Sunday, May 01, 2005
In January, shortly after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, Neet Narula, a consultant in financial services, headed to the affected areas to provide relief, leading a group of volunteers co-sponsored by United Sikhs and the American Red Cross. Neet spent 12 weeks in Asia, primarily in South India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Following are some of his thoughts about the experience:
When I first left, my hope was to help for two weeks at each of the most badly hit places: Tamil Nadu in South India, Batticaloa in Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh in Indonesia. But during our travels in South India, where we spent the first three weeks helping victims, we discovered that there was also a lot of devastation at Campbell Bay on Great Nicobar Island, which is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands -- a territory of India. Because of difficulty in getting to the islands, not much help had reached this area, despite the fact that it was just 80 miles from the tsunami’s epicenter, and was one of the first places to have been hit by the killer waves. After detailed analysis, as a relief mission team leader, I decided that our team would spend all our time, effort and money in places where little or no help is being reached. So we created a new plan and re-routed our paths to help the tragedy struck survivors on the island.
Getting To the Island
It was practically impossible to get to Great Nicobar Island. It took eight days by boat to go from mainland India to the island. There were no reservations for cabins or even seats on the ship, so we slept on the deck in open air, amongst the cockroaches and bugs. And since we didn’t have a cabin, we didn’t get served food. Despite the poor accommodations, the trip still cost 34,000 Indian rupees (about $782 US), not a small amount for any individual, let alone tsunami survivors who have lost everything.
In addition, we also needed a tribal pass and further permissions from three government entities. Foreign nationals are not allowed to visit the islands, period, so even if you want to help, it’s not easy at all. According to the government of India, access is limited to islands because they have a policy to protect the local indigenous tribes from external influences.
Thanks to good networking, political connections and sheer determination, we were able to get to Great Nicobar Island, although my entire team was at risk of landing in jail because of some of the bureaucratic rules we had broken. When we finally got there, the devastation just blew my mind. There were so many problems that I didn’t know where to stop looking, they were just everywhere. Our team was the first nonprofit group to arrive on the islands, and for the next six weeks we lived among the islanders.
Problems at Great Nicobar Island
To just provide a glimpse of few problems the island residents were facing:
• The sea jetty was broken, and ships could not dock. Ships come twice a month and if one is cancelled, it means you have to wait an entire month before you can get out of there or before supplies can arrive.
• There were no proper medical facilities to handle emergencies or operations, plus the transportation problems didn’t allow patients with serious conditions to get the right treatment on time.
• The electrical plant was underwater, and people in close proximity were in danger of electrocution.
• The communications tower was underwater, phone lines were down and communication links were broken.
• Daily, every meal at relief camps was lentils and rice (potatoes if you were lucky), three times a day.
• Clean water was not easily available, entire water supply was salty, which made for unhygienic conditions
• Socio-economic problems were occurring too: there were lots of rape cases, kidnappings and some children were sold as slaves. Plus, some missionaries were forcing survivors to adopt their religion.
To make a difference, we had to put ourselves in many different roles: provide emotional support to children who had been orphaned, provide physical support to help rebuild survivors homes and businesses and to become leaders to help these uneducated survivors figure out what to do next. Over the almost two months we were on the island, we arranged for the delivery and distribution of relief materials to the entire island, prepared and provided hot food to the islanders and held a sports day to uplift the spirits of the children.
We have committed to helping them till they get fully back on their feet. We also plan to support and rehabilitate by sponsoring children for education, developing a computer institute and a community center and establishing a service to get clean fresh water from the island’s mountain springs to all the people on the island on a daily basis. Even though I have come back home to the US, the projects we have started will continue to operate.
I am still talking with the families on the island almost daily to provide hope and reiterate that things will get back to normal. Late night calls are happening daily with my volunteer team there -- discussing tasks, planning budgets and implementing activities to ensure that we continue to help the survivors to the best of our ability. This has become part of my life -- to ensure that everything continues to work as planned for the betterment and rehabilitation of those who survived the tsunami.
I have taken the responsibility to sponsor two children -- I feel that after experiencing what I have experienced, it’s the least I can do to help a child get some hope. I am thankful to Accenture and the senior leadership team who have helped and supported me all through this time frame, in this cause of humanity. I have been very lucky to be a part of an experience such as this and I truly feel blessed.
For more info: Contact Katherine.B.Whan@Accenture.com
Saturday, April 23, 2005
My Tsunami Experiences – The Story Untold
By: Navneet Singh Narula
Some of you may not be aware but I have been away on Tsunami Relief mission since the start of January and have recently come back. There is other "important" news on the headlines these days so I assume, we as human beings have perhaps forgotten about Tsunami, the worst natural disaster to have occurred, that took approximately 300,000 lives.
I am not sure on how to start or what to say, writing this note makes it really hard after seeing, experiencing and being there first hand. It's like I have come back to another life, somehow amazed that I survived. It will shortly be a month since I have been back home in the States, but the sights of devastated homes, the crying of children during aftershocks and the state of all those people who have lost their spouses, their children, their families and every single thing they owned still has me haunted in the middle of nights. Just imagining a 40 foot killer wave or what we now call tsunami sends chills down my spine. There is so much destruction that your mind goes blank. There are places where you don't even know if you are standing on someone's body. The hundreds of survivors I met, all have stories that can put any soul to tears and then some.
Tsunami Pictures (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
When I left to help in the rehabilitation of all those affected, I had only seen the damage on television and seeing those images and destruction over and over again made it so hard that I couldn't sleep. When my heart started to hurt and nothing felt good, I knew then that I had to do more than just give money. I decided to leave to see and understand the devastation, feel and understand the pains of the people, and provide and support the survivors through relief materials and mental and emotional support and in every other way I could. So I went.
Today, even though I have physically come back from the relief mission, a piece of my heart and mind still remains there; back with those tragedy struck orphaned kids I spent time singing rhymes with, with those families who shared their food with me in relief camps, with this 89 year old woman, who looked so much like my grandmother, hugged and kissed my forehead for bringing her medicine so her coughing would stop. How does one get away from those moments?
Who says one needs to know the language to communicate, I know I didn't speak everyone's language there. Though, I've learnt that touch, feel and actions are the greatest forms of communication. It can erase all boundaries. Without saying a word sometimes, with just one look on them, I could feel a lot what was on their minds. It was tough as there was a lot of sadness in them. The places I saw along the tsunami struck coast line, were so beautiful yet so sad, there was so much pain yet so much love around, there was so much hopelessness, yet a faith in a better tomorrow; all at the same time.
There's so much to say, so much to share with all of you; these past 12 weeks have been an experience I'll never forget in my life, however it has also been an experience I sincerely hope no one else goes through. Unfortunately, due to the remote locations and its communication limitations, I didn't get an opportunity to share as things were happening. Every moment became so precious and we were just constantly on the move with time always running out on us each day to help the people.
Personally, it has been an emotional roller coaster that has been hard to get out of, besides the tragic sights and situations that I experienced; I lost my grandmother one week into the mission. She had raised me and we had lived together for 23 years. I am sad, even though being so close to her in India, I couldn't even see her or be at her funeral, but I am left with hope that she'd want me to be continue to do what I had gone there for, to help others first - who are in need. During the same time, I lost a very close friend of mine in an accident where her parents and loved ones had no time to see her at all. Then another friend of mine who had his first daughter passed away the second day as the baby was premature and suffered complications. It was like I was surrounded by death everywhere and didn’t know what was going on. I wasn't sure of what to think, they say that everything happens for the best but I surely wasn't seeing that in any way in my life. Life sometimes put you on turns that has no answers, I know it caught me speechless, confused & with no answers.
Today, I feel I have become stronger in life but it's still hard to get away from some of those horrendous moments. Those moments, when a mother who lost all her four children and her husband said "I just wish I was dead, why am I still alive to see and go through all this. I just want to die". There's nothing one can do or say to someone who has lost everyone and everything they ever had.
At this moment, I feel it is important to share some key experiences with all of you. Even though it’s practically impossible to write down every single experience, I shall try to provide a glimpse of events that took place that have become deep memories of my life. The essence behind this mission is to raise awareness, for all of us to know the truth, to reach out to those who want to help in every way. It is for all those who have always wanted to be a part of something important for humanity, for all those who believe in making a difference for the better, in someone's life and theirs.
Relief Efforts in South India
Adopting Muzhukkuthurai - A Tsunami Affected Village
My first three weeks were spent in South India, where a majority of the mainland India's devastation took place - city of Nagapatnam and the District of Cuddalore. During the entire drive, all you could see were these orange and blue tents throughout the coast line that had become relief camps. It gave a glimpse of how many folks had lost their homes. We met with District Collector of Cuddalore and went to every village possible to see the devastation. There were lots of survivors in the relief camps. We bought new clothes - dhotis and kurtas for the men, sarees for women, suits for younger girls and shirts and pants for the younger boys. We bought a lot of food - flour, rice, lentils, spices, vegetables etc. and bags full of toys for the children. New clothes and food became important primarily because Jan14th weekend was the "Pongal" festival and it is the biggest festival for them and they didn’t have any clothes or any hope to be celebrating for. To put it into perspective, Pongal is as big of a celebration as the Punjabis celebrate Vaisakhi.
What I saw during this relief was that when we all donated clothes, even here in the US, we gave everything that we did NOT want - everyone gave old clothes - some even torn. We did not give them what they needed, and I feel there's a big difference between those two.
Instead of just providing temporary relief materials and walking away, as a group we decided to adopt an entire village and help in the rehabilitation for the long term. We adopted the second most tsunami affected village called - Muzhukkuthurai. In this village, as a group we have committed to build 153 new homes, complete with water services and also promised to build the roads leading to that village.
Pictures of Adopting a Village (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Visit to School
We went and visited the only school there to talk to the children. We brought lots of toys and sweets with us to take their mind off the tense moments, we provided these kids with stationary items such as pencils, colored pens, drawing books and even practiced ABCs and nursery rhymes with the children. These children were so adorable and jumped with joy on seeing us and calling out loudly "Vanakkam" - meaning Hello in Tamil. We were the first group who came and visited them in their school. The children told us how much they enjoyed coming to school but were sad as they had lost five of their friends during tsunami and missed them. They said they don’t have their books or anything to write with as well and want coloring books. We surely did buy them all the things they asked for but were in no position to say anything to the kids for their five lost friends. We provided some cash to the teachers and their parents to ensure that the children’s need and necessities are met for better development. We requested the teachers to continue to give extra care to the children in this trying time.
Pics of Visiting the Village School (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Tsunami Affected Special Orphanage
The first thing that gets your attention when you walk in the orphanage is an 8 month old baby in the corner, sleeping in its bed so calmly and at peace with the world. The child has no family left alive, all of them passed away during the tragedy. When I first looked at her, there was this shrieking pain that hurt very much. But when I put my hand very gently on her it was different, I could feel her heart beating slowly that somehow calmed me. All the kids in the orphanage had a unique perspective on life, they were cheerful, they were loud, they were playful, and then I realized they were just being themselves - simple innocent kids. All of them wanted sweets and teddy bears; we bought them that and also got them their own new pair of clothes, slippers and coloring books.
We sat down and played games with them, learnt about their favorite colors and learnt who the naughtiest kid was. We were so lost in them that every day we went they'd drop everything and sing ABCs and do English rhymes with us. Shiva, the naughtiest 5 year old I had met, definitely got my interest and moved me from within. In this entire tragedy, the part that hurts me the most is the situation of the innocent children, the ones who couldn't save themselves and the ones who survived have lost everything. It is important to provide mental rehabilitation to these kids by giving them support and to provide them a chance to live their lives normally. To think about it in a different perspective, as sad as the tragedy was it was mind-boggling to see one room that full of happiness. I'll never forget my times with kids and moments I spent with Shiva.
Pics of Visiting the Tsunami Orphanage (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Relief Efforts at Great Nicobar Island
When I first left, my hope was to help two weeks each in the rehabilitation - at Tamil Nadu in South India, Batticaloa in Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh in Indonesia. During our trip we discovered that there was a lot of devastation at Campbell Bay, part of the Great Nicobar Islands and where not much help had reached. Infact, what many of us don't know that the Great Nicobar Island is merely 80 miles off the tsunami epicenter and was one of the first places to have been hit, minutes after the earthquake and hours before Sri Lanka, Thailand or India’s mainland and other places were hit by the deadly waves.
Basic Information on the Islands
Today, the Great Nicobar Island is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a union territory of India. There are 572 small islands, out of which only 28 are inhabited and the Great Nicobar Island is the largest and the last island, deep in the Indian Ocean. However, keep in mind, when the settlers first originally came in 1969, there was nothing setup for them, they cut through the islands to develop roads, businesses, their homes, their farms everything. What took these people over 35 years to build went away in less than 35 minutes with this tragedy.
These settlers were the developers of land, builders of businesses, lovers of relationship and even protectors of the islands. They have been a big key to protecting these islands from being invaded. In my personal opinion, I feel the sacrifices they have made and the risks they have taken, they should all be presented with civilian service awards. Unfortunately I realize my opinion doesn’t mean much here, but the fact is that forget getting awarded, today they suffer in pain and are not even getting the basic necessities and support to help restart their lives. They sink their faces in their hands, unable to believe what has just happened with this tragedy. These people have gone back 50 years in life from where they were, it’s simply sad.
Devastation here is beyond imaginable, there are small islands there that have completely disappeared and not a single human survived. Below is a link to the pictures that present the case.
Tsunami Devastation at Great Nicobar Islands (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Difficulty In Getting To The Islands
* What one may not think about is that it’s not easy at all to go help. If today you want to do a good deed and go there to the islands and help, you are bound to run into problems that you never thought would exist. Even providing help is not easy there. It is practically impossible to get to the Great Nicobar Islands in the first place:
It takes eight (8) days on a boat to go from mainland Chennai to the Great Nicobar Island. There are no reservations for cabin or seat, if you travel the way we did then you'd be sleeping on the deck in open air with cockroaches and bugs around. For meals, you get separate tokens. If you don't have a cabin, then you do not get food as well.
* Sometimes depending on the mode of transportation and the class of service, it can cost up to Rs.34, 000 to get back and forth to the islands, not something an average person can afford.
So even if you have the will and determination to be on a boat for eight days in unhygienic conditions, even if you have the money to afford your trip, you still cannot get there. You also need a Tribal Pass to get there. You need permission from the Lt. Governor of the Islands; you need permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Permission from the External Affairs minister. Foreign Nationals are strictly not allowed at all - period. The reasoning of Government of India is that the access to these islands is limited because they have a policy to protect the local indigenous tribes from external influences. I am personally not sure what that really means but it just doesn’t make sense.
So you can well imagine, how hard it is to get there - just practically impossible. We were determined though, with good networking, political connections, and lots of passionate courage to go help, we were able to get to the islands, though at risk of dealing with the government, police and landing in jail at all times. When you get there, seeing the devastation just blows your mind. There are so many problems that one doesn’t know where to stop looking, they are just everywhere. We, as an NGO, were the first group physically there with the islanders, who lived and spent time with them as a member of the community, not an outsider.
The Problems Unknown
To just provide a glimpse of few problems they face:
* The Sea Jetty is broken, therefore the ship cannot dock. This becomes a hindrance with the almost non-existing transportation facilities they already have. Think about this; the ships are supposed to come twice a month and they very easily cancel the ship, like it's no big deal. So that means you have to wait an entire month before you can get out of there.
Since there are no proper medical facilities to handle emergencies or operations, God forbid but if someone was to have a heart attack or something that needed immediate attention, there would be no chance. Since the ship comes once a month, you are left with nothing on that side as well.
* The power house is in water, people in close proximity are in danger of electrocution
* The Communications tower is in water - all phone lines are down. It is so hard to get a phone call out of that island; sometimes it feels like you have better chances of winning a mega million lottery than getting a phone call out of the islands.
* The foods that one gets in the camp is lentils and rice for Breakfast, lentils and rice for lunch and guess what - lentils and rice for dinner. I'll tell you this, if you have a pet and you give them the same food every meal, even they'll refuse it the next day. It's sad how we are treating humans after such a tragedy.
* There are no vegetables there – the only way vegetables get to the islands are by the boat. They rot by the time they get to the island. The vegetable prices for those that arrive are sometimes 1000% more than the average on the mainland.
* There are a lot of socio-economic problems that are occurring too. Women left alone face danger of being taken advantage of - lots of rape cases, Children left alone are in the danger of being kidnapped and some children sold as slaves, Religious freedom does not exist there anymore - by providing relief, missionaries are forcing survivors to change their religion. It's sad; to me it's simply pathetic that we choose times like these to make this world more vulnerable towards hatred instead of love.
These people don't have many choices, Life is just so hard there, and it’s unimaginable. Above that, the whole island is isolated from the world. If one wants to make a difference, you have to put yourself in many different roles when you are there - you have to be a son to a family who needs emotional support, a laborer to those who need physical help, a leader to the community that needs intelligent guidance - all at the same time. We ate what they ate, we slept where they slept, we stood in line where they stood and we protested with them. I had to become a survivor, to feel what they felt, to understand their emotions and what they wanted. It was important.
Below are just a few incidents where we tried to put our minds and hearts together to make a difference and help some parts of tragic situation they all live in. We provided support, either financially, physically, or mentally and tried to rehabilitate the entire community on the islands.
Bringing Relief Materials
It’s really hard to get relief material shipments since the ship transportation is not that consistent. A lot of the shipments were being hijacked on the islands in Port Blair, so the relief materials were not making it to Campbell Bay on Great Nicobar Islands. Whatever did make it, didn’t address the needs, just the same old, lentils and rice. In a man's world we sometimes forget that the basic necessities of children (baby food, milk, feeding bottles, diapers etc.) and the women needs (they have separate sanitation and hygiene needs) were not being looked after at all. I thought if a mother is not well, there is no way the children will be better. Simple things as undergarments weren’t being provided. Therefore we created a comprehensive list of materials that would help build a home (kitchen needs, basic toiletries etc.) as forms of rehabilitation.
From the list of things we needed, we had a team on the mainland that purchased, collected, and ensured proper shipping of all those items to get to the islands. With the backing up from political end, our shipment was not stopped and we had a team in Port Blair that ensured the shipment got to the islands properly where we received and distributed them to the entire community in even. The basics of the basics were provided like: mosquito nets, bathing soap, bed sheets, plates, spoons, glasses, buckets, clothes - basically all the toiletries plus all kitchen utensils were given to each individual. This effort would not have been possible without the help of each individual in this global community who felt this need that needed to be met. There is a lot more needs being addressed with every shipment that we send and I hope that people continue to support these tragedy struck human beings.
Relief Material Pictures (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Providing Hot Food - Langar
Food has been a problem at the islands since the moment the tragedy struck. Some survivors said that for three days they survived just on coconuts, for water and for meals. We had seen the situation at the camps and the limitations that normal eating had come to. The relief camps staple diet had become the mixture of lentils and rice (Khichdi) and if luck was with them, they’d get potatoes. Imagine eating “khichdi” during breakfast, during lunch and even dinner, same meal – every meal is not normal living conditions.
The families had nothing with them, from the places around us, we gathered the spoons, pans, bowls, glasses that had been blown away by tsunami. These utensils were rusted and dirty; therefore we cleaned all the utensils and got them hygienic enough to serve them food in. My other team mates: Hargobind Singh (Virginia), Hargobind Singh (Oregon), Satbir Singh (Massachusetts) were very active in this cause and didn’t think twice to get their hands dirty to help the community. As a team, with our shipments, we brought flour, spices, ghee, sugar, milk powder etc and prepared hot food (Langar) that was served free of cost to the entire community. We felt that the islanders needed to sit down and get together as a community in harmony. The islanders were very happy that they were being provided proper, clean and good food. We are glad that the Langar still continues today for the islanders - for people of all faiths and all communities.
Pictures of Providing Hot Food (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Sports Day - Emotional Rehabilitation
The worst thing in this whole tragedy is the situation of the children. They are shattered from every angle. We decided to organize a sports day for all the children on the island to get their minds off sadness. We worked with the school principal, the teachers to get the children’s minds to get away from this tragedy. We set up a day and organized the team to clean the ground. Then we had three legged race, skipping rope race, 100 meter dash, soccer, and even water balloon fights. We provided the children with cookies, sweets and drinks. The kids were totally excited and were having a great time. All the islanders were lined up on the streets to see the children together and have a good time, away from the realities of what they would be facing again at the end of day. It felt good to be able to bring back life. For an entire day, we were able to help them forget their sadness and bring back happiness. It was a great feeling. Joravar Singh (UK), one of my friends and team mates was very passionate about this event and put his heart into making this day a big success.
Sports Day Pictures (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Donger Singh - Paralyzed
We met a young man named Donger Singh who was left disabled and crippled by an improper optic neuritis eye treatment. He was in Campbell Bay when the tsunami waves swept him and during the tragedy he was slashed by a barbed wire fence which left him wounded and on bed. He later developed serious bedsore wounds as well. As a group, we decided to help him with his injuries by ensuring that he gets to mainland as soon as possible and gets treated by specialized doctors. We bought tickets for him and his family to get to mainland and paid their expenses to get admitted to Apollo Hospital. With joint efforts from the group and volunteer members, his expenditures for medicine and treatment are being covered. He has gone through the first operation of skin drafting successfully on lower back. He has suffered a lot and we are glad to see him getting better. He still needs a lot of help, in addition to the hospital expenses; Donger Singh would need a wheel chair, bed and mattress to support his back, an air conditioner, and a power generator. Mr. J.P Singh (California) has been very supportive of helping Donger Singh and been working with his community to assist in this cause. I am thankful for his humanitarian passion and know that through god's grace and the generosity of the community, we'll be able to help him heal better, soon.
Pictures of Donger Singh (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
Educational Sponsorship / Children Adoption Program
Realizing that children truly are our future, I think it's important that we take care of them. I couldn't resist myself but to go and spend extra time with them. We talked, we spent time coloring books, we played snakes and ladders game, we went out and played cricket and we tried to eat together with them. Someone has said wisely, children are the face of god, coz I definitely got vibes of love and innocence. In order to get these children some hope a lot of help is needed financially as well as emotionally.
I spent time with a 10-year-old survivor who had climbed a tree with his family to save themselves as they couldn't get any far. His 14 years old elder sister had slipped and was stuck in the base of the tree, he saw his mother lean down from a tree to pull his sister up and then suddenly topple into the water. His younger sister, 5 years old, jumped behind the mother shouting "mummy mummy mummy". All three of them drowned, and this brave 10 year old clung to a tree for two days. Today he lives fraught with the trauma of what he saw. If you were to meet him, it’d break your heart to listen to him. He's simply adorable - just a perfect poster child. After learning about stories like these, it’s hard to walk away without doing anything. There are hundreds of stories like this, and I am hoping that we find help for all of these kids. I believe the need is so needed that I have committed to adopting him as part of the education sponsorship program. Whatever the needs may be, I look forward to doing my best to help him get educated and motivated towards a better life, away from all the sad moments he has gone through. This is just one of the many stories that have happened with the children.
It’s the right thing to do to support many such children; therefore we have created an education sponsorship program that allows any and every community member to be a part of a child's life. The schools are broken and there aren't any colleges that exist in the first place, so the need for providing education there is even more important than ever. Any of you could sponsor a child’s education, help pay for their books, pencils, stationary, book bag, uniforms, food and lodging etc. This truly would be a program where if you sponsor a child, would be a healing and self realization process for you and your family. This is a program where you know exactly where each and every penny of yours is going. I just hope that there are a lot of people out there who truly believe in this and would want to support this cause as much as I am into it.
Pictures of Children for Education Sponsorship (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
One cannot get out of the island and the other person cannot come in, it's insane. Every single living being there is so cut off from the world, it’s just not right. If they cannot reach out to the world for every need, we need to help bring the world to them. They need exposure to the outside world so they know what’s happening and what their rights are as well. One of the projects that we are working as a team is to start a computer institute. It may seem off to some but look at it this way: this project will serve every child for free on the island and teach them about life that exists and what they can be. Since the schools are broken, we hope to teach them maths, science and other subjects by the use of computers. With the use of internet, we can help them show what they can be. We will train them with the knowledge to help them be qualified to get jobs and have alternative income.
Their minds will be taken off from the tragedy and be looking to learn new things. We hope to get webcams where long distance teaching can be provided plus the sponsors of this project can see and talk to the children and community right from their homes. This is a project that will make a difference for generations and generations to come. We have already got three computers and ordered ten more and approximately 50 people have signed up for the classes as well. We have employed a computer instructor plus two assistants who will help the islander get involved and teach them the basics of computers, even games and watching movies. The idea is for them to get interested and learn more about life and get better. Much regard for my friend and team mate, Judge Singh (California) who believed in this vision and together we work everyday to help bring this dream into reality. He has helped tremendously physically and financially to kick start this and I am glad that he could see the reasoning to help become a part of this. We still need a lot of support for this so if anyone who believes in this project and can see the potential please help donate.
Launching of Computer Institute (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
It's just so ironic that there is water everywhere on the island, but there isn’t a drop to drink. There is no clean water, Infact I have seen survivors line up at 2:30am to steal water from the fire hydrant. Our water that came from the mountains eight kilometers away was used by the cows and dogs to drink water from there. Even the animals couldn't drink saline water. All their saliva used to be left in the water and we used to bathe, wash our faces and even brush our teeth in the same water. I still remember a time where on one of the trips I was with another volunteer, to see the devastation. There was no drinking water and we struggled to find anything decent closeby. All we saw was this pond of stagnant black and green water with algae and fungus and we were left with no choice. We moved forward and pushed the water back and forth 5-6 times, closed our eyes and drank it. I know if we hadn't, we would have fainted there and perhaps no one would have found us. Right now, I guess I can say, I’m Just glad to be alive.
We have already purchased two five thousand liter tanks (5000) and are looking to collect funds to purchase a tractor. We will then hire three workers between Rs. 150 - Rs.200 each (approx $ 4 each per day - which will be a recurring monthly need). They will go to the mountains and provide clean spring water to the entire island - every person in the relief camp and outside. This service will be provided twice a day - morning and evening. In my opinion, providing clean water to the people in suffering is the simplest greatest humanitarian work one can do.
The above projects are some that I will be fully involved and overlooking. I just ask and request that you see that the need is urgent and much required. If you believe in any of the projects or just feel even one bit for the people and the children who have suffered this tragedy, I request that you play your part - DONATE....Just $ 120 could go a long way for a child who has nothing, for them its an entire months education and living expenses. With the projects that we have, we are looking to raise $50,000 for the projects. It is simply peanuts compared to the relief and rehabilitation you all will be able to provide for an entire island that looks towards us for help.
This donation is different compared to others where the money goes into one big pool and you don’t know what it is being used for, that is something we are all always thinking about when we give. We don’t know if it is getting to the causes we give for. Another thing, it is my promise that every penny that comes in will go directly to this cause, not one single dollar will go towards the administrative costs, unlike other organizations.
One time donations are important but we are looking for recurring donations that can help with the monthly costs that will be undertaken. Below are links if you can help contribute in any way - remember every dollar matters - every single one. PLEASE DO DONATE, even if it is small, please Donate.
If you would like to make a donation to any of the above projects, please visit http://www.unitedsikhs.org/ghanaia/#donate
I wanted to mention that besides my family, friends, company and community's support – which has just been tremendous; I also had another wonderful group of people besides me at every step as well. It is the global non profit NGO I went with, UNITED SIKHS (http://www.unitedsikhs.org). They were one of the first non profit international Sikh organization to serve on the ground in tsunami relief efforts in places such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India.The work ahead of us was really hard but there was no limit of energy and the will to do good from this team. As a team leader, it was tough to manage the entire project in terms of planning, dealing with high officials etc. to ensure that all work is being done properly and in timely manner. The UNITED SIKHS support and networking has gotten us out of so many troubles and provided motivation in continuing to complete this mission of hope. The networking and the links of the organization at every level have been tremendous. The support we received from the group behind the scenes - Gurmeet Kaur (Georgia), Mejindarpal Kaur (UK), Kuldeep Singh (New Jersey) and Hardayal Singh (New York) has been commendable.
Pics of Networking with Officials - (Right Click on the Link and Open in New Window)
I am also thankful for the memories that I had with my teammates, who gave their time, energy and their love towards helping humanity with me at every step. Some of these close brave friends’ are- Sardar Esher Singh (India), Joravar Singh (UK), Judge Singh (California), Hargobind Singh (Oregon), Satbir Singh (Massachusetts) and Hargobind Singh (Virginia). I have high regard for each of these individuals who took the brave step of thinking of others before themselves, who decided to leave their lives at stand still and come share their passions of helping the victims of tsunami. The entire team’s main focus was on spending time with the victims to deliver hope, support and love on behalf of every human being who didn't face this tragedy, but cared for them. All the volunteers on the tsunami relief project, behind the scenes and on battle ground have been brilliant.
UNITED SIKHS is supportive of all projects proposed and still continue today to serve the relief efforts and run the operations on the ground. They have undertaken a huge task and with their passions will work to support this cause of rehabilitation till the end. I can honestly say these individuals value life and believe in reaching out and caring for the humanity. I am very glad to have been a part of this exemplary group and look forward to their support in making these projects successful.
I wanted to first clarify that all these thoughts reflect my own opinion and do not represent any other individual or an organization. If I have said anything that puts anyone at inconvenience, then I apologize as I simply am sharing my own feelings. It has taken me a couple of days to write this note and it has been really hard. I have walked away many times as the thought of the condition these survivors are in, made it immensely hard to put my heart and mind in one place. A lot of my strength has been drained but I know deep down how important this note is to those folks on the islands – to a child who seeks education and an opportunity to live his life, to someone in those relief camps who just seek basic clean water to live, this note is a matter of survival for them. It is important to create awareness as I understand what they go through every day of their lives. I remember when I was spending time with the people on the islands, I told them that “please don’t worry, another tsunami will never come, an earthquake like that only comes once in a lifetime and will probably never come – believe me”. It took so much convincing to gain their trust and provide a sense of relief, but all in vain. The second day I was back, I heard that there was another earthquake of tsunami level scale, my jaw just dropped and my heart skipped a beat. I wondered what they must be thinking about when that earthquake came and they had to run again the second time thinking another tsunami was coming. Still today, there are daily aftershocks which shake their life.
Knowing these situations and creating an understanding is very important as it helps us all understand the true conditions and the facts that exist. I realize that I have been in many dangerous situations throughout this entire mission, but if anything that I have done has helped even one soul, then every moment was worth it. These three months have become a milestone in my life that I'll never forget. I have missed my family and friends dearly and have a new found love for them. I realize it's so important to value a living life before it's gone and I hope that we all make the time to let our loved ones know how much we care.
Even though I have come back to States but the projects we have started will continue to operate. I am still talking with the people on the island almost daily, discussing tasks, planning budgets and implementing activities with my team to ensure that we continue to heal souls of the survivors. I know this has become a part of my life - to ensure that everything continues to work as planned for the betterment and rehabilitation of those souls that survived the tragic tsunami.
We are all here for something in this world, finding out what, is 95% of our life, when we find our purpose, doing it is just 5%. I hope that we all dig deep and find what our role is in this world and what we are here for. My understanding of life as a whole has brought me to a point where I have taken the responsibility to adopt/ sponsor a child. I want to be a part of this kid, where I wake up knowing that they are learning and educating themselves with the principles of being a good human being first. I never thought but being a part of someone else’s life can be really great, I look forward to sharing moments of emotions with them. All I know is that there are lives that need to be saved, there is happiness that needs to be brought back to those children, and so if you can, I urge you to give - to donate - for a cause that can save a life. If we can truly change one person's life for the better, just one person, then I believe this life is truly well lived.
I believe this is all God’s work and I know as our father he’ll do everything possible to take care of all his children who are in pain right now. I wish I could do more but I know I’ll keep trying. Today, I am just really thankful that HE chose me for something like this. I truly feel lucky and blessed.
All I request from you is that YOU DO something; learning about these efforts is useless if we don't do anything with it. You could:
* Either pass on this message to your friends and family to raise awareness
* Find ways to donate money to help out big time on the above projects
* If you’d like to do a presentation at your church, event or community, please contact me or
* Get involved in this humanitarian effort in some manner. Go ahead and make a difference.
So the only question you should ask yourself now in the end, knowing what you know now is -
" What Good Can I Do With This ?"
Friday, January 07, 2005
One week later, I somehow find myself again reaching out to my family, friends and the community for strength regarding this horrible Tsunami tragedy.
Just like everyone, I did my part of contributing financially, however, I felt there's more that was needed and more that I need to do on a human level. Therefore I have decided to actually GO to as many disaster sites as possible to do everything I can to help all those suffering. - Banda Acheh in Indonesia, BattiCaloa in Sri Lanka and Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, are some of the majority ones that need help.
This is something that I feel I need to do, to me this is exactly what life is about - just simply being a human being first. As a Sikh American, it is even more important for me to go do this, the true essence of a Sikh lies in helping others in their time of need. This is what has been instilled in me by my parents and this is what my faith tells me to do - "recognize and serve all human race as one", therefore I choose to go. (http://www.sikhs.org) (http://allaboutsikhs.com/)
I have taken off the next couple weeks of my life (4-8 weeks - or however long it takes) to dedicate to the relief efforts and with full faith in life am ready to serve all who need it. Time is of the essence as I leave tomorrow for Southern India and will going as a project lead for 30 medical and general volunteers with UNITED SIKHS, a non-profit organization working for the betterment of humanity. I am extremely proud of the work UNITED SIKHS is implementing for the relief effort, it is not only inspirational but promotes more reasoning of why we all need to come together as a community and support our "own". (http://www.unitedsikhs.org) I highly encourage all to support and donate your contributions to UNITED SIKHS for this effort.
The actual need and the things that we plan to do while there are - prepare hot food and serve all those suffering, (they can't survive on dry fruits alone), help with building shelters who have lost everything, distribute materials, help with body bags and disperse bodies in proper cremation grounds, do whatever else it takes. Most of all, it's the mental and emotional support that I hope we can provide and heal us all together in a humane way.
I feel I must be born as a human being for a reason and I need to go do my part of helping as many people, who have lost everything in their lives. After all, we only live once and every moment here must be lived in a way that keeps us in Chardikala. I feel blessed with the life I have lived and what I have here in United States but I must go and be there with the millions who are in pain and help them in their tough time.
I don;t know if and when I'll come back and I don't know if I'll have any internet access while I am there, but If any of you get a chance, please do write a note or drop an email if your heart desires. I need your support and many more wonderful people out there with me as well need this. I may not be able to respond back but reading them will be my healing and I'd so appreciate the strength during those moments. If you wish to reach, share or contribute, my email address is - firstname.lastname@example.org and my home address is :
1767 De Winton Pl, Lawrenceville, GA 30043
By the time some of you get this email, I shall be on my way to the airport. I didn't want to let everyone know till now as I didn't want anything swaying my decision. Nothing at this point will stop me from leaving and doing what I feel is needed there. If any of you feel the power within yourselves I highly encourage you to come join us. I shall look forward to seeing you in the battlefield and fighting for the true cause of humanity. Follow your heart and find your own role in this entire relief effort.
I am just glad that I have wonderful people like you in my life as friends and family. One last request, before you sleep tonite, please do take a moment to include the people who have lost their lives and people who are suffering in your prayers.