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How the Community Rallied

February 2005
How the Community Rallied

Tsunami Aid

As days turn into over a month since the December 26th earthquake-induced tsunamis that have claimed close to 200,000 lives in Asia and Africa, we have come to see this calamity for its historic proportions. With India and Sri Lanka having suffered worst of the brunt, after only Indonesia, the ripple effects of the waves have been felt strongly in our local South Asian community.

As grave as the number of fatalities are, they hardly begin to tell the fully story of the massive and widespread devastation caused. Growing estimates indicate that close to 6000 people in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar islands have been killed, and thousands more are homeless and without access to clean water, shelter, food or clothing. Sri Lanka has had it even worse with the death toll hovering around 40,000.

Relief has poured in from all over the world proving that humanity still reigns supreme in this era of cynicism. Various organizations from Atlanta have pitched in their efforts to collect funds, distribute them justifiably and also to inform the donors about correct usage of their donated funds.

Raksha, a service organization based in Atlanta,. held a community forum in the wake of the disaster. At the forum, Association for India's Development (AID) a US-based voluntary non-profit development organization with over 40 chapters across the world, facilitated a discussion on relief and rehabilitation work in the the disaster-affected areas. They spoke at length about the ground work as reported by A.I.D volunteers. In addition, members from the Sri Lankan and Indonesian community provided information on local fundraising and call to action initiatives. The forum was supported by South Asians for Unity (SA4U), Women's Action in New Directions (WAND), AID, and the Indonesian Community Heritage Foundation.���

"In Atlanta, community forums and fundraising drives are being planned by various local organizations to help with A.I.D's fundraising efforts, informed Alka Roy, a volunteer. AID has also set up an online Matching Fund in collaboration with Sulekha.com. Several individuals and corporations have donated to the Matching Fund which currently has more than $300,000.

Vibha, a social organization with an active Atlanta presence, which has various ongoing projects in India, has also been affected and has undertaken tsunami relief. Their preschool program, ?Vidyarambam', with centers all over coastal Tamil Nadu is currently struggling to find information about 300 children and five teachers who were part of the program in Poompuhar and Thirumalaivasal. RSO, a toddler home supported by Vibha has had extensive property damage.

Greater Atlanta Tamil Sangam (GATS), representing Tamil speaking people in metro Atlanta has set up Tsunami Relief Fund (TRF) and has asked its volunteers to organize a fund drive to for the relief efforts in Tamil Nadu, India, particularly Nagai and Kanyakumari coastal areas. They are trying to reach as many people, as possible through their official e-Letter (newsletter) soliciting their contributions to this relief effort. So far, the response has been very positive within the Tamil community of more than thousand families in the Atlanta area. In the long term the organization is committed to adopt a village or school.

The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a socio-spiritual organization with more that forty centers across North America conducted a special prayer session in memory of the victims and prayed for a quick recovery of the affected people on December 26. More than 300 guests attended the prayers at the BAPS temple in Atlanta. Prominent among them were, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Consul General of Israel to the Southeast USA; Evin Grady, Honorary Consul General of Sri Lanka to Atlanta; Hugh Floyd, State Representative of District 99 (Gwinnett County); Councilman Ransom, Councilman City of Clarkston; Mr. P.I. Joy, Chairman American United Bank; and Dr. Rengen Li, Chairman of the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce. During this prayer service, `kirtans' (devotional hymns) were sung and prayers were offered to pray for the victims.

In the wake of the devastation, BAPS Care International has launched immediate relief efforts in the stricken zone. BAPS Care volunteers have set up food kitchens to cook and distribute hot food to victims in the towns of Pattikulaakupam, Fulerikadu, Katukupam, Lemelikupam, Terura, and New Kalpakam in the vicinity of Chennai. To address the urgent need for food packets distribution BAPS Care centers in Gujarat have swung into action and are offering their services in the affected areas.

The Art of Living Foundation has organized Melissa Weisfenning and Teresa Descillo, to visit India to train their Tsunami volunteers. Ms. Weisfenning and Ms. Descillo use a specific set of processes called "Traumatic Incident Reduction". This training will give their aid volunteers additional tools to help the tsunami victims. This will be in addition to the Art of Living Foundation's free post traumatic stress disorder courses being offered. So far over 3500 people have benefited from these programs.

- Swati Bajpai

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