The 26th of December of 2004 will remain for all the habitants of Arattupuzha, a day that totally changed their life. On this date the Tsunami hit the panchayat and killed 36 persons. Others were seriously injured, not only physically but also emotionally and lost all their properties. During the first week following the disaster, Ekta Parishad Kerala team was helping the population trough a cleaning operations due to the clay which recovered all the area. Then they began a process of emotional recuperation with the population especially with the children, organizing counseling, youth and children camps, with different activities allowing the detection and taking care of the post traumatic syndrome.
Take a train to Changanacherry (Kerala), other one to Kayakulam, then 2 different buses to Kotchidejetty and finally a boat during 15 min and you will reach the little paradise of Arattupuzha.
Accompanied by Benzi, coordinator of the coastal projects in Kerala for two years, we arrived at the Ekta centre which is working for 4 years in this area, with all the children welcoming us with home made flower necklace and coco nut water. It was a Saturday, day when the children coming from different Kuttikootam (children clubs) are use to meet each other and share through different activities like painting, singing, dancing, playing, etc. In this area, 20 youth peace workers formed by Ekta Parishad and SAPA are taking care of 250 children every week end. The children are also aware through the different activities they participate in on the Saturdays and Sundays, of the non violence and peace principles. Sharing together, they learn little by little, how to organize them, listening each voice. For example, they had decided together who was going to sing to welcome us, who was going to make the presentation of their activities, etc. After the meeting with them and after having shaked a lot of little hands, we let them to their activities and went to a women meeting.
Walking to the house where the meeting was running was a real trip. We crossed over little tracks among a luxurious vegetation so green, streams, flowers with vivid colors, coconut trees and other several exotic fruit trees that I could not say the name and among this paradise we also passed in front of a shelter where 180 persons have been accommodated during one year and a half and where 8 families are still living there.
Once arrived in the meeting place, we were welcomed by a women group. Four of them, Deepam, Sulada, Suja and Shilarajel are each one president of a livelihood group. The last one, Shilarajel is the chairperson of the livelihood coordination committee. There are 10 groups represented by 10 women participating in the committee. These groups were supported by Ekta Parishad after the Tsunami to empower women and to create new economic resources for the affected families. The women explain us that before the disaster, the fishing activities were sufficient to make them live in correct conditions but since the catastrophe, the fish resources fell down and they have had to organize themselves in a different way to earn money.
Now, the livelihood groups focus on four main activities :
⇒ Creation of paper bag from newspaper and wrapping paper
⇒ Tailoring unit making handbags
⇒ Production of 100% home made soaps from coconut oil, natural detergent and herbal shampoo
⇒ Cooking of pickles of fish, lemon, mango, ginger, garlic, etc also chutney powder and prawn poder
⇒ Making brahmi powder (ayurvedic medicine for stimulating the brain especially developing memory)
These activities permit them not only to improve their livelihood but also to manage by themselves economic activities in community. By this way, they get more confidence in themselves and want now to develop these activities.
Next month, it will take place a panchayat meeting and the aim for them is to provide the 6.000 families in soap convincing them to buy these kinds of products locally. Other one is to cultivate rice on their little parcel of land for their own consumption and being auto sufficient for this food consumption.
These women are a living example of how to keep struggling and to reconstruct a world in solidarity.
After this meeting we came back to the Ekta center to assist to a SAPA meeting. The participants are 15 youths from the panchayat, between 17 and 22 years old and who followed the different youth development program organized by Ekta Parishad and SAPA about non violence and peace and also to develop their leadership. These 15 students are very proud to explain us that they are peace workers. They work every week ends with the children who live nearby their house and prepare for them different activities participating in their education in a way of non violence and peace. Continues meetings and interactions have conducted the children to express their talents and know their problems and issues as well as the youths are more confident. They explain us that they changed their mind after the trainings they followed, they feel more concerned about the others, more listening in and learn how to control inner violence and act in a peace way. These leaders are very young but you can see their strength and will to extend the non violence ideology.
Arattupuzha is not just a paradise; it is also a human paradise where men, women, youths and children know what solidarity is.
By Elodie Kergresse