Letter from India

Kerala floods update

Tom Sutherland has written to us recently about the flood relief work that is being done in Kerala by The Banyan Tree, our main partner organisation in Kerala.  As regular readers will know, Kerala was hit by devastating floods recently, and hundreds of people were killed and over a million displaced.  He says


Dear Edmund

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus.

Yesterday was a rather special day for us.  I was feeling that in the face of this enormous tragedy we weren't doing much but yesterday we did something - I know it's only a drop in the ocean, but I think in the work that we are doing that is only all that we can ever do and we have to leave the rest in God's hand.  And the very ready very generous hands of so many others.  As you will know from the news, it has been on a colossal scale with 1.5 million displaced from their homes and being fed and lodged in 'camps' - usually schools, churches, mosques and temples.  Everyone has been inspired at the way the whole community, all the political parties and youth groups, the church, mosque and temple groups, schools, colleges - all have worked together without thought of caste, position, religion, politics.  I don't think this sort of cooperation has happened in any other state before.  In Onam there is the story of a good king from the past who comes back at Onam to see that his people are happy and well fed.  There was a cartoon of him in the paper laughing happily.  This is the first time he has returned to find his people united and working together for those who are suffering.  So that is the positive side of the tragedy and the heroes of the flood are the fishermen - who are a very low caste - a despised section of the community.  Parents say to their children "Study hard, or you'll end up a fisherman".  They brought their boats from the coasts and worked tirelessly finding out ones stranded in flooded houses.  There have been some 300 deaths but without them there would have been thousands of deaths and it would have been a much much greater tragedy.  They have refused to take money offered them by the Government and have contributed it for the flood victims.  They are mostly Christians - they said 'Jesus asked us to become fishers of men'.

In our area of Kerala there has not been major flooding, except at Neyyar Dam (15kms away) - a big dam that had to be opened and so the area at the foot of the dam was flooded.  We have a painting group at Neyyar Dam and the homes of some sixteen of our leaf painters were inundated and they and their families had to be moved to 'camps' - on higher ground, in this case the State School.  Some of the women do not have husbands and because of rain for weeks there has been no work so we feel happy that at this time they could rely on the income which they get from painting.  And we hope, as things begin to clear, that we can help them set up their lives again.  As you would guess, people, having lost everything they have worked for, are traumatised by the event and depressed, with no idea of how to go ahead.  Let us pray for them all and do what we can.

The other main connection we have had with the floods has been through Philip.  His familiy home is situated in central Kerala in one of the worst hit areas.  Early on in the flood an elderly woman lost her way and stumbled into the river and was washed 7 kilometres downstream to be pulled out of the river by Philip's family, at the foot of their land.  She survived so that was wonderful.  The river, the Muva Hupuzha River inundated the land around Philip's house, destroyed the walls around it but did not enter the house.  The reason for the severity of the flood was that the rainfall in August was 167% more than usual and because of this all the dams had to be opened.  Kerala has very many very large hydro electric and irrigation dams, and for one of them, built by the English 150 years ago, there has been an ongoing argument about replacing it as the experts say that it is no longer safe.  So after very heavy rains for 2 weeks all the dams were completely filled and over 2 or 3 days, 33 dams were opened including the huge Iddiki Dam which to date has never been opened.  So this water inundated 10 of the 12 districts of the state.  Philip's sister lives on the Panayani River and when the Kaladdy Dam upstream was opened her house was inundated and she and her family were moved to a nearby 'camp'.  For 10 days over Onam Philip went and helped clean out his sister's house, and others homes, and did what he could.

Every year we get an order for painted leaves (usually about 2000) from a Mr Thomas, who is university lecturer and has close contacts in Japan (where he sends the leaves) and has a charitable organisation working among the poorest villages in his area - about 200 km from here.  He told Philip of a colony of Dalit labourers who had been pretty well overlooked by the government and other groups (I am full of admiration for all the government and innumerable groups from all over Kerala and outside - other states are helping so much, and the organisation of it all has been wonderful, but inevitably some must miss out) and yesterday the staff of the Banyan Tree went to this village - Punnakad, Pathana Hita District.  It's situated on the banks of the Pamba, one of the biggest rivers in Kerala, and on which 12 large dams were opened.  At Pannakad the river became 14 km wide and up to 25 feet deep.  It is a flat plain area with hillocks and people waited on these higher areas and in two and three storey buildings for the fishermen to rescue them.  100 families found refuge in the local temple.  Yesterday we loaded our vehicle with provisions and the teachers and staff of the Banyan Tree set out for Pannakad under Philip's efficient control (I'm afraid this last week I haven't been so good, having cellulitis in one leg (but am now almost fit again) and so I didn't go).  There are 40 families in the village and we gave to each family 5 kilos of rice, sugar 1kg, tea 200gms, potato 1kg, onion 1kg, salt 1kg, sunflower oil 500gms, chilli powder 200gms, spices 200gms, semolina 500gms, toilet soap, washing soap - 1 bar.  The families were delighted to receive them, and Philip spoke comfortingly with them all.  Then all worked to clean out their houses of mud and rubbish.  We took brooms and squeegees and lotion.  Easier said than done.  I'll try and send a couple of photos.  Some of the houses are completely covered with grass and rubbish swept over them by the flood.  In one of these houses, a family of 5 were waiting to die - all was pitch black - no electricity - when the fishermen came and rescued them.  It was only a minute contribution but as there were thousands of other such contributions and because the government and army and other authorities did such a great job, I think the vast majority of the immediate needs were met.  But as we were here, I am glad that at least we could do this, and we could only do this or anything else with our God's help and the faithful support of our friends. We thank God for you all.

With all our thanks and prayers