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A village of hope in tsunami land

india Updated: Aug 23, 2006 16:32 IST
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It is called Nambikainallur, 'a village of hope' that several hundred tsunami victims got this week — almost two years after their homes were washed away by the Dec 26, 2004, killer waves in southern India. 

Manimegalai lived in Anichakuppam village, which was completely destroyed by the ocean's fury. She now has a new home in Nambikainallur, three kms from Pondicherry on the west side of the East Coast Road. The sea is just half a kilometre away, not too far for fishing and not too close for any disaster to make an impact.

"And the best part of it is that my school is in my village too," exclaimed the smiling Class IV student.

A modern school managed by the Ryan International group of schools is to provide education to children of the entire neighbourhood. The school has a noon-meal centre and 100 students have already enrolled.

The tsunami left seven million people homeless in South Asia and at least 200,000 in India alone.

Villupuram district collector Ashish Chatterjee handed over a key to the village panchayat chairman on Aug 20, symbolising the formal handover of Nambikainallur to its people.

Pondicherry's newly appointed Lt Governor Mukut Mithi, Tamil Nadu's Relief Commissioner R Shankar and officials from the donor Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) were also present at the ceremony.

"In India, this is our second project and the good thing is we learnt from the experience of the previous one. Instead of merely handing over money, we were emphatic that this time around we would be directly involved in the effort," BGEA Director (worldwide) Robert Cunville said on the occasion.

Built at a cost of Rs 150 million ($3.2 million), the 'village of hope' has 239 concrete dwelling units, with the layout including open spaces that would ensure that strong winds blow through the village and not against it, and the village itself is not battered.

Each family has a 1,200 sq ft plot with 400 sq ft of super built-up area, which is earthquake-proof.

Common facilities have been kept right at the entrance for better access to all. A community centre for panchayat meetings, marriages and other functions has also been provided.

There is a 15-bed primary health centre with an ambulance that will be maintained by the Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences, which is just three kms away.

The district authorities have provided infrastructure such as roads and electricity too.

The old village Anichakuppam on the Pondicherry coast, about 250 kms south of Chennai, will now be used by the government and the forestry department to raise plantations of specific species. These will also act as a natural barrier to restrict wind velocity and sudden surge of seawaters in the event of cyclones or tsunamis.

For a sustainable livelihood for the community, the fishermen of Nambikainallur have over the past two years been trained in alternative occupations to make them multi-skilled. They have also been given 20 boats.

The women have been trained by BGEA in tailoring, embroidery, making handmade greeting cards, scientific ways of drying fish, wood craft, candle making, metal craft and a host of other skills.

The NGO plans to make this an on-going programme for the women of 20 neighbourhood villages. The women will also be trained in marketing their products. "A strategy is being put in place to market the produce both domestically and globally," said Cunville.

Charles Prabhakar, who is in charge of the Nambikainallur project, said: "The fact that we placed more emphasis on long-term sustenance and viability has greatly helped in making this project what it is today."

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, set up in 1950 by the American preacher who became famous by going to the Vietnam War, carries out rehabilitation work across the globe.

In India, the BGEA did considerable relief work in Andhra Pradesh's Nellore district after the 1977 cyclone.

The rehabilitation of the residents of Anichakuppam was allotted to the BGEA by the Villupuram collectorate.

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