06/25/2005, 00.00
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"Rebuilding people": the true challenge six months after the Tsunami

by Danielle Vella

Rebuilding faith and hope among Tsunami survivors.Fr Amalraj Chinnapan SJ, project director of the Jesuit Tsunami Service in Tamil Nadu, talks to AsiaNews.

Chennai (AsiaNews) – Six months after the Tsunami in south-east Asia, the Church's most pressing duty is rebuilding faith and hope among survivors remains, not purely "humanitarian" work. This is the conviction of Fr Amalraj Chinnapan SJ, project director of the Jesuit Tsunami Service (JTS), which was set up to work for long-term reconstruction of Tamil Nadu's coastal communities.

In an interview with AsiaNews, the Jesuit said: "today, the real challenge remains, to rebuild the people, their faith in God, and trust in themselves.  This is the starting point and also the main hurdle of any rehabilitation work. Money may be available for projects, but what about hope?" The Tsunami affected nearly one million people and killed hundreds of thousands of people perished. Countless families were left without work or a roof over their heads. JTS offers legal aid, educational, skills-training, shelter and other services to survivors in the southern Indian zones of Chennai, Nagai and Kannyakumari.

"The 'victims' definitely need huge financial assistance and the Church should be part of rebuilding efforts. But is Tsunami rehabilitation merely humanitarian intervention? This is the vital question we need to keep asking ourselves," said Fr Chinnapan. He said the Church runs the risk of becoming merely one out of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at work in the sector: "Churches, religious and community leaders need to engage the people in rebuilding the faith. Unfortunately the huge wave of funds - millions of rupees have poured into the country in the name of the Tsunami – sometimes proves too tempting, and the Church seems to undergo a metamorphosis as another NGO in the huge crowd."

Fr Chinnapan is convinced that helping people reconcile what happened with their faith in God was crucial to their recovery:  "Where is God in all this? Until today, there has not been any reflection by church groups on this, people have been left alone to grope for answers." Although there are no easy answers, signs of hope may be discerned:  "So much   goodness flowed out of the human heart after the Tsunami; human beings proved that God is not a tenant in the sky but Emmanuel, revealing himself in every good act.  This is the message that could revive thousands of people: the sense that the world stands with them; that their God walks with them in a journey of hope."

One of the key tools to bring about spiritual and psychological renewal is simply through "human, pastoral accompaniment".  This has been the focus of JTS work right from the start:  "Many religious sisters went to the camps of survivors. They did not offer them anything, they just stayed with them." The Jesuit recalls a visit to one camp where hundreds of survivors were housed in dingy buildings.  An old woman enthusiastically told him about the "hope the sisters brought to the community with their smiles and words, especially among children".

Fr Chinnapan said another key principle in rehabilitation is survivors' participation: "Unless these people are themselves part of their  rehabilition,  they  could be reduced to mere 'beneficiaries', falling in the easy dependency trap."

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See also
Tsunami survivors flee flooded relief shelters
Treating mental disorders among Nias tsunami survivors
Reconstruction progress amid tsunami fears
Tsunami-devastated village becomes "model"
PIME: a picture of post-tsunami reconstruction aid


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