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Home > Learn More > Travel Diary: Dr. Karen Hein reflects on Post-Tsunami India (Feb. 22)

Travel Diary: Dr. Karen Hein reflects on Post-Tsunami India (Feb. 22)

Dr. Karen Heinis a member of the Christian Children's Fund Board of Directors and is also a pediatrician.She volunteered to go to India to help CCF in tsunami-affected areas. This is Dr. Hein's travel diary - reflecting on the images of devastation, recovery and beauty in the midst of unimaginable loss.

Feb 22: Homecoming

Hein_BioWe got back to Vermont yesterday after nearly a month in least our bodies are back, but our thoughts are still 12,000 miles away along the southern coast of India. I see new snow as I gaze out of the window, but my head is full of images and sounds from a dozen villages around Karaikal, a severely affected area where we spent our last week.

My mind jumps from glimpses of gaping holes in walls, debris strewn beaches, kids playing with new toys in safe spaces created by CCF, fishermen hoping that the government will provide grants--not loans--to rebuild lost boats and livelihoods, women asking for opportunities to learn new income-generating skills and the sound of sand and concrete being mixed, the lattice of crisscrossing bamboo framing for palm-frond temporary housing and the pungent mix of the smell of human urine and feces with the alluring aromas of curry, coriander and cumin.

I am no longer naïve about the impact of the tsunami. I know the old man whose wife and daughters went to water some trees they'd planted near the sea and never returned. I know the family with the 2 ½-year-old who won't let go of her father's pant leg in fear that he will be swept away; and the 19-year-old young woman who became a CCS volunteer in order to help kids in her village, as she heals the emptiness that consumed her when her own mother disappeared that sunny morning, the day after Christmas; I know the microbiology technician who knew many of the 150 medical students who died when the ground floor of the building flooded, washing them away, yet no one of the floor above was injured.

I see things so differently now. A magnificent white beach with gentle waves and a bright blue sky is no longer a retreat from 90-degree heat. The scene is one of emptiness---missing dear ones, quiet people who only go near the water to honor or mourn; a little Hindu temple with its fallen horse statue partially buried by ripples of sand molding its new place, while the elephant statue stands oddly alone next to it. There are no offerings here, nor interest in repairing the temple, until the people can figure out where exactly their beliefs fit into their new reality.








Where is the energy for the next phase going to come from? The first wave of volunteers are returning to their homes, exhausted but grateful to have been part of the immediate relief work. They neglected their jobs, left their own kids and came to the coast to help. Now there are no dead bodies to identify or bury. There are patches of fiberglass to glue on boats, temporary dwellings to put up and the promise of more permanent homes in the months to come. Villagers are still stunned. Older women seem lost. Men can't envision any other way of life besides being fisherfolk, and without boats, that's impossible.

The energy is in the kids...the babies, the children and the young people. As soon as we arrived in a village, the main sounds were kids' voices. The main movement was the whirr of kids' bodies running, dancing, shoving, clowning, playing. The lucky ones were those in villages where there are child-centered spaces set up. These are the spots free of hazardous debris. No broken glass or iron rods sticking up from the sand. These are the places where there are toys and other kids to be with. These are the havens where they are the center of attention, not in the way of construction or needing something that their fractured families can't attend to or provide right now.

While we were there, CCF- India partnered with local NGO's to kick off 20 new Child Centered Spaces (CCS's).....more than 60 so far with the goal of 100 soon. We completed a 20-page Health Assessment module to be incorporated into the training materials for the CCS workers and conducted 2 day-long sessions with 20 people in each to modify and improve it before we left. After several shifts of volunteers spending 10-14 days to get to this point, now the hiring of permanent full-time staff has begun to supplement the existing CCF-India staff and local NGO partners.

The kids are where the energy will come from for the future of these villages. CCF was there for them before the tsunami, is there for them now....and will continue to be there for them until they are grown up enough to become the volunteers and staff who run the safe spaces, or become the construction workers rebuilding homes, or the health teams that will be better prepared in the future, or the next generation of government officials who have not just witnessed, but lived through a natural disaster of such proportions.