Foundation stone laid for 100 tsunami-relief houses

10 September 2006 — Bamboo Flat, South Andaman, Andaman Islands

The Ashram laid the first foundation stone for the 100 tsunami-relief houses it has committed to build in Bamboo Flat, South Andaman.

Sri Dharam Pal IAS, the Commissioner-cum-Secretary for Relief & Rehabilitation in Nicobar-Andaman, laid the stone as part of a brief function.

It is estimated that the 100 structures will be completed within one year’s time, at a cost of nearly Rs. 6.5 lakhs per house (14,100 USD).

The MOU between the Ashram and the Andaman-Nicobar authorities was signed in for the project was signed in April.


Life blooms anew in Tsunami victims

6 September 2006, Amritapuri

Some of the mothers in the villages around Amritapuri who lost children in the 2004 tsunami had previously undergone tubal ligation as a form of permanent contraception. When Amma learned that these women lost their young children and could no longer conceive, and that they were in such despair to the point of considering suicide, her heart went out to them. After consulting with doctors at AIMS, Amma offered all such villagers an opportunity to undergo fallopian-tube recanalisation in order to reverse the effects of their sterilization surgery. {news}

Priya and her husband, Baby, were one such couple from Azheekkal. When the tsunami swept through, they had lost their two children–Kiran and Kinkini, ages four-and-a-half and one-and-a-half, respectively. Kinkini was washed away from Priya’s hands. Yesterday, Priya came for Amma’s darshan–nine months pregnant. She wanted Amma’s blessing before checking into AIMS to deliver the baby via caesarian section.

“Amma has done a great thing for us,” Priya said after her darshan. “Something that even our own relatives could not do.”
Pictured on the right: Priya with her husband coming for Amma’s darshan.

Of the original 9 couples who wanted to have more children, two were deemed too old to undergo the procedure, and another dropped out. The remaining six women underwent recanalization surgery at AIMS, and of these, only Priya was able to conceive naturally. The others have since been undergoing invitro fertilization. All expenses are being covered by the Ashram, which includes medicine from Switzerland.

As of today, one woman has elected to stop the medical treatment, being content with her one surviving child. Another is continuting medication which will help the invitro procedure. The remaining three women are pregnant – one is in her sixth month and the other two are in their second month of pregnancy. Two of these women are carrying twins!


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284 houses more to Tsunami victims

27 August 2006 — Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu

In the past two days, the Ashram has handed over a  284 houses more to tsunami victims in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu–120 in Pandagassaalai (a hamlet in Pattinacherry Village) and 164 in Akarapettai.

Swami Ramakrishnananda handed over the keys of the homes to the district collector of Nagapattinam, Tenkasi S. Jawahar, who in turn distributed them to the beneficiaries.

Sacrifice in Sri Lanka- a tsunami housing update

27 May 2006 — Thekkawatta, Kalutara District, Western Province, Sri Lanka

For the past seven months, a 16- x 6-foot shack has served as their office, their kitchen, their bathroom and their sleeping quarters. It is from there that they have been managing the construction of the three apartment buildings the Ashram is constructing in Thekkawatta, a village in the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka, as part of its tsunami-relief program.

“They are sacrificing a lot,” says Mr. Gamage, the technical officer appointed to the site by the Government of Sri Lanka. “They have no luxuries. They are just living out of that small hut, riding bikes to get around, doing their own cooking and washing. They are using the minimum as far as facilities and staff go, sacrificing their personal well-being.”

The team comprises Brahmachari Vinayamrita Chaitanya, the head-in-charge of Amma’s Ashram in Chennai, and three devotee-volunteers.

“Of course all of the work and sacrifice has only been possible because of Amma’s example,” says Mohan, a devotee from Chennai who has been living and working at the site. “Amma is giving solace to so many. I have really been touched by that, and I wanted to try to give some of my time and effort to help as well.”

The buildings each have three floors, with four apartments on each floor, creating homes for 36 families. Each apartment has a living/dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two balconies. The flat roof is fully accessible, creating an additional 2,400 square feet for the inhabitants to share.

The general plan is the Sri Lankan Governments, but the Ashram has had some flexibility within that that basic framework. “Initially we were going to have a sloped roof, but when we showed Amma the model, she said it was a waste of living space and that we should make it into a terrace,” says Anandlal, a devotee from Kozhikode, Kerala, who is serving as the crew’s engineer. “We may be living frugally ourselves, but we did not skimp on quality when it came to the buildings. We are using mahogany, which is a very strong wood, and SLS Steel—the best materials. We did what was necessary to ensure that the buildings are earthquake-proof, tsunami-proof and cyclone-proof. It was a more expensive, but they will last.”

Br. Vinayamrita says that the houses should be 100-percent finished by mid-July. The basic structures have been completed, but the electrical work and plumbing—all of which the Ashram is doing itself—have yet to be finished.

As Br. Vinayamrita and the devotees walk around the construction site, they are followed by four other volunteer staff—a family of stray dogs who are serving as “site security.”

Thekkawatta is a Singhalese area, so almost all the people there are Buddhists. In fact, the construction site is just three kilometers away from one of the largest and most popular Buddhist pagodas in the Kalutara district. The beneficiaries, who almost all rely on fishing for their income, are currently living in government-constructed temporary shelters near the seashore. Every few days they come up to check on the progress of the houses.

“They show a lot of appreciation,” says Mohan. “And they are very excited about their new homes. The women like to go and see the kitchens. They are big with a nice counter and sink and system of shelves. They really like that.”

The Ashram is also constructing similar buildings for 60 families in Periyanilavanai, a Tamil-populated village in Ampara District.


Ashram to build 100 homes in Andaman Island

10 April 2006 — Andaman, Island

The Ashram will build 100 houses in Bambooflat, South Andaman, as part of its tsunami relief-and-rehabilitation project. A memorandum of understanding to this effect was signed this week between the Ashram and the Andaman & Nicobar authorities. The expected cost of constructing the houses is Rs. five crores. The Ashram is the first NGO to make an offer to construct houses on the island.

“The construction is unique to the islands, considering the local customs and traditions,” says Brahmachari Narayana Chaitanya, the head in-charge of the Ashram’s tsunami-relief work in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “Moreover the islands are in high-risk zone of seismic activity. Thus the design of the houses must conform to local customs and traditions and also be earthquake-proof. The Ashram is constructing 50 twin-type houses of 1000 square feet each. Some of the houses are on stilts and some on plinth.”

The houses will be constructed with a galvanized-steel structure to avoid corrosion. Timber planks and processed bamboo board will be used for the external internal walls, respectively. The flooring in the stilt-type houses will be of processed bamboo board on structural steel work. These designs have been developed by CPWD Chennai. The ready-to-occupy homes come with state-of-the-art electrical fittings, including four fans and tube lights with provisions for fridge, mixer, colour television and telephone.

In fact, all the hardware materials for construction are to be sourced from mainland India—an estimated 1000 tons of material. A prototype house is under construction in Chennai.


Retain mental strength and unity to face disasters

Amma’s Message on the First Anniversary Observation of the Tsunami

Srayikkad, 26 December 2005
Life becomes complete when humankind and Nature move in harmony, hand in hand. When melody and rhythm complement each other, music becomes beautiful and pleasing to the ear. Likewise, when people live in accordance with the laws of nature, the song of life becomes sweet.

There is an order to everything in the cosmos. There is a rhythm to everything—the wind, the rain, the waves, our flow of breath and heartbeat. Similarly, there is a rhythm in life. Our thoughts and actions create the rhythm and melody of our lives. When the rhythm of our thoughts is lost, it reflects in our actions. This will, in turn, throw off the very rhythm of life.
The rhythm of Nature depends upon humanity. It’s necessary to maintain the rhythm of the mind and body for the sake of our health and life span, for the sake of humankind and Nature. But this rhythm is being lost. This is reflected in Nature and in society by natural disasters like the tsunami.
Death is part of life. All of us must face it today or tomorrow. The important thing is not how we die, but how we live. God has given us the freedom to laugh or cry. Even if we are completely surrounded by darkness, we must keep the light within aflame. Even if we cannot completely remove the suffering of others, sorrows lessen when they are shared with others. But when we console others using our smile and kind words, our capacity for kindness doesn’t lessen but increases. Every poor person has a right to the unlimited wealth of kindness. Just as water from a perennial spring never dries up no matter how much we draw from it, the more kindness we give, the more it will increase.

Just because our loved ones have died doesn’t mean that we should grieve forever. Our scriptures refer to death as a step into a new life. It’s like the period that comes at the end of the sentence. It’s not only departed soul’s near and dear ones who have prayed for their well-being; many, many children from all over the whole world have prayed too. Those prayers will never be wasted. Children, you should gain strength thinking of that. Pray to God for these departed souls to attain a superior life.

Natural disasters are not under our control. No matter how technologically advanced we become, we will never be able to prevent such disasters from taking place. But seeing how you children are rising up to the occasion and facing these obstacles with courage and unity, Amma is filled with tremendous hope. If we are able to retain this mental strength and unity, we are paving the way to a bright future. It is not enough if you children have good houses; you should also have a vision of life built upon a strong spiritual foundation.
May the wounds the tsunami has inflicted upon my children heal quickly. Amma prays to the Paramatman that the lives of all those affected by the tsunami blossom again and become filled with peace and happiness.


Smriti Deepam: lamps of remembrance

26 December 2005 — Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

The walk had been made before—16 days shy of a year ago. Then and now, the prayers were the same: May the dead find peace… May those who loved them find peace.,, May the whole world be happy. But although the walk Amma led from Amritapuri to Azhikkal today seemed in many ways a flashback to the one immediately following the tsunami, in others it was entirely different, as the road itself was different.

Sixteen days shy of a year ago, Beach Road was full of broken things—broken houses, broken boats, broken people. It was a place where even the idea of hope had yet to take root. In contrast, today the road was marked, not with tragedy or joy, but, markedly, with normalcy:

A man pumping air into the rear tire of his five-year-old son’s new bicycle…
The sound of someone’s grandmother chanting bhajans over a temple speaker…
Teenage boys playing cricket on the beach…
Chai shops turning the day’s business…
A young girl using the boundary wall around her house as a balance beam…

And, of course, the other major difference was that when Amma made the walk to the Azhikkal cremation grounds today, she passed by the hundreds of new houses—more than 1,000 built by the Ashram so far—that now line the road or are partially visible from behind groves of coconut trees.

Unlike a year ago, when Amma began the two and half-kilometre walk today, the road was lined with 10,000 people—a mix of residents of Alappad Panchayat, Ashramites and Amma’s devotees from around the world—all holding small clay oil lamps in their hands. Smriti deepam–lamps of remembrance.

Then, as Amma passed by, all followed her, chanting Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. [“May all the beings in all the worlds be happy.”]

When Amma reached the cremation grounds, she blessed with flowers a newly installed statue of a woman’s head and open hands. Made of black sand, the woman symbolizes the land praying to the sea to maintain its boundaries.

It was here that two days after the tsunami 42 bodies had been burned: mothers, fathers, dozens of children. Today, their photographs, draped with garlands, rested near the individual pyre sites. In their midst, Amma planted a small peepal tree and then led all those who’d accompanied her in circumambulating the cremation grounds. Amma then sat down on the sands of the cremation grounds and asked everyone to chant Om lokaha samastah sukhino bhavantu. The sound of all the 10,000 people chanting the mantra filled the air for the next five minutes. The only other sound was that of a few women, who had lost members of their family, breaking down.

Addressing the villagers and devotees, Amma compared life to music that can be beautiful and harmonious if lived correctly, or full of chaos and destruction if lived carelessly. She encouraged everyone to spread the light of kindness, saying that its flame never diminishes with sharing but rather intensifies.

Amma also spoke of how death is an intrinsic part of life. “All of us must face it, today or tomorrow,” Amma said. “The important thing is not how we die, but how we live. … Just because our loved ones have died doesn’t mean that we should grieve forever. Our scriptures refer to death as a step into a new life. It’s like the period that comes at the end of the sentence. It’s not only the departed souls’ near and dear ones who have prayed for their well-being; many, many children from all over the whole world have prayed too. Those prayers will never be wasted. Children, you should gain strength thinking of that. Pray to God for these departed souls to attain a superior life.”

In conclusion, Amma said that certainly the world had not seen its last natural disaster, but that such obstacles in life could be overcome—not through technology but through courage, unity and strength of mind. “Seeing how you children are rising up to the occasion and facing these obstacles with courage and unity, Amma is filled with tremendous hope. If we are able to retain this mental strength and unity, we are paving the way to a bright future.”

A year had passed since the tsunami. It was a time to remember the dead. But perhaps more importantly it was a time to remember life and how to live it so that even death cannot touch us.



Helping Nagapattinam to overcome fear

20 December 2005 — Samanthampettai, Nagore, Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu

“When difficult circumstances arise in life, there are two ways to respond. We can either run away in fear or kindle the love within and try to overcome,” Amma said. She was talking to the 60,000 people or so who’d come to have her darshan in Samanthampettai, a small village in Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam District. Considering the crowd it was a pretty heavy statement. A year ago when the tsunami hit India, Nagapattinam became an international household name—8,000 dead.

Tonight’s programme was the first that Amma has ever given in the district, but her second visit. In February, just six weeks after the tsunami, Amma came to Samanthampettai and walked door-to-door through a relief-camp set up by the Ashram. She personally dried the eyes of hundreds that day, listening to family after family tell her who’d died and how.

Tonight, the Ashram officially handed over certificates to the 375 homes it has completed in Nagapattinam thus far: 340 in Samanthampettai, 25 in Akkaraipettai and 10 in Pandagasali.

Dr. J. Radhakrishnan, the district collector, gave a short speech in which he called the work of Amma’s Ashram “remarkable” and said that Amma’s Ashram was “the first organization to finish an entire community in-full.” In fact, some 45 NGOs [non-governmental agencies] are currently working to complete tsunami-relief houses in Tamil Nadu. So far, all of them put together have completed about 1000 homes; 50 percent of these have been built by Amma’s Ashram. The 375 houses built in Nagapattinam took only 180 days to complete—more than two houses per day.

Among those to receive the certificate of ownership to his house during Amma’s programme was Vijayan, a fishermen who, along with his home, lost his grandmother in the tsunami. After having Amma’s darshan he said, “If Amma had not been beside us, we would have been left totally aimless, with no aspiration to live. In fact, for three months we did not go out into the sea. But during that time, Amma gave us everything: food, shelter, education, medical care, even clothing and soap.”

Rajeswari, Vijayan’s sister, has been attending classes offered by the Ashram for tsunami-affected youth. She says that the classes have inspired her and many other girls in the village to complete their basic education and that it is becoming quite common to hear girls speak of pursuing higher studies—something that previously was not given too much importance.

Run away in fear or kindle the love within and overcome Amma has provided the options, but she has also led the way to the only true choice. For, by coming into their midst and wiping their tears with the end of her sari, Amma, in fact, has already begun breathing life into the very love she is extolling them to kindle. As one devotee  attending the Samanthampettai programme remarked, “Amma is not just rebuilding their houses; she is rebuilding their faith in life itself.”


Amritapuri is the land of compassion, love and beauty

President of India visits Amritapuri

18 December 2005 , Amritapuri

His Excellency the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, paid a visit to Amritapuri today. In the divine presence of Amma, His Excellency officially handed over 500 tsunami-relief houses constructed by the Ashram to the Honourable Minister of Revenue of Kerala, Sri. K.M. Mani.

In his speech, His Excellency said: “I have come to Amritapuri a number of times.

Amritapuri is the Land of Compassion, the Land of Love, the Land of Beauty. And definitely it is a place that will become a bridge for people of many faiths. And I wish you all the best: the opportunities that Amma is giving, the grace that Amma is giving and all the blessings that Amma is giving for the country and the people of this nation.”

“I am very happy to be in the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in the presence of Amma and participate in the inauguration function of 500 newly hundred houses for the tsunami-affected citizens in Kollam District. My greetings to Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi and other dignitaries on this occasion.”

“It is said that whenever difficult times and calamities occur, the leader will exactly be on the spot of event. It is a divine blessing.

When the tsunami occurred in the Kollam region on 26th Dec 2004, I saw Amma was in action in crucial time, helping the people all around her in that region. At Kollam Ashram, Amma acted with speed and took necessary measures to move all the people to the places of safety. Amma entered into the tsunami-affected areas while floodwater was still there and tried her best to rescue as many people as possible from the houses, under the trees, with her team of dedicated devotees. Amma made arrangements for food, shelter and clothing to all the people affected by tsunami. Amma announced the relief package for people affected by tsunami, not only in Kollam region, but also for all the areas in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Sri Lanka. Similarly, when Katrina hit New Orleans, Amma came to the rescue of the people there also and extended her helping hand spontaneously. It shows the magnanimous mind of Amma in removing the pain of the people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, region or nationality.”

The 500 houses handed over today by the President brings the total number of tsunami-relief houses completed by the Ashram thus far to 2000. The Ashram has 4200 more to build before it is finished.

Amma also spoke from the dais. Reflecting on how so many disparate groups of people had volunteered their services for the construction of the Math’s tsunami-relief homes, Amma said, “In this world where selfishness prevails, to see such selfless children is a delight for the eye. It is proof that the world has not totally forgotten the language of compassion and selflessness. It is through the mirror of selfless service that human beings are able to behold their own true beauty.”

In his Welcome Speech, Swami Amritaswarupananda said, “Here in Alappad Panchayat, Amma has looked after every aspect of the villager’s needs: from food, clothing and shelter… to physical and psychological healthcare… to education and employment opportunities… and much, much more. In fact, I really wonder if any other NGO in the world has ever provided such extensive and in-depth disaster relief—one that touches every aspect of the beneficiaries’ lives.”

On several occasions in the past His Excellency has addressed students of the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, and not long after he took office, the President donated his first 10 month’s salary to Amma’s charitable activities in Rameshwaram.

Other dignitaries present for the occasion were the Honourable Minister of Labour, Sri. Babu Divakaran; the Honourable Minister of Fisheries, Sri. Dominic Presentation; and Advocate Rajan Babu, MLA.


President of India to visit Amritapuri

14 December 2005 — Amritapuri

This Sunday, the 18th of December, His Excellency the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, will come to Amritapuri Ashram in order to hand over 500 tsunami-relief houses to local government authorities in the presence of Amma.

When the President hands over the keys to the tsunami houses during his visit to the Ashram, it will raise the total number of tsunami homes completed by the Ashram in India to 2000. Earlier this year, MAM took on the responsibility of constructing 6200 tsunami-relief houses in India.

The houses built on the coastal belt of Alappad Panchayat are spread over 17.5 kilometers, comprising all 13 wards of the panchayat. Each house was built using a foundation comprising eight nine-metre-deep pilings. The villagers had their option of single-storey or double-storey houses.

The Honourable Chief Minister of Kerala, Sri. Oomman Chandy, and the Honourable Minister of Revenue, Sri. K.M. Mani, will also participate in the programme.

This will be the first time His Excellency has visited Amritapuri since becoming President. However, Dr. Kalam did visit the Ashram on 2nd October 2001, just before he was elected. At that time, he met with Amma and gave a lecture to the students of Amrita Institute.

The President also spoke at Amma’s 50th Birthday Celebrations in 2003 in Cochin. At that time, he gave an address at the Youth Meet {news} and was the key figure in the CEO Summit {news}, which gathered top executives from India and abroad to brainstorm ways to make India a spiritually strong, economically secure, fully developed nation.