Sunday, December 31, 2006

Shifting Focus of Progressive Change...

Update: This post originally contained solely the mothballing statement below. However, in light of the events of Darfur, Sudan, one of our admins felt that it would be irresponsible to move on without bringing attention to the overwhelming number of horrific crimes occurring their right now, which many have called genocide. Here is the New York Times column by Nicholas Kristoff (warning: graphic photos) urging action as well as links to two websites he mentions: http://www.darfurgenocide.org/ and www.savedarfur.org. Please also check out the links in the addendum of the sidebar. If you worked on tsunami assistance, please remember that these are all connected struggles in that the agony of the victims is agony, regardless of whether the proximate cause was natural disaster or human malice. Thanks for your continued patience, support, and decency.


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Well, folks, we've done what we could and now it's time for the admins of this site to move on. The web traffic on mainstream sites like SEA EAT is down to about 10-15,000 hits per day, and this site is, as you can imagine, much less frequently visited. However, the information here will stay up as long as Blogger leaves it up here.

If you're interested in taking over this site and transforming it (for example, into a Progressive Asian NGO clearinghouse), send your vision of what you think you want to make it into to sauravsarkar2000 AT yahoo DOT com. Thanks to everybody, and particularly contributors of information on NGOs, for your help. The site couldn't have happened without you.

Your Admins

Monday, January 31, 2005

Recommended Organizations for Charitable Contributions in South and Southeast Asia

Sunday, January 30, 2005

San Francisco Fundraiser, 2/3

Thurs, Feb 3, 7PM
APA Artists 4 Tsunami Relief
Locus Arts @ Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco
All proceeds benefit tsunami relief in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
http://ektaonline.org/tsunami/

A Report on Tsunami Relief Efforts by Bhoomika Trust, Chennai

January 30, 2005

In the wake of the December 2004 Tsunami that devastated vast swathes of coastal Asia, including Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, Bhoomika Trust has been coordinating relief efforts from Chennai, linking up with civil society and governmental efforts in the worst-affected districts of Nagapattinam (Nagai), Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Karaikal (Pondicherry), and coastal villages near Chennai and Kalpakkam. Bhoomika has also been taking on the role of facilitating information exchange among diverse players in the field, including grass roots community organizations, NGOs, business houses, and the Tamil Nadu government, and has been coordinating with other organizations in providing input to policy-makers with regard to the shelter and rehabilitation needs of the affected communities...

For the full report, please log on to:
http://www.tsunami-india.org/what_we_doing.htm

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

First Person Account From Northeast Sri Lanka

Crossposted at SEA EAT. The story below was generously shared by Harini, who was in Sri Lanka during and after. You can see her associated pictures here. Her comments on the pictures: "It's just a sample of the devastation caused...the pix of the boys in the orphanage are pre-tsunami on Christmas day we spent the day with them...everything else is aftermath of post-tsunami..."


The Tsunami disaster and the politics of international aid

Going back home, to the northeast of Sri Lanka, over the December holidays was an opportunity for me to learn about my homeland and discover my roots. I was born and raised in Canada, and the last time I had visited my homeland was as a small child in 1983.

When I stepped on the plane to begin my personal journey I never expected that it would end up being such a life-altering experience. I knew that this would be a profound experience for me, but never did I imagine the extent to which this trip would change my life. The tsunami that devastated 11 Asian countries hit the eastern coastline of Sri Lanka on the morning of December 26, 2004. The northeastern coastline of Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit areas in the region. The group of almost 30 Canadian Tamil students that I was traveling with was only kilometers from the shorelines when the tsunami struck.

I remember hearing the sirens of numerous ambulances racing by the bus that was carrying us to our next location. I remember thinking, what in the world is going on? I looked over at the person sitting next to me and asked if the flooding was really that bad (recently there had been severe flooding in the area). We passed a small coastal town and saw the townspeople standing and sitting on the side of the road with somber expressions on their face. We asked what had happened, and they said that the waves from the ocean had claimed some lives. Neither they nor us knew the extent of this humanitarian tragedy. It would be one of the worst the world has ever seen.

We got off the bus to take some pictures of the landscape. After snapping some shots, I returned to the road to get back on the bus. To my unbelievable horror I saw a tractor carrying the bodies of several small children. At that point, I was standing, frozen, on the side of the road. Time stood still. I was in shock. I had never seen dead bodies in that state before. I felt as if I was in a dream. Someone helped me cross the road and get into the bus. I sat in the bus in silence. I kept seeing those tiny faces. To this day, when I close my eyes, I can still see those small faces.

As soon as we heard about the extent of the devastation we were dumbstruck. I could not believe this was happening. How could the ocean – such a beautiful and majestic force of nature – turn into a violent and destructive storm of death? I used to love the ocean. It was one of my favorite things in the world. The smell of the seawater, the feel of the wind, the sound of the crashing waves. Now, those sights, sounds, and smells terrify me.

I wondered what could we do to help the people who lost so much. We collected money and our own clothing to donate to people who were displaced and temporarily housed in schools. However, this didn’t seem like enough. That night a small group of students traveling with us went to the affected areas. They reported back with horrific stories. We saw video footage of grieving families, still in their wet clothes, wailing in horror. The bodies of their loved ones laying in rows; some were stacked one on top of each other. There was so much death.

The next day we went to the communities on the northeast coast that were hardest hit. We visited a village called Mullattivu, which has been devastated. We were completely overwhelmed by what we saw. The entire village had been washed away. The stench of death hung in the air. The waves had ripped children from their mothers’ arms. Fishing boats had tossed and turned on top of the waves and were thrown miles inland. Belongings and precious family mementos were scattered on the ground. I saw a photo album left on the ground. I flipped through the pictures and saw smiling happy faces. At that moment I prayed that the family was safe and would soon return to retrieve their belongings.

We went to visit the schools that housed the hundreds of people left homeless and displaced. There were no toilet facilities and supplies were limited. A few medical students cared for the injured, who formed long lines to get medical attention. Hundreds of children roamed around, some crying uncontrollably, others oblivious to the devastation and distress. In the background was the constant wailing of grief-stricken survivors. We had to choke back our own tears when we spoke with the survivors and heard their stories.

The relief efforts were coordinated by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, an NGO that operates in the north and east of Sri Lanka. They were the only organization present in the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas. Other NGO’s such as Oxfam and UNICEF had only briefly drove by in their air-conditioned jeeps to drop of a few dozen mats (UNICEF had their mats embedded with their logo). We were saddened to see that there was no international aid coming into the Tiger-controlled areas. The Tamil areas in the north and east were some of the worst-affected areas, yet none of the international aid pledged was getting to these hardest hit areas. We were there continuously for three days, but we failed to see any international aid in these areas. It was truly unfortunate that politics had come before humanitarian need. The Sri Lankan government was refusing to allow relief aid to enter Tiger-controlled areas. As a result, some people – those who had lost everything and everyone they loved – were left in shelters with limited supplies and no help from outside sources. They only had each other to count on.

We spoke with survivors and heard incredible stories of how they saw this giant black cloud of water over 40-feet high coming towards them. They told us how they had no time to think or gather any belongings. They just ran for their lives. They did not know where they were running to. They only knew what they were running from. They told us how they saw their neighbors and members of their own family be carried away by the giant waves and the receding sea. Most of the lives lost were those of women and children. So many children have been lost.

Senthalir Illam, an orphanage for children who lost their parents due to the civil war in Sri Lanka, lost hundreds of children – only 30 survived. We visited the site, and as we walked to the grounds we saw school desks and chairs scattered on the ground. There was a mangled crib in front of the damaged building where the children used to sleep and dream about their futures. I can’t describe how powerful a moment it was to stand on the ground upon which laughing children had played, knowing that most had been carried away by the raging waves. Only days earlier a friend of mine who had visited that orphanage had shown me video clips of those very children. I kept imagining those laughing children playing in the field. At that moment I broke down. I cried uncontrollably, along with my fellow students, at the loss of such innocent and young lives.

Children have also been left orphaned by this tragedy. Many villages and families have only a few survivors. One of the stories I heard from a survivor I will never forget as long as I live. It was the story of an 84-year-old grandmother. This story was very powerful to me because I recently lost my own grandmother. At one of the schools I visited there were two elderly women sitting on the ground alone. I walked up to them to hear their stories. One of the grandmothers told me how she had heard from neighbors about the waves coming. They told her to run and so she ran. While she was running she was thinking about her other family members. They lived in nearby houses. She tried desperately to find out about her family. She found out that none had survived. All of her children and all of her grandchildren had been taken by the waves. I wiped away her tears as she told me that she was alone in the world. She then said to me, “Why did I survive? I am an old lady. Why hadn’t my children or grandchildren survived? They had a future.” These words would haunt me for the rest of my trip. So many children were lost. In some villages no children survived. A whole generation has been lost.

The trip has changed my life forever. I am no longer the person I was a month ago. Being home in Toronto feels surreal. It is hard to reconcile the person that I am today with the life that I used to have. I have learned so much from this experience. I have seen devastation and destruction, but I have also see generosity and hope for the future. This tsunami has brought together people from all over the world in an unprecedented way.

I made a promise to those grandmothers that evening. I told them that I would go back to Canada and share their stories. I promised them that the international community would hear their stories and help alleviate the suffering of the survivors, that we would help them to rebuild their communities and their lives. Most of the people we spoke to had only one request for us: not to forget them.

There is so much work to be done. The long-term needs of these communities are enormous. Fishermen need boats to regain their livelihood. Schools need books, desks and chairs. Orphanages need to be repaired. Houses need to be reconstructed. People need to deal with the emotional scars of loosing their entire family. Let us not forget them!

For information about tsunami relief in the North and East of Sri Lanka please visit:
Tamil Rehabilitation Organization: http://www.troonline.org/ (416) 751-8777
Tamil Children’s Endowment Fund: http://www.tcefund.org/ (416) 451-3125

Monday, January 17, 2005

Memphis Area Tsunami Benefit 1/22/05

Crossposted at SEA EAT. From Arjun:

I’ve been coordinating a fundraising drive in Memphis, TN which is throwing a benefit party this upcoming Saturday, January 22nd – details below. The owner of India Palace has graciously let us use his venue at no cost for the event, and the DJ is also working the decks pro bono, so that the maximum amount generated from the benefit can go directly towards aid, not overhead. All proceeds are going to progressive, grass-roots NGOs with a longer-term, egalitarian view of relief and reconstruction in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia – we’re identifying groups to support currently from a shortlist including:

In Indonesia:

Kontras (the lead group of the Indonesia Civil Society Coalition for Tsunami Victims); Solidaritas Perempuan (a grassroots group organizing relief efforts, focusing on poor women); IMC (International Medical Corps), which is not grass-roots, but is handling a large chunk of direct medical aid in the area and is requesting both monetary and material aid.

In Sri Lanka:

Sarvodaya (a Sri Lankan organization with the largest community network in the country, which is conducting relief efforts in all Sinhalese regions, and directing aid to Tamil groups in the northeast as well); Sewalanka (another Sri Lankan organization which has set up refugee camps and clinics and have infrastructure in place from relief work during the war); Diverse Communications (the US receiving point for donations towards the EQUAL GROUND Relief and Assistance Program); and SEED, an organization that has direct access to affected areas in rebel-dominated northeast areas.

In India:

AID (Association for India's Development) is a volunteer group which is registered as a 501 (c) (3) organization in the U.S. that regularly funds grassroots development and human rights groups in India. They have already starting sending emergency funds through their networks, and they send 100% of donated funds. At the moment they are matching donated funds dollar for dollar securely online through sulekha.com at http://www.sulekha.com/aidtsunami. AID is currently doing relief work in the Andamans via SEEDS as well as within the mainland; SEEDS India is one of the few other NGOs operating out of the Andamans and coordinating relief efforts in affected areas (www.seedsindia.org/tsunami). SEEDS has done earthquake relief, rehabilitation, and preparedness work in the past with the UN and the Gujarat government; Solidarity Network: Andaman Islands Relief. The Solidarity Network seems to have substantial leverage beyond typical NGO efforts, partly because it has some Bollywood industry players backing it. The Solidarity Network is working in coordination with military logistics to extend relief work beyond Port Blair to affected areas in both Andaman and Nicobar.

If this event goes well, we’re hoping to turn Dance Relief into an ongoing club night series with benefit parties supporting progressive development organizations. We are planning a large-scale one-year-anniversary event for next year on the weekend before Christmas to bring together as much of the city's talents and resources as possible to the goal of supporting long-term relief and progressive development in affected communities.


For more information, please contact Arjun directly at adirghan AT jhsph DOT edu

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Report from AID Volunteer on Dalits

Please take a look at this report on relief and dalits (also known as "untouchables") in India. Pulled off of SEA EAT:

Srinivas Mirle of AID-Cincinnati reports:

Dalits comprise about 17% of India's population and continue to struggle to be included in mainstream India. They have been marginalized in India for ages and, surprisingly, they are not faring better even in the aftermath of the tragic tsunami disaster. This was evident from field visits that I made today with Ms. Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD to the tsunami-affected areas of Velankany, Nagapattinam and Kesavanpalem in Tamil Nadu. Ms. Shruti Parthasarathy, a volunteer from Bangalore who is working with AID on coordinating relief activities in the village of Kuttiyandyur, has also observed the Dalit denigration.

In the tsunami affected areas of Tamil Nadu, there are about 8000 Dalit families who live in about 95 hamlets. About 30 hamlets were severely affected and about 5000 huts have been washed away, according to Mr. Vincent Manohar of the NCDHR, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights.

UN calls for Gender-Specific Relief

Pulled off of SEA EAT:

The Indian Ocean tsunami may have made no distinction between men and women in the grim death toll it reaped with its waves but it has produced some very gender-specific after-shocks, ranging from women’s traditional role in caring for the sick to increased cases of rape and abuse, a United Nations agency reported today.

“Understanding and measuring these differences is essential for an effective response,” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a news release, stressing the need to raise awareness on gender issues among decision- and policy-makers to ensure that women’s and men’s different needs are reflected in policies, practices and resource through the phases of relief, rehabilitation and development.

Read the full article at UN News Centre

Sri Lanka Government Providing Medium-Term Housing, Land

Pulled off of SEA EAT:

Sri Lanka has drawn up a plan to help tsunami victims that will include providing low income groups with land and houses free of charge, tax benefits and rations for at least six months, officials said Friday.

The preliminary report on government plans to help tsunami victims was Friday officially released. Some of the programmes have been put into effect by the authorities, but it is expected to fully come into effect only within the next week.

Read the full article at ReliefWeb.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Inmates at Canadian Prisons Donating to Tsunami Relief

From Reuters via Yahoo!News:

TORONTO (Reuters) - The tsunami disaster in South Asia has sparked widespread generosity in Canada, even among the nation's most hardened criminals, federal prison officials said on Wednesday.

Fourteen prisons across the country have raised money from their inmate populations to support relief efforts by the Red Cross and other aid organizations.

Although the C$4,200 ($3,500) gathered to date is low compared with some multimillion-dollar donations, it is still an incredible effort for prisoners who have little in the way of income, said Diane Russon, a spokeswoman for Correctional Services of Canada.

"Regardless of the amount, the idea that they're actually caring about (someone) other than themselves, and making the effort and the donation, is pretty remarkable," she said.

At the Mission Institution in British Columbia, 103 inmates, serving two years or more, raised C$2,011, said assistant warden Diane Mousouliotis.

Inmates signed a pledge form for amounts ranging from C$5 to C$400 to be debited from their work program accounts.

"It was the initiative of one of the inmates," said Mousouliotis, "and seeing the tragedy that had happened, they wanted to contribute in some way. They rallied to it."

A member of the prison staff rushed the check to the local Red Cross office to make sure it arrived before Tuesday's deadline for the Canadian government's pledge to match private donations, dollar for dollar.

Russon said inmates can earn up to C$6.90 a day in work programs for jobs such as kitchen duties or furniture making.

AP: Malaria About To Hit Aceh

Courtesy AP via Yahoo!News:

Health officials plan to go door to door and tent to tent with mosquito-killing spray guns beginning Friday to head off a looming threat that one expert says could kill 100,000 more people around the tsunami disaster zone: malaria.

The devastation and heavy rains are creating conditions for the largest area of mosquito breeding sites Indonesia has ever seen, said the head of the aid group anchoring the anti-malaria campaign on Sumatra island. The pools of salt water created by the Dec. 26 tsunami have been diluted by seasonal rains into a brackish water that mosquitos love.

While the threat of cholera and dysentery outbreaks is diminishing by the day because clean water is increasingly getting to tsunami survivors, the danger of malaria and dengue fever epidemics is increasing, said Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics.

The death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has topped 157,000 across 11 countries after Indonesia added nearly 4,000 more to its tally. Allan warned that an outbreak of malaria could take an additional 100,000 lives around the Indian Ocean if authorities don't act quickly.

"The combination of the tsunami and the rains are creating the largest single set of (mosquito) breeding sites that Indonesia has ever seen in its history," he said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Asked about World Health Organization (news - web sites) warnings that disease could double the tsunami death toll across affected areas, Allan said: "If anything, I think they are being conservative. Three-quarters of those deaths could be from malaria."

The World Health Organization said Thursday that seven cases of malaria have been confirmed in Aceh province. They are popping up now both because malaria season is just beginning and because a reporting system has been put in place over the last few days.

Relief workers in Aceh province on Sumatra island, meanwhile, warned that new rules requiring them to travel with armed escorts could cause bottlenecks in delivering aid and compromise their arms-length status from Indonesia's military.

"We discourage such actions because it blurs the distinction between humanitarian and military efforts here," said Eileen Burke of Save the Children.

Burke said her group has so far had no escorts — or problems — with their work in Sigli, about 60 miles from the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.

Rebels who have waged a low-level war for a separate homeland in northern Sumatra for 30 years reaffirmed their commitment to a cease-fire they declared hours after the tsunami.

Still, there have been unconfirmed reports of isolated skirmishes between Indonesian soldiers and rebels since the tsunami.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government welcomed the rebels' declaration of a cease-fire. "Of course we welcome it. Indonesia will also make efforts toward it," Kalla said in Jakarta, the capital.

Indonesia's moves — which include an order that aid workers declare their travel plans or face expulsion — highlight its sensitivities over foreign involvement in the humanitarian effort, especially that of foreign troops.

Indonesia wants foreign troops out of the country by late March. The United States has the largest presence by far in south Asia with about 13,000 troops — almost all offshore.

However, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Indonesian authorities had informed the United States there is no departure deadline for U.S. troops.

"Nobody is asking us to go home," Boucher said. "The Indonesian statement about three months, they tell us, was intended as an estimate about how long the military part of the operation might be necessary."

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday protested the restrictions on aid workers, which also apply to reporters. "Unrestricted access to information is absolutely crucial during this relief effort," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "We call on Indonesian authorities to drop the restrictions immediately."

U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said the overall tsunami relief effort was progressing well except in Sumatra, where "huge problems" remain.

"It is still an uphill battle in the region," Egeland said in New York.

Survivors among the tens of thousands living in refugee camps in Banda Aceh have welcomed the foreign troops, who have been flying helicopter aid missions to otherwise inaccessible areas and running field hospitals.

"If they leave, we will starve," said Syarwan, 27, a tailor who is living with some 45 relatives under a tarp at a camp.

The cornerstone of the anti-malaria offensive is an insecticide spraying operation, where fumigators will walk from house to house in all neighborhoods of Banda Aceh.

They will spray the walls and put a small chalk mark on the outside of the front door as they leave so that no homes are left out and locations covered can be accurately mapped.

The tents in the refugee camps dotted around the city will also be sprayed, but those are home to only a tiny fraction of the population. Most people have been taken in by other families.

In communities along the west coast of Sumatra where almost all buildings were wiped out, the main defense will be pesticide-impregnated plastic sheeting, which villagers use for shelter.

"This will be the first situation where there is an incredible threatening epidemic and where if we get everything in place without obstruction ... we have a chance of stemming the starting point of an epidemic which otherwise will undoubtedly happen," Allan said.

Although malaria is endemic in the area, meaning it is widespread under normal circumstances and the local population is used to getting repeatedly infected, that does not provide protection from any outbreak that might emerge from the tsunami.

"They are even more likely to get sick. A lot of them have already got diarrhea, poor nutrition. They are stressed, they've got multiple infections already and their immune systems are weakened," Allan said. "Any immunity they had is gone."