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Auroville provides succour to tsunami victims

Alan Bernard first learned that a giant tsunami had struck southeastern India when thousands of villagers began rushing into the ashram.
PTI | By Associated Press, Auroville
PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2005 11:32 PM IST

Alan Bernard first learned that a giant tsunami had struck southeastern India when thousands of villagers who lived on the coast began rushing into this spiritual community dedicated to promoting world unity.

He and other residents of Auroville, a town of 1,700 people from 33 countries, immediately went to work setting up tents and a field kitchen that, within four hours, was feeding 1,100 victims. For this international community created to help others, the tsunami disaster gave a chance to turn their mantra into action. "Lots of people came up and we knew something had to be done," said Bernard, a 63-year old originally from Paris. Residents of the town, founded in 1968 by followers of Shri Aurobindo, took tents and a field kitchen -- normally used for a children's summer camp -- and set up an ad hoc relief center. The quake struck at about 8:30 am, and the first meals were served by noon. The field kitchen worked throughout the day, and by nightfall the group was feeding 1,200 in the relief center and sending 300 meals to another camp, he said.

By nightfall, the extent of the disaster was becoming clear and it was obvious more needed to be done, Bernard said. Auroville quickly swung into action. It somehow seemed appropriate for a town that grew out of the ashram. The town had long supported community development programs in local villages, but this was the group's first major emergency. They formed a special relief committee, set up a separate office in an old telephone exchange and went to work planning for a long-term operation.

"This is an opportunity to prove that our mission can be demonstrated with action," said resident Helmant Lamba, 37, originally from Delhi. Lamba recently received a major environmental award from Prince Charles for his work developing small-scale solar energy businesses.

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