Jeevika Partners extend helping hand to flood-ravaged Tamil Nadu

by Priya Anand, India Co-ordinator at Jeevika Trust

A flooded hut in Tamil NaduThe monsoon rains that lashed Tamil Nadu in early December 2015 were unprecedented and were the worst that the state had experienced in over a Century. They caused flooding across the State, bringing normal life to a stand-still. The human toll in the devastating floods was over 190. More than 2500 villages were badly affected and 60 percent of the capital city Chennai was under water. The District of Cuddalore was one of the worst-affected regions, where over 50 villages were under water. Apart from the death of 49 people, over 50,000 huts were damaged during the floods in Cuddalore district and hundreds of families spent weeks together in relief camps. Heavy damage was inflicted on standing crops, cattle and infrastructure.

Cuddalore was ravaged by a tsunami in 2004 that killed 640 people along the district’s 57 km coastline. Since then, it has been hit hard by multiple cyclones including Nilam and Thane, and the district’s cup of woes brimmed full with the recent rains. The armed forces—the army and navy in particular—and 50 teams of the National Disaster Response Force did a good job of mitigating the impact by rescuing stranded citizens and distributing essentials. The floods brought out the best in residents of Tamil Nadu and volunteers from nearby States like Karnataka, who provided support in the form of cash and relief materials. Impromptu rescue teams were formed to rescue those who were stranded and residents who were not affected opened their homes and offered food and shelter to victims. Corporates such as Cognizant, Tata Consultancy Services, State Bank of India and Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd. have also done their part by pledging funds to help victims. Several NGOs complemented the official machinery in delivering essential items to residents in the flood-affected areas.

Mithra Foundation distributing aid in Tamil NaduTwo of Jeevika’s partners in Tamil Nadu, Mithra Foundation and SCAD, played a key role in supporting flood-affected villagers. Mithra Foundation, our partner working with HIV positive individuals and their families in Trichy and Cuddalore districts, with support from various NGOs – including Jeevika – and individual contributors from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, was able to provide 23,000 kilograms of relief materials in kind to flood victims from 33 Flood Affected Villages in Cuddalore District. Essentials like food (milk, rice, oil and lentils), clothes (sarees, dhotis, children’s clothing, undergarments), sanitary napkins, torches, blankets and toiletries were also provided.

SCAD, which focuses on rural underprivileged communities was able to support victims in Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur and Tuticorin districts. It collaborated with local NGOs such as EKTA Nambikkai Centre, Killai, Cuddalore, GOD Trust, Institution Rural Development Trust, and Joseph Rural Development Trust in Kanchipuram to have an easy access to villages not reached by the Government.

distributing aid in Tamil NaduAfter a careful door-to-door assessment of affected villagers, especially women and children, SCAD provided relief kits to meet their needs. Flood relief kit materials included some 23 items including dry rations, dress, note books, oil, soap, food as well as basic things like bed sheets, dress materials, biscuits. etc. Kits have now reached 1325 families across four districts and over 2500 people from 24 villages received medical care from medical personnel in mobile vans. Close to 1500 individuals received essential items such as clothing, food items, blankets and mosquito repellants.

SCAD was able to effectively enlist the support of schools and colleges that are associated with it, and students and staff of both the rural development teams – as well as the educational institutions – played a key role in raising resources and collecting relief items.

Both Mithra and SCAD will continue to engage in rehabilitation efforts in the months to come. To find out how you can support their efforts, please contact us.

A Positive Match

Kumar and Ellavarasi (names changed) stand behind their cart laden with vegetables at the weekly farmers’ market and call out to passing customers. Their son, a toddler, plays with his toys nearby, as the couple are busy marketing their stock of tomatoes, gourd and pumpkins.

It has been a profitable day and the couple look forward to buying some essentials for their home and, if money is left over, some tasty treats which their son will enjoy. They are like any other young couple in their 20s living in the rural hinterlands of Tamil Nadu, struggling to eke out a living, with one key difference none of their fellow vendors or their customers are aware of: they are both HIV-positive.

Tamil MarriageKumar first met Ellavarasi in 2006 at a meeting which brought together People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in the Trichy District.  Kumar was a supervisor in a local manufacturing unit and Ellavarasi was a young widow still coming to terms with her husband’s untimely death. Both were struggling to cope with a devastating disease that had infected and impacted them physically, emotionally and socially.

During the meeting, several participants shared their experiences of living with HIV and the challenges they faced in dealing with the disease on a day-to-day basis. Women, in particular, have to deal with isolation and discrimination from their families and neighbours and, worse, economic instability after their husband’s death. There is no-one with whom they can share their concerns and anxieties and they often became sexual prey for other men.

Mithra Foundation – Jeevika’s organisational partner in Trichy, Tamil Nadu – provides livelihood opportunities and enhances social and economic well being of PLWHAs, played matchmaker for Ellavarasi and Kumar.  Mithra, during its monthly meetings with PLWHAs stresses the importance of positive living and proposed marriage as a solution to loneliness and stigma faced by HIV-positive individuals. Marriage with a fellow HIV-carrier provides not just companionship, but also a practical base for dealing with the illness, including mutual monitoring of medication and sharing the cost of treatment.

Mithra Foundation CandlesPLWHAs need love, care and support from their spouses and most importantly someone to take care of their physical and emotional needs and give them the strength to face life’s adversities,” said Mr Peter Nayagam, who heads Mithra Foundation.

Kumar’s family were initially apprehensive about his marriage to an HIV-positive woman, but they have since come around with counselling, and have accepted Ellavarasi.

We caution both men and women with HIV to reveal their positive status and find a partner who is also infected. They understand the trials and tribulations of being HIV positive and are likely to be more supportive and understanding,” says Mr Nayagam.

Encouraged by the marriage of Kumar and Ellavarasi, Mithra has since set up an informal marriage bureau and succeeded in uniting eight more couples with HIV status.

It hasn’t been easy for Mithra to find potential partners for HIV-positive individuals who want to marry. Opposition from family and community is common and widows with children find it more difficult to find a partner. Men do not want to take responsibility for somebody else’s children, especially if they are HIV-positive.

Kumar and Ellavarasi are members of Mithra’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) for PLWHAs and both also engage in votive candle-making which, together with other SHGs, are able to make a small amount of income selling their candles to the local temples and churches. The couple recently received a revolving fund of Rs5,000 (approx. £53) from Mithra (sponsored by Jeevika) and a bank loan of Rs10,000 (approx. £106) and utilised the amount to engage in vegetable vending. Their household income is now approximately Rs4,000 (£43) per month and growing.

Both Kumar and Ellavarasi are on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (a medication provided to HIV-positive individuals to boost their immunity levels) and often fall ill due to opportunistic infections, but their cloud has a silver lining: their two-and-a-half-year-old son, who is the apple of their eye, is free from the HIV virus.


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