January 01, 2005

Relief Efforts At Two Tsunami Hit Villages

Yesterday, as arranged, I met up with a local group of Indian volunteers from Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu, to help with the distribution of relief.

I was put in contact with them, after talking with an Internet Cafe owner, about my desire to help in someway. I have been enormously impressed by the altruistic spirit of the community here. The volunteers that I joined, comprised of school students, barbers, shop owners and people from many other trades. Whilst our backgrounds were varied, the compassion was clearly the same.

Large sacks of clothing and food supplies were loaded on to a truck. We travelled for about 28 kilometres out of Pondicherry, reaching two villages that were devastated by the tsunami. At our first stop, people were huddled under tarpaulin. I learnt that 30 people had lost their lives in this village; many of whom were fishermen.

As aid was being distributed out, several young men gathered about me. Of course, being the only foreigner made me a target of attention. My friends from Pondicherry, insisted that I return back to the vehicle and wait inside, because it was becoming dangerous. I appreciated their concern.

We drove further into the village, where I was greeted by a school headmaster. He was insistent that I should see the damage that had been inflicted upon the several school buildings.

Inside each classroom, decomposing plant matter and sand lay thick upon the floors. Cabinets, desks, chairs and doors remained exactly where they had been positioned violently by the waves. In one classroom, the trunk of a tree had smashed its way through a door, landing within. The teachers insisted that the wood was not local, but perhaps from the Andaman Islands.

In another classroom, lay many folded school uniforms, still wet from the monster waves. Thankfully, no students were lost, because the disaster occurred on a Sunday, so the school was closed.

As I walked further into the village, more horrendous scenes became apparent. Stone buildings were either partially or totally destroyed. One house had completely been wiped out, killing the entire family that had resided within. Basic huts made from straw and palm leaves, now just laid as indistinguishable heaps. Closer to the shore, many boats had landed upside down, upright or broken against palm trees.

On the beautiful beach, sitting quietly under a tree, was an old white-bearded man. Like so many people I have met throughout this catastophe, he was desperate to share his story. The tsunami had not only washed away his home and business, but it had also killed two members of his family. This quiet, gentle man, somehow retained a composure that I am sure very few would have under similar circumstances.

The second village I visited, shared the same scene of destruction. People poured through the donated clothes that laid on a blue canvas sheet on the ground. In this village, sixteen people had been lost.

Villages such as these, can be found along the entire eastern and southern coastline of India, as well as in the other Asian countries affected. The scale and magnitude of this disaster is incomprehensible. We must all do what we can to alleviate the suffering that has befallen these poor people.

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