25 May 2009 – 7 June 2009 — South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal, India
Cyclone Aila hit West Bengal and Bangladesh on 25 May 2009. By the time it dissipated a day later, 330 people were dead, more than 8,000 were missing and one million were homeless. Between Indian and Bangladesh, damages exceeded $40 million US.
Volunteers of Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM) immediately began relief work, with doctors from Amrita Institute of Medical Science in Kochi, Kerala, flying to Kolkata on 29th May. A medical camp commenced on 30th May in the village of Maipith Naginabad (South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal).
“The cyclone had destroyed the entire village,” said Brahmachari Sadashiva, the monastic in charge of the Cyclone Aila relief work. “Even the roads were destroyed. We had to unload our supplies and shift them into small trolleys and also carry them as on top of our heads in some places in order to reach the village school. In fact, in Maipith Naginabad the school was the only building still standing.”
Another camp was conducted in a remote tribal village named Deulbari Debipur, deep in the Sundarbans Jungle (infamous for Bengal tigers). “Deulbari was only accessible by boat. The roads had been totally washed away leaving only deep gorges in their place,” said Sadashiva.
“In Deulbari, the doctors had to treat several people with severe dehydration,” said Sadashiva. “We had to hang the saline bottles from pillars on the veranda in order to treat all the people. Soon they all stabilized and were able to return home.”
The camps were conducted for a total of 10 days, with the doctors treating approximately 3,000 people, dispensing more than one-lakh rupees worth of free medicine ($2,080 US). MAM volunteers also distributed approximately 800 pieces clothing and blankets, served 6,000 free meals and gave away two tons of rice.
“We’ve never received help like this before,” said Manik, age 33, of Maipith Naginabad. “Cyclones come from time to time. During such calamities groups will visit us for a day or two, give something and go away. No group before has stayed so long, cooked for us and fed us with so much love.”
When the volunteer work was concluded on 7th June, two village youth, Gautam and Prasad, expressed their desire to one day come to work as volunteers for Amma’s humanitarian activities.