Sunday, February 27, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear Friends,

2 months today after the Tsunami struck the coast and catapulted all of us into working with relief and some rehab work with the victims of this natural calamity, we at Asha Chennai are taking stock of our work, our funding, our plans and bandwidth for Tsunami related activity.

Asha Chennai Tsunami Relief and Rehab Projects

Support A Family – We have decided to close this project by mid March, 2005. We have raised enough to support 200+ families. We thank all the organizations, chapters and individual donors who have raised the funds till today the 27th of February 2005 for their enormous support to this project. We do not require any further funding for the project.

Back To School - We have decided to close this project by end March 2005. We have raised enough to support 1000+ children. We thank the schools in the US, the individual donors, the organizations that have so quickly and joyfully supported this project with their collections till today the 27th March 2005. We do not require any further funding for the project.

Nemmilikuppam- Boats- The four boats with motors have reached the village fisherfolk. We thank the individual donors who made this project possible. The project stands closed as of today 27th March 2005. We do not require any further funding for the project.

Nochikuppam, Nochinagar- Balwadis renovation

Balwadis and schools improvement in the rehab area of the city( Kannagi Nagar) where the people from the Tsunami belt of the city are being sent by the govt.
We need your continued support, and funding for this projects 4 and 5. The project details are being worked out. Should be ready in a couple of days and on the website soon too.

If you would like to donate/collect donations for this project please get in touch with us.

I feel

Ø A sense of satisfaction that we at Asha Chennai have been able to spare time and energy for a sudden and great demand.

Ø A sense of relief that we set ourselves realistic targets considering our bandwidth and volunteer time

Ø A sense of happiness that we are able to return to our regular planned work in full steam with greater learning from our experiences

Ø A sense of wonder that we managed to get so much support and from so many different people

The little soft toys that are around brighten up the last bit of our work. When a child accompanies the parent who comes for help we just hand a toy to the child and there are little squeals of delight, smiles. The gifts of eats from Delhi packages also help.

It is a wonderful feeling.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All,

Asha Chennai Tsunami relief and Rehab Projects have now been neatly classified.

Support A Family
Back To School
Nemmilikuppam- Boats
Nochikuppam - Balwadis

Support A Family has revived again on a quiet yet sure basis. We are working from our homes with more volunteers of Besant Nagar (Kasthuri Easwaran), Neelankarai (Anbumani), Kannagi Nagar- new govt. settlement for the displaced (Ravi), Odaikuppam (Kalaiarasi) areas taking the responsibility of identifying, meeting with the families, studying needs and purchasing and distributing materials.

The government is doing /has done the following:

- Not allow the rebuilding of huts on the beach

- Demolished all structures including brick and concrete within 300 metres of the sea on the Santhome Beach( Including Srinivasapuram)- and moved the residents of the Tsunami affected areas to already existing govt. constructed flats at the Pallavan Kudiyiruppu (PTC Quarters) that were not allotted/had no takers for about the last two years. ( The same will happen soon at Urur Kuppam, Olcott Kuppam, Odai Kuppam and all the kuppams in the city of Chennai). Most fisherman in these areas have been fishing as a supplementary occupation and many have jobs even in govt. departments.

- Allotted to the tenant families who were in the huts, tenements 10*10 close to PTC Quarters but on new land, with the allotment papers giving Block Nos and flat numbers in the proposed housing complex.

The Project is therefore now looking at supporting the families in both areas with means of transport to the city (cycles), support for small businesses- food stalls, tea stalls, vegetable vending, petty shops. We have started slowly in a small way, you can see the early efforts on the web link

The last few SAFs are of that kind.

We have identified a group of 38 families of Srinivasapuram in the 10x10 tenement area who would need support for going back to work. The daily costs of commuting to the city can be anywhere between Rs10 and Rs25 per day. With the prospects of daily wages being unsure everyday, many of the coolies are unable to go to work.


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All of you who have written these letters of appreciation and helped/ are helping raise funds,

Thanks for the encouraging words.

I felt good reading your appreciation of the hard, good work. People like you have been sending their notes of appreciation and their suggestions as well. So I thought I could write about our work in general this time.

Yes it has been hard work, fewer sleeping hours, more responsibility, and more strategies to deal with the explosive situations of people really affected by the Tsunami and the other really poor but not directly affected by the Tsunami. There has been so much learning in the process and it continues.
Funds seem no problem now. Delivering with limited manpower is difficult and yet I must say committed volunteerism at asha Chennai and from it’s friends have taken us through the difficult 5 weeks.

Interactions with friends outside Chennai (from UP- college students and social workers) volunteers of NGOs in Chennai who are working outside the city) who spent time helping with the surveys, observing activities and rebuilding broken places and cleaning roads, has given an understanding of the details of how relief and rehab work is happening elsewhere.
Interactions with volunteer friends of NGOs and in individual capacity of Chennai who are working outside the city and working with children, has given an understanding of the details of how children are responding to the great trauma. Being part of groups creating good activity material for these children for self learning and group learning has provided insights

A lot of our plans of Project Back to School comes from these diverse personal experiences and interactions.

A very good outcome of our efforts- There are more young people in Chennai wanting to give their time and that is a great feeling.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All,

Lots of things have happened and are happening in Tsunami affected areas.

The continuous work from 26th December till 17th Jan, seemed to tell on me and the last few days have been work of consolidation, accounts, less of field work. Hence some gap in the updates.

SAF Efforts

On 16th afternoon the work of SAF saw a sudden stop at this address, after we volunteers working from 9/40 Damodarapuram, were mobbed by as many as 300 odd people many of them from the areas not even affected by the Tsunami. The previous two days saw so many people ask for support and we worked all day to get the needs addressed. Since 16th we are working through volunteers and friends and delivering material and money very quietly to the affected people after due diligence of course. The work has slowed down no doubt, yet we are continuing in spite of these odds. The volunteers of Sunmin who gave us their place are dealing with the people’s enquiries at the place very carefully, firmly and patiently. That they are the local people is helping us immensely. We are getting donations steadily for the SAF.

Support to School children through direct contact.

Trinity School in Atlanta (introduced through Asha Toronto volunteer) has in its first installment of donations, delivered through their contacts in Chennai Rs71449 for their child to child program of helping children affected by the Tsunami. The children of the school have raised money through various sales…Their principal Stephen Kennedy and their teacher Cessie White coordinating this programme are in touch. Our local contact is Dorothy Thomas , a lawyer working in Chemnai working through their law firm. This installment is being used to support 89 children in Nemmilikuppam as per the xls sheet attached. We will be giving the first gifts to 89 children at Nemilikuppam on Wednesday 26, Jan 2005 at around 12 noontime IST. The purchases have been made, individual packings have been done and all ready to go. On Wednesday, when we are there, we will get the details of the colours of the uniforms for the different schools and then get them made in a week or ten days time and sent over. Dorothy has been informed and she said she would be there to take the pictures and talk to the children and people of the village.

More support is coming from the same school for other areas and schools as well. The supervisor of Chennai Corporation schools of Zone 6 Ms. Mercy Joshua (along the coast in the Santhome to Triplicane area) will be submitting their requirements of the children in her zone who would need support in school similar to what we have done in Nemmilikuppam. (Rajaram and I have known Ms Joshua as a vibrant, enthusiastic and forward thinking supervisor in our earlier interactions as part of the Chennai Citizen’s Forum.) She will be sending across her list by tomorrow. She is also geeting for us the lists in the other zones where the children need support.

Schools in the region between Royapuram and Tiruvattiyur ( North Chennai) are being similarly supported by Paul Sundersingh of Karunalaya, a home from orphaned children on the 29th of Jan. This is Paul’s own initiative and he has found the necessary funding. He will be providing us the list and guidance for children of schools between Tiruvattiyur and Ennore by this weekend. We do have promises of more funding for this project from various organizations. The work will extend to early February.

Boats and fishing nets are being looked into and provided in some places in small numbers by NGOs and inviduals through support from corporates. Asha Chennai has been requested for support for 4 boats for Nemmilikuppam by individuals Sandhya and Anushka. Support to the inviduals has been approved, but the details of the costs will be submitted after Wednesday when we will get quotes from the fisherfolk from different firms for repair of their boats that are repairable. There are about 14 boats out of the 43 (both motorized and catamarans) that can be repaired.

Some other Updates

- The CBSE Board of exams has announced a postponement of its exams for Std 12 and 10 in the Tsunami affected areas.
- Efforts are on from Tulika to create workbooks for children that will help children to come to terms with their losses and fears through interesting and enjoyable activities. This is primarily done at the request from Dr. Aruna Ratnam coordinating UNICEF support activities in Kanniyakumari districts. Once the workbooks are ready, I feel, may be we at Asha Chennai can consider if we can send them to children and schools we are supporting, as part of our support and follow up of rehab for children.

I met Prasanna, Jeba, Satyapriya, Dhanalakshmi and Siddhamma for an hour in T58 A on Sunday morning of 223rd, when I thought the concall with the relief commissioner would happen. With me was a volunteer from Washington DC, Shaina, who had come to participate in the Tsunami work. We saw the pictures taken by the Asha Honor team and the volunteers from UP, that has visited the various places and done their surveys, held discussions with NAPM and local officers of the govt. We also shared the difficulties both teams have encountered in our Tsunami relief and rehab efforts.

Shaina is working in an accounts firm in DC and she helped me recheck accounts, besides assist with purchases for the children of Nemmillikuppam in the two days she was here.


Onsite Update :: from Sidhamma in Killai

Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I have been able to get through to Siddhamma. Since we spoke last Sidhamma had spent some time in Killai, Nagapattnam and few days in the hospital. She is feeling fine now.

Status of the funds sent to Bharathi Trust:
The wired funds had reached the OSB Bank, which had sent a draft to the SBI branch which Bharathi trust has the account with. The check had got delayed in mail and not arrived yet. She had the bank manager rework the info with the main branch and a promise that they would sort out the problem asap.

Updates from Killai, Cuddalore -
Affected villages need to primarily work on the land issue. Helping ppl with the legal work in Killai. Only a percent of the ppl have been able to receive compensation 130/230.
Immd relief has been provided of (40 kg Rice + 2 kg Dal)/family:
MGRnagar - 173 Irula families
Kalingar nagar - 130 families
Agaram Pudhunagar - 44 families
Pitchapura - 37 families
Shanmuga nagar - 64 families
Samilyar nagar - 103 families
Sangalikuppam - 63 families

Q: What is the status of Killai, Cuddalore.
A: Immd food is not an issue. Govt is delaying in giving boat and net. Amt in the present plan is Rs. 20,000. However, even to have a small boat the requirement is Rs. 30,000 + Rs. 10,000 even for a small net. The number of boats lost in this region is 230 boats and only 130 ppl are covered by the govt scheme. The ppl are showing solidarity and saying that all folks should be reimbursed. Instead they want to find another way to survive till the full extent of the damage is covered. Medha had explored other options with the ppl and the short term solution is having small nets to fish in the the lake. With the fish and the rice they can survive.

The other issue of many villages here is the land. The govt is not buying land and instead has opened it up for NGOs. One of the foreign funded NGO has jumped in with the cash to purchase the land. This would be fine, but for the fact that the land and the building will be owned by the NGOs and not the ppl themselves.

Q: Did this not get resolved by Medha and Geeta?
A: Only in one village so far, MGR Tittu. The Chennai Waterboard has bought the land and has adopted the village. There is some hope of this being transferred to the ppl, so it is sorta resolved. The rest of the villages still need to be resolved. Volunteers from the unorganized workers union, Geeta, Medha contributed to the funds for rice in Nagapattham and Vellurpuram. All in all, 30 tonnes of rice was collected with donations's and Asha's funds.

Update from Patai (around Puligat lake):
Q: What is the status of the Puligat area which we started working with first?
A: Working for immd requirements of the 4 Irula villages:
Rajaratnanagar, Pettai, Sengaiamna Nagar, Kolathumadu

Additionally, immediate requirements of small villages were needed:
Chanavarur - - 11 families
Thambureddy Palia - 10 families
Tsumanbukulam - Isula village
Nandiambakam - 60 families. Rice has been distributed.

The issue here is that Govt doesn't want to give compensation to the Irula's as they are not part of the society. About 5 yrs back the fishery dept froze addition of any new members to the society and only the old societies registered will get compensation of Rs. 20,000. The new ppl get nothing.

May need to do something similar like the Killai area here too. The lake is not too deep and you can wade in the lake and fish. Presently, we were only looking for immd survival since another NGO (Jiva Jothi) is representing all 30 fisher villages and talking to the govt in this area and many other villages have similar issues. Jiva Jothi has also worked with the bonded laborer issue in the other communities and have a good idea of the ppl's dependence on fishing so we are letting them handle this area and focussing on Killai (Cuddalore).

Q: What about the other occupations apart from fishing?
A: Not in this area, everything here depends on fishing.

Q: Are you planning to bring these issues to the relief comissioner tomorrow?
A: Yes, I have a big list of these and some other issues and will be at the Asha Chennai home tomorrow morning. (Unfortunately, the meeting was postponed, and she is now in Killai so we will miss the fireworks on the conf call.)

Q: What is on the list?
A: There are many ppl who were living around the beach, but were not fishermen. E.g. in Chennai there are all the small beach sellers who have carts which were washed away, tailors and rikshaw pullers, daily laborers. Ppl with these other occupations are not even being considered for compensation. So far the schemes are only for boats and nets of the fishermen and these ppl also need to be accounted for. We have made a list of what the livelyhood of the ppl in different areas are and what they
will need to get back to their lives.

Q: Can I get this list?
A: She will ask Nerandran to send it to you, but it will take time.

Q: I still haven't got the survey of the Irula villages.
A: We sent it to Sivapriya, but heard that she only got the name of the villages. We will send it to her again and cc you.

Q: Do you have any feedback on the toys and games that you got forsome children?
A: The response was just amazing. The frisbees were hard to find when I was in Chidambram, only got 2. I took Checkers, carromboard and balls to MGR Nagar. I can only describe it as having pumped back life into the children. The Irula children were seeing a carrom board for the first time.

This is the only way to get these children back. There is a SOS center in Killai, but only 5-6 children go there. You need to take the time and take personal interest with the children. This time around I'm going to go with color pencils/pens and let the children express themselves through drawing. I will send you the pics so you get an idea yourself. It would be great to have more of these kits. I let her know that we had approved 50 kits, but the fuding is stillpending. Her reaction was , really! That is wonderful. I told her that the funds have probably not been realized yet and she said that she will borrow the money as long as it can be returned sometime.

She felt that what needs to be done is to get hold of vols who want to help to just spend time with the children and build relatioship with them. Spend a few months with them and get them back to the regular life.

The officials just come to the village find kids with no parents, put them in a van and take them to the orphanage. while the child is protesting and crying all along the way. These children have already lost their parents and are at least in their own communities. I know they mean well, but in many of these communities the ppl are willing to take care of the children of their own communities. It's not enough to give the children money and food, they need love.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All,

Much as I would have liked to write an update everyday, I have been very busy physically as also some of our other volunteers who are email savvy.


We have been able to meet 107 families till 15th January. We have fully supported 78 families with money for rent advance/materials for restarting livelihood small businesses. The others will be coming back today.

We have had to issue tokens with the time and date as yesterday we had a huge crowd of people coming together to us requesting support. We have staggered them till Friday 21st.

3/4 volunteers from UP come to help with relief work are helping in our work with helping with crowd control, photography. They are with us everyday from the time they have come in.

The highlight of SAF is that draws on the strengths and knowledge of the youth in the affected areas, supporting with information, weeding out people who have received support and coming for it again, adding the people who are weak and helpless, and also giving so much of their time.

A couple of Asha volunteers from US have been and are participating in this effort.


Poorna Vidya families affected very badly by the Tsunami were helped by the State bank of India with the following – 3 mats, 3 bedsheets, 3 pillows per family, I saree, one dhoti, 5kg rice and a school bag for each of 109 children in the school. I was invited to their formal distribution near the Indira Nagar branch Chennai-20, where I met the Relief Commissioner Mr. Santhanam who said he would certainly meet me or anybody else in his office to share our experiences on what works, especially with regard to distribution mechanism.

The Theosophical Order of Service has supported with funding and technology support for a fresh from sea water plant at Akkarapettai in Nagapattinam. The Hindu of Jan 8th carries a report on page 6.

OMHS is back to normal. The school authorities are considering supporting the affected families through the school. A careful scrutiny by a committee of teachers is in the process. The last four days of govt. holidays have slowed the work as children were not in school. We would be able to extend help to the affected families that need our support.

Yesterday Asha Chennai focus group on Tsunami relief and the individuals working with us met formally and shared and took stock of our work. The concrete plans of Asha Chennai work and involvement and projects to support became concrete. After a formal round for approval today at our meeting in another hour we will write out the details.

We found that the village folks away from the city in a few Kuppams we have personal knowledge of are quite united in their approach and very practical as well. The city people are trying to get their villagers into some semblance of sharing and caring with just a wee bit of success. However some positive changes are happening thanks to the focus of the village youth.

Funding support also was discussed and will be added to our formal report after today’s meeting.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All,

Volunteers from Kanpur –students of the IIT reached Chennai on 9th morning, helped with the Bhoomika Trust and then have gone to Nagapattinam for further work. Felt their commitment and willingness to be part of all kind of work.

The Pattinapakkam survey of the Pennurimai Iyakkam mentioned in my previous update is far from complete. The survey has covered only a hundred houses. The work is continuing. The complexities and the vastness of the area are problems the group is facing. They are doing it diligently and with care.

We are trying to arrange a sizable quantity of stoves from Mumbai. We have been able to procure 15 stoves yesterday and disbursed to the waiting families. We have booked for another 15 for today.

We urgently need sarees and babies and children’s clothes. We have enough and more of bedsheets and men’s clothes and do not want them for now. Please contact me/ my mother at 55187138 before delivering the material

Our tally of families who have contacted us till 10th night is 47. We have supported 31 of them fully and have provided basic support for clothes, provisions, school bags, for all the others while they are looking for new rented places or looking at support for restarting their livelihoods on the beach. The website updates will happen ASAP.

The enquiries for livelihood rehab from the beach and roadside vendors and shopkeepers have started increasing. This would need support from anything between Rs5000 to Rs20000. We will be discussing this area amongst our volunteers at Chennai and to see what would be the quantum of support and how we must do it. Feels so good and relieved to have our volunteers back from Varanasi back in Chennai.

We are paying very special to families where the women are running the show- widows, women deserted by their husbands, as also the old and infirm grandmothers looking after their orphaned grandchildren. We have received at least two concrete offers for support lifelong to such children who are orphans. Will take some time to put these people together.

Students at OMHS who have been affected by the Tsunami and have returned to school have received all requirements for school including school bags. We are happy that the children have been able to return to schoolwork quickly. We are also ready for children who will be returning to school after some days. We are hearing similar reports from Urur Kuppam school. Poorna Vidya children are also nearly completely taken care of. We find other schools around us also into returning to normalcy.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Onsite Update :: from Lakshmi in Chennai

Dear All,

Asha Chennai website has a page for the Support A Family – Tsunami Relief

As of 9th evening we have 45 families that have come to us and disbursement has happened to 28.

There are three families of fisher folk of Odaikuppam who require money to restart their businesses.

SBI is willing to consider providing loans.

The SAF families are coming back for small amounts of support like tube lights, bulbs, some provisions, clothes, sheets, school bags for their children (not given by the govt.) and utensils now they have a place to live in. They do not aspire for too much at all but take just the basic requirements for their homes. Kerosene stoves are difficult to get with the sudden increase in demand.

Many have settled into their old routine.

The Pennurimai Iyakkam have conducted a survey with some members of IIT, KFI school and Olcott Memorial high School (similar to the Urur survey, at Pattinapakkam where they were able to distribute one plastic pot for water. A similar survey needs to be done at Odaikuppam as well.

A group of citizens including a lawyer and persons concerned with the unfair and inequitable distribution are trying to bring this into focus through a petition. Details of Asha Chennai SAF programme have been very useful to get their petition drafted.