Sea Compass
Sea Compass

The Role of Compassion International

The day – Dec. 26, 2004 – began like most other days for Venkateshwarlu, a fisherman in the seaside village of Pallepalem, India. He had just finished a long night of fishing and was on the damp, cold beach washing his nets when he saw the water rise up.

“A huge wave took my boat out to sea,” Venkateshwarlu said of the tsunami, the result of a massive earthquake that hit off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The quake and resulting tsunami ultimately could claim more than 200,000 lives in Asia and Africa.

Venkateshwarlu said he escaped by running for his life. But the wave left his boat, the source of his livelihood, in tatters.

“The second wave deposited it on the rocks,” he said. “It has three holes in it and my nets are [destroyed]. I’m currently doing a temporary caulking job on my boat so it can become watertight again.”

Although Pallepalem escaped extensive human casualties, the village sustained massive damages that have tested the resolve of its 2,000 families that depend on the fishing and agricultural trades. The average family in this primarily Hindu community earns about $11 per month.

Ten days after the tragedy, the beach was still littered with pale blue, green and white nylon balls of fluff – the tangled, torn remainders of what used to be fishing nets. Dozens of boats were tossed around the beach and deposited haphazardly on the embankment.

Along with other children from the area, Venkateshwarlu’s son, Thammu Valiyah, attends Compassion International’s Holy Land Child Development Center in Pallepalem. Were it not for the protection from a natural embankment on which the village is built, the center would have been swallowed whole by the tsunami.

Compassion has seven such child development projects that are located either on or a short distance away from the Indian seacoast. Emergency relief of food, clean water and clothes provided by Compassion has gone a long way in easing the pain of the disaster. But daunting tasks lie ahead on the road to providing hope, life and a future to the village’s residents.

Compassion staff have met with affected families and created a detailed list of their needs following the disaster. In coordination with the Indian government, Compassion staff are currently in the process of developing a plan to rebuild homes that were washed away or damaged in the tsunami. In addition, Compassion is working to replace fishing nets and, in some cases, repair or replace damaged boats in hopes of restoring families’ livelihoods.

Venkateshwarlu, however, is able to repair his own boat. He is one of the lucky ones.

Sumana Mani is the communications specialist in India for Compassion International.  – NU

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