The relief work initiated by the Mata Amritanandamayi mutt in the tsunami-affected areas of Tamil Nadu and Kerala is entering the second phase.
This consists of 'livelihood rehabilitation', Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham's chief operating officer Abhayamrita Chaitanya, who is overlooking the mutt's relief work in Tamil Nadu, said.
From the Rs 100 crore at its disposal for the relief work, the mutt has already spent Rs 10 crore mainly on feeding the victims. It has been providing three meals a day to 7,000-10,000 people in Tamil Nadu for the last 25 days and for about 20,000 people in Kerala for the last 30 days.
"We feel it is time to move on to the next phase, which is livelihood rehabilitation of fishermen and women. We have decided to adopt and totally rehabilitate two villages, namely Nagore Pattanacherry and Samandampettai, in Tamil Nadu. The work at Akkarapettai (another village in Nagapattinam district) will be done jointly with the Tata Relief Committee," Chaitanya said.
The plans include monthly pension of Rs 450 to those widowed by the tsunami in the villages the mutt plans to adopt.
"We want to lessen their dependence on others and prevent exploitation. The mutt plans to employ widows who have lost their kids and are educated up to class VIII and above as foster mothers in the soon-to-be-started children's home."
The children's home will be started near the two villages the mutt plans to adopt, in consultation with the village panchayats. The home will have a capacity to accommodate 100 children.
The mutt plans to employ women who have studied up to Class X and above as nursing assistants after training them in the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre at Kochi.
Chaitanya said 300 girls have already been selected for training and another 150 from Tamil Nadu will soon join them.
Another area the mutt will concentrate on, according to Chaitanya, is the education of children affected by the disaster. "We plan to support economically weak students and help them continue their education."
The mutt also plans to provide employment opportunities to the next generation among the fishing community.
"We want to look at alternative employment opportunities for the educated youth. Today, they are totally dependant on one employment -- fishing. If there are five members in a family, all the five are into fishing. When a disaster of this sort strikes, they have no alternative source of income. They would not have been so shattered if they had had some other source of income. I have had discussions with them and they all welcome the idea," he said.
The mutt also plans to have self-help groups for men in all villages. The SHGs will be provided fibreglass boats and fishing nets. The idea is to have the catch shared among the group members.
"Initially, the response was lukewarm. Not anymore. They have understood the advantages of this concept," Chaitanya said.
Temporary shelters are in place in all the villages where the mutt is involved. Now it is building permanent houses for the tsunami-affected. The mutt plans to build 1,700 houses of 300 sq ft costing Rs 1.1 lakh each.
In Kerala, it has put forward a proposal to the government to build 2,000 houses. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 300 houses will be built.
A few mutt officials had been to Sri Lanka on an invitation and have returned after providing Rs 6 crore for relief. "We will not be directly involved with the relief work there. We will only give monetary help," Chaitanya said.
"We plan to finish all rehabilitation works in the next 9 months to one year. It's a long-term agenda for us. We have found that people here in Tamil Nadu are very warm and very resilient. If this had happened to a city dweller, he would have been shattered. We would have heard of many depression cases and suicides. But here, we have not heard of even one such case. Life is a challenge for these very positive people," Chitanya said.
He also had a good word for the state government. "The Government of Tamil Nadu responded very fast to our rehabilitation plans."