Reaching Out to Those in Desperate Need

09-02-2018From the Pastor's DeskFr. Shibi and Fr. Jobin

Fr. Shibi and Fr. Jobin continue to be in contact with the people of their state where so much damage and loss of life has taken place because of the flooding. Their report this week speaks of how their fellow priests are intricately involved in the rescue, feeding and housing their people, and their future efforts and goals. As you read this column I am sure you like me will be touched by such goodness and be part of it through your prayers and donations.

This week's column was written by Fr. Shibi and Fr. Jobin.

Thank you very much for your compassionate response and prayers for the people of Kerala. Several people asked us two questions: (1) How are your families? and (2) How are Bethany Karunalaya and Trppaadam—the homes for the homeless we raised funds for during the 2017 Lenten season?

First, by the grace of God, our families are safe, although some distant family members have been affected. In fact, a cousin of Fr. Jobin offered his home as a relief center. Secondly, the areas where Bethany Karunayala and Trppadaam are located were not affected.

We are in constant contact with the priests from our order regarding rescue, relief and rehabilitation works. The first stage of rescue is now over as the rescue teams reached out to those stranded in what was left of their homes or other places and relocated them to relief camps. Now, as the water has receded, people in relief camps have attempted to go back to their homes. My religious order, under the banner of Bethany Navajeevan Social Service (BNSS), is doing relief work, coordinating various parish units and volunteers throughout the community. A flood relief committee of twelve members was constituted immediately to look into need assessment, fundraising, and distribution operations on a daily basis. The committee put forward a three-phase mode of operation for the flood relief program which will focus on three areas: (1) RESCUE, (2) RELIEF, (3) REBUILD &

First Phase: RESCUE
The immediate response of reaching out to flooded areas, providing boats and assisting various organizations in life-saving rescue efforts

Second Phase: RELIEF
Distribution of food, relief kits, and hygiene kits

Third Phase: REBUILD and RENEW
Adopting families, students, and parishes and helping the victims to restore their lives

BNSS responded to the disastrous floods in a very active and timely manner by conducting rescue operations. BNSS worked in close coordination with local government leaders to ensure that we provided the right aid to the right people at the right time. Under the leadership of BNSS, youth members and adults of various parishes and colleges were organized and sent out to the areas worst affected including Chengunoor, Venmony, Pandanadu, Thiruvalla and Pathanamthitta. During the first seven days following the flood, they rescued 517 people, literally from death, and ass sted approximately 4,000 people with food, shelter and other necessities. The extent of the disaster and the suffering of the people brought tears to the eyes of many of the priests and brothers participating in rescue and relief efforts. They report seeing sheer joy on the faces of people who had been trapped on rooftops or in trees for days as they saw the boats coming and received their first drink of water. Our team worked continuously for seven days in the rescue operations.

The second phase of aid focuses on the distribution of desperately needed supplies. We are providing the affected families and victims in the relief camps with cooked food and hygiene supplies. Supplies include soaps, towels, sanitary napkins, antiseptic liquid, laundry tubs, detergent powder, combs and gloves. Relief kits also include clothes, blankets, mosquito nets, brushes, pastes, tarpaulins for making tents, candles and matchboxes, food items that are ready to cook etc. To keep flood victims protected from diseases, we are also delivering free medicines and medical care to displaced families. At the writing of this article, our team of priests, brothers and community volunteers has provided drinking water, clothes, sanitary items, and health and hygiene items to around 3,850 people in 14 camps and to households in affected areas. In addition, we carried out activities for hygiene promotion, reaching out to families in various villages. Outbreaks of infectious diseases due to poor sanitation, lack of safe drinking water and contaminated food commonly follow natural disasters. Therefore, we are providing practical instructions on keeping new toilets hygienic and the environment safe, stressing the importance of hand washing with soap. Thousands of people remain in relief camps. Our relief efforts are ongoing.

People’s needs and the flood’s impact are not linked solely to the level of water. Even as the waters recede, the condition of people’s lives and livelihoods are not necessarily improving. Often, real misery starts when floodwaters recede and displaced people start going home, which, unfortunately, is when many agencies declare an end to assistance. Rebuilding what is lost and renewing their spirits is not an easy task. We must begin from scratch. We must construct houses, wells, irrigation system, toilets etc. Due to the flooding, most of the wells in the villages are contaminated with garbage and mud. Cleaning wells is extremely risky as the water levels are very high. Therefore, it is important to take some drastic measures to provide pure drinking water systems now. We are suppling pure water for the villages on tankers for a few months. As water levels recede, we are also initiating well cleaning in areas where wells are clogged and contaminated. We are sending teams to those places to clean and disinfect wells and make sure the water is safe for consumption. Our plans call for the repair of water facilities as most of the villages have been submerged and safe water is unavailable. In order to avoid any future flooding, we plan to construct borewells which cannot be destroyed by the floods. They also provide pure water throughout the year. Drainage systems have also been damaged and destroyed. We need to provide temporary toilets in the villages. Building toilets is very important at this point. We will build sanitation facilities in both rural and urban areas to help the poor have access to clean and safe toilets. When disaster strikes, it is the poor who suffer most because they live on marginal lands and their houses are poorly equipped to cope with the impact of catastrophes. In the aftermath of a disaster, they lose their homes, crops and livestock and often have to flee with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Developing nations often suffer disproportionately from the effects of natural disasters because they have less developed infrastructures and emergency-response plans. The poor are particularly vulnerable. A natural disaster can have devastating effects as little support is available to help them recover from crisis. Giving long-term recovery to flood-affected families and helping them get back on their feet is very important. Our project is providing direct assistance to the families affected by floods in targeted communities to enable them to safely and effectively begin a new life. We are not only addressing the obvious physical needs, but also enabling flood victims to psychologically and emotionally cope with various disasters in life. Many flood-prone areas are also rich agricultural lands. Assistance in the form of tools, seeds, fertilizer, capital and training, for example, can help people to restore their land and agriculture. Even in this very dark time, there is hope.

The most effective ways to help the victims of the flooding in Kerala is through prayer and financial donations. In speaking with the Provincial Superior of our order, the proposal was made that an immediate fundraising campaign be initiated on national and international levels. BNSS is tirelessly working in the most vulnerable communities of Kerala, reaching out to meet the urgent needs of people affected by the floods. Currently, we are distributing hygiene and relief kits at the cost of $25 per family. We started this effort with the help of our benefactors from far and wide, but these resources have been depleted. This shortage will seriously handicap our efforts to reach out to those in desperate need. Your generous donation to BNSS will be a help for the RESCUE, RELIEF, REBUILD AND RENEW program. Your donation will help survivors recover from one of the most devastating floods Kerala has ever witnessed. We request your kind heart to provide life-saving support to families in need. You can save so many lives.