12/31/2004, 00.00
INDIA
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People united by the hand of God despite the tragedy

The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) is launching a campaign to raise money for the Nirmala Hospital in Karinkal (one of the hardest hit areas in Tamil Nadu), a health facility run by the Missionaries of the Immaculata. A nun confirms that "people feel lost and are afraid", but compassion and empathy amongst the faithful of different religions are "the starting point for rebuilding the country".

Karinkal (AsiaNews) – India is going through a dramatic moment in its history. Many people are clearly at a loss, dazed but what happened, especially the children who went through a real "shocker". Reconstruction is beginning and in such a difficult moment the hand of God has brought Christians, Muslims and Hindus together in a common embrace.

Sister Clara Lazarus, a nurse at Nirmala Hospital, spoke to AsiaNews about the ceaseless work her fellow sisters are doing to help the local population.

Opened in 1977, the hospital has 50 beds and has taken care of thousands of people from the surrounding areas ever since.

AsiaNews has decided to inform the public about the campaign launched by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) to raise funds for the Nirmala Hospital. Donations will go to the sisters to aid and assist tsunami-stricken residents.

Sister Clara stresses that whilst "the government does have an emergency plan to cope with this immense tragedy", there is still "so much that has to be done" for the survivors.

How has life changed in the region after the tsunami?

Everything has changed; nothing is like it was before. The sea swept houses were swept away and there is virtually nothing left. And what can still be found has been abandoned.

Survivors are living in emergency shelters, or in campers. None of them wants to go back to live along the coast.

Even personal items such as clothes have been swept away. Nothing is left.

A tragedy that has affected everybody the same way . . .

No. Although they are empty because their occupants have fled fearing other tsunamis, the homes of the rich were spared; they are still there, standing. By contrast, the homes of the poor were destroyed because they were built near the beaches. There is no trace of them.

What is the death toll?

At least 8,000 people died in Tamil Nadu. The quake was a slaughter and to prevent epidemics all the bodies were cremated.

What we saw was terrible. Yet, there is a will to rebuild and start life all over again.

The tragedy has brought together people whose relations were often conflictual and violent?

All the time, there are moments of compassion, empathy and mutual help. Someone cooks rice and gives it to those who have nothing to eat. Others provide medical care, whilst others offer spiritual comfort. All these are precious when death and destruction surround you.

Thanks to the indefatigable work of the sisters, our clinic is doing a great job in helping the needy.

What is the Church doing to help people?

Mgr Leon Dharmaraj, Bishop of Kottar, has organised the arrival of a number of doctors and nurses to provide a minimum of health services. The Church is doing its best to get food, raise funds, and find accommodations for those who lost everything.

What are the most urgent priorities?

It is imperative to build housing because people have no place to stay. But we must not forget that the food emergency is not over. There are so many people who must be fed. Then, we must find shoes and clothes.

What has struck you the most in this tragedy?

The 400 lifeless bodies laying on the sand and the 'shock' that you could see in children's eyes. They went through and unbelievable tragedy and now must fight to survive.

Doubts and a sense of loss linger. No one knows what the future has in store. We do not know what will happen next but we must be ready at all times.

How are people reacting?

People are full of doubts; they feel at loss. They tell themselves "What's the point in living" when they have lost everything: love ones, home, clothes, mementos of their life.

It is a natural, gut reaction, but it is clear that the desire to start over is there.

An important thing is the closeness of people of different faiths—Christians, Muslims, Hindus—all of whom are lending a helping hand to all those in need.

Where there once were the signs of intolerance and violence, now there is unity. This is an obvious sign of God.

Many organisations are coming to the rescue of the affected countries, but doubts remain as to whether the money will actually reach the people in need?

First of all, let me say that we need every kind of aid: food, drinking water, clothes, money, you name it. They are all needed to get us starting again.

As far as possible, clothes and other items should be Indian because local people are tied to their lifestyle.

Although there are very few trustworthy bodies through which money can be channelled I should hope no one tries to profiteer from the situation. The main problem is organisation and its lack might cause some money to be lost. Hence, we must find truly reliable people. Our bishop is doing a lot in that sense.

How long will it take for life to get back to normal?

A lot of time. Even though we are doing our level best, only time will heal the wounds. It will be crucial to find the right place to build new housing because no one wants to live by the sea. People are just too frightened by what they saw last Sunday. They can still see it in their minds. (DS)

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