Many of us still remember the tsunami that swept buses, boats, buildings and people inland as it crashed the shore of Japan earlier this year. The devastation was caught live -- reality TV at its most tragic.
In mid-July, Five Talents Program Assistant McKenzie Butler found herself at the site of another tragic tsunami – the one that killed more than 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India in late 2004. Standing near the Bay of Bengal, on Pulicat Island, McKenzie (pictured here) watched as fishermen threw nets into the very same waters that had risen up on December 26, 2004, and swallowed entire villages.
Many of the NGOs that raced to the area have since left. Five Talents is one of the few that remains, and, in part because of this, the organization has earned the trust and respect of locals.
There are usually four stages of relief when an area is hit by a devastating tsunami, according to Satyam, a Five Talents Associate based in the area.
In the first 30 days, organizations attempt to establish order and provide for the most basic of needs – searching for survivors, dressing wounds, feeding the hungry. In the first 60 days, temporary housing is set up. Reconstruction follows over the next six months. The final stage – the reintegration of livelihoods – is often the toughest, and few organizations wait around to see it through.
“Reintegration of livelihood involves providing tools and capacity to affected people so they can stand on their own legs,” said Satyam. “Only Five Talents International is doing that in the tsunami-affected areas. This is not glamorous – there are no photos in the media. It is a silent but salient work.”
Five Talents and its local partner, the Anglican Diocese of Madras, have set up 276 savings and loan associations, called “self-help groups” in India. New group members are required to save collectively for six months. During this time, they learn business and management principles and develop an accountability with one another that will prove vital to the group’s success. Eventually, small loans are distributed to members, a few at a time. The loans are used to grow members’ micro-businesses and aid their gradual “reintegration” into stable society.
McKenzie met with a few of these self-help groups during her recent trip and came away invigorated by the stories of the women and men who are rebuilding their lives.
More importantly, she was reminded just how vital a role Five Talents is playing -- not just on the coast of India, but all over the developing world.
“Our work is about relationships,” she said. “It’s not some sort of financial transaction where we go and give the loan and get the repayment. It’s not something where we help out and then leave. It can be painstaking. Building relationships and earning the trust of the community can take time. But we have done that in India.”
To find out more about Five Talents’ India program, click here.