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response. The same holds good for recovery phase rehabilitation and reconstruction. After 2 months of Odisha floods -2011, we enter the recovery phase. ECHO cash programme as part of “emergency flood response in Odisha” is here to support this process of recovery Stories of such vulnerability seeking intervention form the core in both selection of beneficiaries as well as the kind of support this programme can extend. Both programme interventions and need of the families makes up to a successful recovery plan. This is the compendium of some such stories out of the filed notes.
1. He knows not what we are doing….
He looks in to nothingness as his wife Samjukta Das adjusts his draped lungi and we stand before him. Some people gather around to explain the family situation and 32 year old Samjukta just stands next to her husband looking at him with her partial vision. She is 40% blind. He is 40 year old Agonicharan Das, suffering from mental illness. Neighbors point out that the illness runs in the family and Agonicharan’s father suffered similar plight. Suddenly Samjukta’s tears swell. To cover the tears, she rushes in to house asking “do you need anything?” to an 80 year old woman sitting in the corner. The Old woman is Agonicharan’s mother. One of the woman murmurs, “She (Samjukta) is worried, what if her son also has to suffer this way. This seems to be a hereditary disease. Agoni (charan das) was fine till he was 20 and progressively lost his memory and health. Now no one is there to support the family.” Samjukta is back. She talks about her two daughters Bijuli who is 13 year old and attends high school and Pabani, a 10 year old studying 5th class. In passing she just mentions her son Sarveswar das (whom she addresses as Meghanath, the mythological warrior from the epic Ramayana who defeated Gods). Sarveswar das is 8 year old and is in 4th class. While mentioning her son we could literally feel the fear in her voice. Samjuktha says, “Villagers always helped us. But in this flood, even villagers were in trouble and we had no one to help. When Save the Children came up with first relief, entire village wanted us to get it first.” Even now, the community has strongly recommended ‘unconditional cash support’ should go to this family. A happy Sarveswar Das along with his sister Pabani in school giving us the count of material that they have received as part of relief say, “I am happy that everybody is taking care of us”. Agonicharan Das may not know what we are doing for his family. But happiness in his family would surely make him feel better.
2. Hoping for better tomorrow… Leaning to the door, holding a book in his hands he goes on reading. Today he didn’t go to school. He is preparing for his exams as well as take care of his father and mother. He is Basant Kumar Swain, a 15 year old boy studying for an important academic year of his life i.e. 10th class. However, his life took a critical turn 3 years back when his father 55 year old, Rasand Swain is taken ill by paralytic attack. Basant’s 38 year old mother Suparani Swain is partially blind and cannot take care of the family. His elder brother Vijay Kumar Swaine had to drop out of school and migrate to Gujarath to support the family. Basant is now the functional head of the family. Vijay sends Rs 2000/- every month. The very little land that they have has no one to cultivate. Hence no income comes out of that source and most of the money sent by Vijay goes in buying medicines for bed ridden Rasand and his treatment. Financial situation is bad and sustenance a hard task. This flood made the situation worst. Swain family lost many of their household possessions. Lost the food stock they had stored for difficult days. Here is when Save the children’s food basket kept them alive. And now an unconditional cash support as part of ECHO project is waiting for the family. Basant says “if not for timely support, I might be out of school by now. With this money I can buy medicines to my father and take care of my mother.” Basant is hoping for better tomorrow. Only hope he had is his education. Our efforts helped him sustain his hope in these times of distress.
3. A single sickle man …. A man walked past us with a sickle in hand. Village animator hailed at him “Kedar!” he just stopped and turned back with a smile. He is out looking for some work to earn the day’s wage. He is Kedar Mallik. Kedar is 35, a landless labourer from scheduled caste. Kedar keeps looking for work on a daily basis to sustain himself and his family. His wife Tuni mallik (26) their 8 year old son and 1 year old daughter makes up his world. His work ranges from agricultural labour to masonry. When asked about ‘what happened to him in this floods?’, he just points at his small hut and says “I have nothing valuable to lose. But this time the flood took away one of the four walls that made my hut. It took a lot to rebuild it. It is set now, and now I need to set my life right again.” Be it agricultural work, cutting bricks or masonry, Kedar has single sickle that he takes along to work. Though he is skilled labour, he manages to get only 100-150 rupees a day depending on the work. He thinks if he can get better tools of his own, he has greater chances of securing not only regular work, but also get better wage on his work. Kedar wants to earn more money so that he can keep his son who is in 3rd class in school and also take care of his young daughter and wife. Kedar will get his tool kit as part of ECHO programme. He will no longer be a single sickle man.
4. Recovering land rebuilding lives “My land is submerged in flood. I am starting to clear it up. Till I finish that and get ready for next crop, me and my family has nothing much but to survive on the food (basket) you have distributed” says Nrushya Charan Pradhan looking at his two daughters standing next to him. Nrushya Charan is 62 year old. He owns 1.5 acres of land. He generally cultivates jute and paddy in his lands and earns livelihood out of it. Now more than 80% of his land is submerged due to flood. As his wife Kanchanabala Pradahan from inside the house calls out for 20 year old Anusuya, she runs and vanishes in home. “My elder daughter is married and I was thinking of Anasuya’s marriage this year. But I don’t think it is possible now.” Says Nrushya Charan looking towards where Anasuya vanished. Listening to this his 18 year old daughter Papita Pradhan gets up and leaves the place. She goes back to knitting mats with some green leaves. She stopped her education after 9th because of the family condition. Both his 18 and 15 year old sons have migrated and working as labour and last son is 10 year old and is in school. His migrated sons send some money every now and then with which the family survives when agriculture fails. This happens almost evry alternate year as a chronic happening. Whatever the savings that Nrushya Charan was planning for his second daughters’ wedding is gone in bringing their submerged home and life back to normalcy. ECHO programme is supporting the family with unconditional cash support, cash for work to clear his field and also supplying agricultural seeds so that it will be easy to start his agricultural activity. If not for this support both his teenage girls would have been vulnerable to migration and even his younger son would have been out of school. By putting this family on road to recovery few young lives have been saved.
5. The only light he could see is the bliss…. There is nothing in his eyes. No expression of recognition, surprise or sadness. He is standing still at the end of the room, in front of other door. Filed animators entered the door and reached out to him and brought him out of the house. He held the animator in one hand and other hand was methodically searching for something. He is out in the bright sun light. His eyes are empty. He is blind. His name is Babaji swain, age 67. The moment he came out we were introduced to him. Babaji with his hands searching for us said “I have nothing to offer but my blessings. Be happy and my God bless you with prosperity”. He is alone. Wife and son are dead. His only daughter is married off to a different village. He lives alone and manages his daily life with the support of neighbors. He just has a place to live and has absolutely no source of income. His house was flooded and lost all the utensils and other essentials he had in home. The floor is still wet with the flood water marks. He is selected for unconditional cash support as part of ECHO cash programme.This is the only ray of hope he has to go back to his normal life. And all he can do is blessing us.
6. (At least) there was a home…. After crossing the mud banding that it also the road leading to village, there was a huge pile of sand crushed in to earth. And there was a cemented structure next to it. A man is lying on a bed and his wife standing next to him helpless. He is Ashok Kumar Behra, met with an accident in 2010 and from than onwards bed ridden and lives on the support of his in-laws who are migrated to Gujarth. All he had for himself was a house. At the time of flood many people gathered at his house for shelter. Because of the loose soil the foundations weakened and the entire house at once came down. Ashok Kumar Behra’s family lost all the assets they had in the house and most importantly the only considerable asset, the house they had for themselves. With 2 young girls of 10, 8 years and a boy just 3 year old the family was already burdened with no bread winner at home. Now there is not even a home. They are now living in a small room offered by their neighbors. How long they have to live this way and when they would come back to normalcy are questions still lingering. Apart from the immediate response from Save the Children like food basket, hygiene kit and blankets an unconditional cash support is offered to this family in ECHO programme.
7. Queen of kitchen garden… “I growing onions and palak(spinach). Flood did damage one full grown kitchen garden with Malak, Methi, Bhindi,Dhania and other vegetables. But life can’t stop with flood. I am back to growing my kitchen garden to support my family” Says 55 year old Harapriyadas of Narayanpur village when asked about the status of her kitchen garden. However she points out that as her house also is flooded with water; she lost all the seeds she stored for future. “With difficulty I could gather some seeds and plant this time. I have to go to market next week to get some more” said Harapriya as if talking to herself. The village animator jumped up to intervene hurriedly saying “didn’t we say we will supply seeds as part of the programme.” She looked at him as if to recollect and told “you didn’t say what seeds you are going to give.” Animator looks at his file and read out the list “Palak, Sag, Kosalasag,Dhania, Beans, Chilly, Tomato….” She shook her head happily. Harapriya’s husnband is Rabindranath Das. He is 60 year old and barely manages to work on his farm field of 2 acres. In a year once paddy and rest jute is grown in it. They have two sons one 22 year old and another 18. When asked about them, Harapriya didn’t respond very positively but was more interested in talking about her 16 year old daughter who helps her out with all this. Later we were told that, son in the family are unemployed and just while away their time roaming around city and don’t help the family much. Harapriya has always been the queen of her kitchen garden. In spite of hardships she supported family with it. Floods at once robbed her off her kingdom. Now with ECHO support she is more than happy to reorganize it and sustains it for future.
8. Lonely cow. She was having her meal provided by a helpful neighbor when we went there. “She is alone. We too have no elders at home. However busy we are, at least we ask her if she had her meal for the day” says the lady at the neighbor as Rebati Das gets up to wash her hand and looks on to the neighbour thankfully. Rebati is 80 year old. She has no one but herself in the world. Only livelihood she has is the two cows she bought five years ago. Rebati Das lives by the cows. Sells milk and earns her livelihood. Has a small hut and space for cows to live in with. These floods for few days deprived her of the only livelihood option she had. There was no feed for cattle and she herself was struggling to survive. Governments help and Save the Children’s timely support sustained her. As she is coming back to normalcy, her biggest concern is will she survive the next. “I get government pension (as part of Antyodaya scheme). It is just Rs 200/- a month and that too not very regular. What will happen to me if I fall sick or go through such flood again?” she asks. Her trembling hands and with the falling vision she looks on to us asking these question leaves so many uncomfortable questions. She is going to benefit out of the unconditional support ECHO programme is providing. This may not answer all her questions, but surely will help in her road to recovery and answer to some of her insecurities for future.
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