as music and dance programs to entertain the refugees. Relief camps were also set up on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.  

Medical Aid for More than 30,000

Eleven ambulances and teams of doctors and nurses rushed to the affected areas and set up multiple 24-hour medical centers. They provided on-the-spot intensive care, initially visiting each relief camp every two hours. The medical teams continued making rounds of tsunami-affected areas for four months. More than 30,000 patients were treated in nearly 100 camps. A telemedicine center was set up at the ETW’s temporary shelters in Alappad, connecting the doctors stationed there with AIMS Hospital in Cochin via satellite. ETW’s AIMS Hospital also performed major surgeries for 450 tsunami victims, including 15 cardiac operations. ETW set up 20 eye camps, performed 115 cataract operations, and distributed 400 spectacles to those who lost their eyeglasses during the tsunami.   ETW provided appropriate care for 16 tsunami victims throughout their pregnancies and deliveries. Some of the mothers who lost their children in the tsunami had previously undergone tubal-ligation as a form of permanent contraception. With the shock of their irrevocable loss, some became depressed, even suicidal. ETW offered such women the opportunity to undergo fallopian-tube recanalization to reverse their sterilization surgeries. Six women underwent the procedure at AIMS Hospital. ETW covered all the expenses. As of October 2008, all six mothers had given birth, three of whom had twins.   

7.5 Million Meals

Fifteen minutes after the tsunami struck, ETW volunteers began preparing food for village evacuees. Food was prepared for the 2,000 village evacuees in its own camps, as well as for 15,000 people in 12 government shelters. The same day, 40 trucks of raw rice and foodstuffs were transported to affected areas. For more than four months afterwards, ETW served 10,000 meals three times a day at relief camps and at 18 food counters in the tsunami-affected area on India’s west coast.    In Kerala, ETW distributed 30,000 kg of rice during the first 15 days. Another 20,000 kg of rice were distributed to the evacuees on the day they left the relief camp.   Beginning the day after the disaster, meals were also provided to victims on India’s east coast, where the damage was much more extensive. At the Nagapattinam relief camps in Tamil Nadu, 675,000 meals were prepared and served within a radius of 15 km. Also in Tamil Nadu, ETW distributed 185 tons of uncooked rice and several tons of other staple food. In Chennai, a total of 56,000 meals were provided. Staple foods such as rice and beans were also distributed in Sri Lanka. In total, as part of its tsunami aid package, ETW served more than 7.5 million meals throughout Tamil Nadu and Kerala.  

More than 100,000 Sets of Clothing & Other Necessities Provided

In the days and weeks after the tsunami struck, ETW distributed thousands of relief kits to victims of the disaster. Relief kits included clothing, sandals, sleeping mats, bed sheets and other essential items.   ETW provided 70,000 articles of clothing and 30,000 blankets for tsunami victims in India. Additionally, affected children were provided with 10,000 sets of tailored-to-fit clothes. All clothes were brand-new.    ETW also distributed school supplies for students various educational aids, including 10,000 textbooks, 5,000 pens, compasses, rulers, dictionaries and notebooks.  

 All 6,200 Homes Completed

The core of ETW’s massive tsunami-relief project was the construction of 6,200 houses in the Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, as well as in Sri Lanka. In both Tamil Nadu and in Kerala, ETW was the first NGO to complete tsunami-relief houses according to government standards. As of October 2008, all houses had been completed and distributed. Houses in Sri Lanka were completed in 2007. In many places, ETW built not just houses, but also roads, wells, schools, community halls and healthcare centers.   

Trauma Rehabilitation

Within a few days after the tsunami, ETW organized a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to begin counseling families. Many survivors experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially those who witnessed their children and loved ones drown. Through long-term counseling, children and adults were helped to express and cope with their pain. ETW also provided swimming lessons to help children overcome their newly developed fear of water. Such efforts gave families the courage to return to their seaside villages.  

Camps for 10,000 Children

ETW conducted special training programs in yoga, English and Sanskrit for children from the tsunami-affected children. More than 10,000 girls and boys underwent these courses.  

Thousands Given Vocational Training, Education & Employment Opportunities

After the tsunami, villagers asked Amma to help them find employment that did not require them to rely on the sea. This opened the door for men to learn new trades and for women to take up employment, often for the first time. It also gave birth to ETW’s Project: Economic Development.   More than 2,500 people received vocational training. According to their educational qualifications, they were trained to be teachers, nurses, paramedical assistants, electricians, security officers, drivers, masonry workers, carpenters, and mechanics. During the training period, the students received a monthly stipend, as well as free food, uniforms, and accommodations. Upon successful completion of the training, ETW helped each of them to find a job.?   ETW also provided free tailoring courses and sewing machines to 300 tsunami-affected village women in Kerala. Graduates are now making approximately Rs. 2,000 per month stitching clothing. Similar classes took place in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.?   

700 Fishing Boats Supplied

At a cost of $1 million U.S., ETW distributed a total of 700 fishing boats, complete with engine, handle and propeller, and nets, to villagers who had lost theirs in the tsunami.   In June 2005, in partnership with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), ETW’s Village Satellite Resource Centre began providing GPS information regarding the best fishing locations to tsunami-affected fishermen.  

$350,000 U.S. in Financial Aid Packages

Distributed the equivalent of $350,500 U.S. in cash to assist 16,000 families residing in the tsunami-affected districts of Kollam, Ernakulam and Alappuzha (Kerala) to purchase cooking vessels and other supplies.   Many tsunami-affected families were enrolled in ETW’s previously existing monthly financial-aid program. Individuals already availing of the program’s benefits received an additional aid package  

Hundreds of Sponsored Weddings

ETW conducted hundreds of marriages for tsunami-affected couples in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. All the costs of the marriage ceremonies were covered by ETW, including the wedding ornaments, clothes and the traditional reception dinner for the couples’ relatives. In Tamil Nadu, the newlyweds were provided with furniture, cooking vessels and other items needed to start their lives anew.  

$1.3 Million U.S. Evacuation Bridge

On December 20, 2006, the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, inaugurated the bridge built by ETW to connect the peninsula of Alappad Panchayat with mainland Kerala. Amma decided to build the bridge after witnessing the overcrowded boats and the amount of time involved in two false “tsunami alerts” that took place in early 2005. The bridge provides a centralized escape route for 15,000 people to evacuate in 30 minutes should Alappad face another natural disaster. The bridge, which took only one year to complete, was completely paid for and constructed by ETW, at a cost of $1.32 million U.S.  

Project: GreenShore

Through Project: GreenShore, ETW planted 100,000 Casuarina saplings on the beaches of the tsunami-affected area on India’s west coast, in order to serve as a barrier against surging water from storms and future tsunamis.    

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1 In India, the projects of Embracing the World are managed by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, a non-governmental organization with Special Consultative Status to the United Nations.

2  Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma) is the renowned humanitarian and spiritual leader who is the inspiration, initiator and guiding force behind all of ETW’s humanitarian works.

 

                International Media Relations         Amma International Media Relations, Kollam, Kerala, India 690525 • Phone (0476) 2897578, 2895888 Fax (0476) 2897678 • Email www.amma-pr.info • Websites www.amma-info.org