Children Returning to Childhood in India

India, January 26, 2005

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    Friends Dev and Rama. Photo: John Stephens/Mercy Corps Photo:

Pondicherry, India - In the tiny village of Kanapathichettikullum, just 15 kilometers north of Pondicherry, the sixty concrete and thatch huts that make up this community bore an unimaginable brunt. The town was decimated, and those structures that withstood the force of the original wave still succumbed to the flood of water, which soaked all their belongings and tore windows out of their frames.

The bent fronds atop twenty-foot high palm trees bear testament to the sea’s ferocity, offering a crude but undeniable high-water mark for any who would doubt the wave’s size.

When Mercy Corps and its local partners from the Disaster Management Institute (DMI) first ventured into this village on January 4th, children were absent from the streets. Only the adults - mostly men - ventured out to speak with foreigners who came offering assistance.

But on a second visit, only two weeks later, the scene is much different. We met Dev and Rama as we toured the village again to see the progress that had been made by Mercy Corps, through local partner DMI.

Dev and Rama are lucky. The sons of fishermen, they know how to swim, and managed to escape drowning. Many children in the village were not so lucky.

In less than two weeks since our first visit, Mercy Corps and DMI had provided every family who needed shelter with a temporary house, complete with cooking utensils and water storage containers. In addition, a cash-for-work program is providing both men and women with immediate financial assistance for cleaning the debris from their village.

The real change, however, is not measured by the number of structures built or by the amount of food distributed, but by the much more subtle metric of children’s laughter. Their quick smiles and eagerness to introduce themselves was symbolic of a return to normalcy. Indeed, the entire village was again full of the playful voices of children returning to the lives that were interrupted on December 26th.

Certainly more work remains to be done here. Permanent homes are to be built, and boats and motors must be repaired to restore the fishing community’s income. But, in a very important way, the signs of recovery are everywhere in the smiling faces of children like Dev and Rama.