Festival at Edachira

House Building with Love and Compassion

11 December 2005 — Edachira, Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

For the past few weeks, the scene across the backwaters from the tiny island of Edachira has been something of a festival, as both villagers and residents of Amritapuri have been working together to help build homes for the victims of last year’s tsunami. Almost 1,000 volunteers come each weekend from all over the region to participate in ‘brick seva.’ Today, despite heavy rains in the morning, more than 100 men, women and children came to help.

Piles of sand, gravel and bricks lined the backwaters, awaiting transport by boat to Edachira, where the Ashram is building 28 homes. By 8 a.m., volunteers had begun to descend on the piles, filling sacks with sand or gravel, or passing bricks onto the awaiting boats.

In fact, many of the volunteers had never met Amma. Mahendra, a rubber-tree tapper from Kulathoopuzha came to help. “I have heard about Amma, but have yet to met her. I will this afternoon, but first I wanted to come here to do some seva.”

Saji, a tourist-boat captain, had accompanied Mahendra along with four others from Kulathoopuzha. Even though none of them had been affected by the tsunami, they still wanted to help.

The past year has seen a tremendous transformation in the villagers around Amritapuri.  In the early years, most of the villagers had been indifferent to the Ashram’s charitable activities in the region.  Even after the tsunami struck, for the first few months, while ashramites were working around the clock to build shelters in Srayikkad, a village about two km north of Amritapuri, hardly any villagers were interested in helping. Today, after seeing and feeling the effects of Amma’s efforts and witnessing the hard work being done by the Ashram residents and devotees, many villagers are now actually competing with one another to see how much work they can do.

Prasad, a politician in the Communist Party of India in Azhikkal, was one of the volunteers who had come to help. He had lost his house in the tsunami and is now receiving a new one from another NGO. “I’m amazed at how Amma has responded to the tsunami,” he said. “What the government has not been able to do, Amma has. She has worked so hard and so fast. I’m glad to be helping others.” He had first met Amma 20 years ago, but only recently became an active supporter of the Ashram’s activities.  He is now the leader of a local satsang (Amrita Kudumbam).  “Life is like a tsunami,” he said. “It can be lost at any time.  If something happens in the future, you need some ideal, some faith, some guru, to hold on to.  I want my children to have this support and I have found it in Amma.”

In the nearby villages, groups of women have been organizing daily or weekly outings to come and help. Suneeta, a mother of three, came with 10 other women from her village of Klappana. None of them had been directly affected by the tsunami; they said they were simply there to express their love for Amma.

edachira girls

Ramani, a young mother from Vallikkavu, participates in a local Amrita Kudumbam (satsang).  She has been receiving a pension from the Ashram and was helping because she wanted to give something back to Amma.

A few children also pitched in. Nideesh, age 14, came to help along with his two aunts. He had attended the Yoga-English-Sanskrit Camp at the Ashram in May for children who were affected by the tsunami. He too said that he was there to show his love for Amma and that he wanted to give something back to her. Both he and two of his aunts had lost their houses in the tsunami.

After the work is completed in Edachira, the group will shift to another location and the festival will start up once again. There are still a few hundred more homes to complete in the area around the Ashram. Amma’s love and compassion has inspired and touched the hearts of so many that no matter where or when people gather to provide help to those in need, a festival of love and compassion spontaneously arises.


See also

Recognising their own strength

18 November 2005, Amritapuri

60 Women came to Amritapuri this past Friday to receive their diplomas after completing a 3-month special training course in embroidery, footwear, leather goods, and readymade garments manufacturing.  The event marked yet another milestone in the path envisioned by Amma in the wake of the Tsunami – creating self-reliant villages through the Matru Gramam Project.

Samples of the women’s efforts surrounded the gathering.  Colorful dresses and intricately embroidered cloths were displayed along with school uniforms, backpacks, pencil kits, purses, shawls, children’s clothing, and men’s and women’s footwear.   The high quality items were a testament to the women’s dedication and enthusiasm.

The women were selected to take this course because they had excelled in the basic training classes previously offered by the Ashram.  They are being encouraged to use their newly obtained skills to start their own businesses, form co-operatives, or seek outside employment.

Swami Jnanamritananda, who is heading the Matru Gramam Project, spoke to the women in words that reflected Amma’s goal to awaken the suppressed and hidden strengths in women:  ”Now is the time to move forward with the full confidence that not only can you support yourselves as individuals, you can support both your husband and children as well.    In today’s society, women are used to depending on their husbands for support.    You should recognize your own inner strengths and overcome this.”

Sabitha (age 30), Sumegha (22), and Subhi (26) were three of the women who received their diplomas in leather goods and footwear.  All had their homes destroyed in last December’s tsunami, and have been living in temporary shelters at Srayikkad.  With her newly obtained diploma, Sabitha is both excited and hopeful:  ”I hope to find a job now that I have the diploma to show that I have completed the necessary coursework and have the proper skills.”

Laiju (age 24) is equally enthusiastic:  ”I’m looking forward to starting a small cooperative with other women in the village so that we can bring more income to our families.  My husband’s fishing business was destroyed by the Tsunami and he is still unemployed.  The added income will help us make ends meet.”

Watching the women disperse, one could only imagine the new lives and livelihoods that will soon blossom as they head into the next chapter of their lives.


Building an island of homes with Hearts

18 November, Edachira, Alappad

On a small island about 4km north of Amritapuri, the Ashram is building 28 new Tsunami homes.  The island, known as Edachira, has no roads and is accessible only by boat.   This has proven to be a unique challenge for the villagers, Amrita University students, volunteers, and Ashramites who have been participating in the daily ‘Brick Seva.’

View of the ashram from edachira

First, all the construction materials – bricks, gravel, sand, etc… are brought to the edge of the backwaters along the mainland.   Then, everything is loaded into boats and transported to the island which is approximately 50 yards away.   During low tide, the boats, heavy with materials, are unable to come right up to the shoreline.  The volunteers must then go knee-deep into the waters to pass the materials to shore.  Once unloaded, the materials must still be transported to the actual construction sites.



Sri Lanka updates

11 November 2005, Sri Lanka

Construction of Tsunami homes is progressing in the Eastern (Tamil) and Western (Sinhalese) Districts in Sri Lanka. The homes are being built according to government specifications. Each three story structure will have 12 apartments – four on each floor.

Stone laid for houses in Kalmunai

17 October 2005, Kalmunai, Sri Lanka

Today morning, the foundation stone was laid for the construction of 60 houses in Periyanilavanai in the Kalmunai division of Ampara District, Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. As per the Govt. of Sri Lanka’s guidelines, the Math is building 3 story homes, each with a total of 530 square feet.

The event was attended by Mr.N. Pathmanathan, Member of Parliament, Ampara. He spoke of his appreciation for the care and concern that Amma has shown towards the tsunami affected people of Sri Lanka.

He noted that in February, out of her compassion, Amma had traveled all the way from India to Sri Lanka, visiting many refugee camps in different parts of the country, and consoling thousands. Amma is now building permanent houses for these affected people.

Mr. Herath Abeyaweera, District Collector, Ampara, also spoke at the event. He lauded the Math for building houses for the people who were made homeless by the tsunami.

Mr. U. L. A. Azeez, Additional Collector, noted that NGO’s like the Mata Amritanandamayi Math are doing a great service for the people of Sri Lanka by providing relief and rehabilitation for the affected. He stated that the Periyanilavanai region was one of the worst affected by the tsunami and that building houses for the people of this area is a very great service.

Mr. Vasudevan, Divisional Secretary, Kalmunai, also praised the services of the Math and assured that he would provide all the necessary help for the speedy completion of the project.

Br. Vinayamrita Chaitanya further spoke about Amma and the disaster relief activities of the Math all over the world, including relief efforts taking place in the US by Amma’s devotees in response to Hurricane Katrina.

Matrugramam – creating self-reliant villages

20 September 2005 — Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

For anyone who has been following the evolution of the Ashram’s tsunami-relief work, it is clear that Amma’s intention is not merely to repair what was broken by the tsunami, but to fix things that had broken way before that fateful day. Through the door opened by the disaster, the Ashram has rushed in with everything from better houses, to better venues of education and employment, to better to medical care.

This vision of Amma’s is reaching its full fruition through a programme called Matru Gramam, (News) or Mother’s Village. Matru Gramam involves the implementation of a systematic plan to make small villages in Kerala more self-reliant, primarily through the establishment of self-help groups.

The first Matru Gramam is Alappad Panchayat, the collection of villages located on the peninsula in Kollam District, Kerala, where the Amritapuri Ashram is located. Matru Gramam will not be limited to the immediate area around the Ashram. But the programme will soon expand to all of Kerala’s 14 districts.

“We want to help the villages become self-reliant,” says Swami Jnanamritananda, one of Amma’s senior disciples, who is helping to coordinate the programme. “First we take a survey to determine what the village’s needs are, then accordingly we create an action plan, and from that we start providing the needed awareness camps, education and job-training. We want the villages to be able to produce all of the main items they need by themselves, rather than depend on outside resources. When people depend too much on outside resources, they suffer when strikes and other unpredictable events take place.”

With this in mind, the Matru Gramam villages will produce their own vegetables, clothes, soaps, sandals and other necessities. In order for the villages to accomplish this, the Ashram will help them establish self-help groups.

“The self-help groups are really just groups of families,” says Swami Jnanamritananda. “In the Matru Gramam villages, the goal is for every family to have at least one member that makes 100 rupees [approximately $2.30 U.S.D.] every day. This will cover the family’s basic needs. This can happen through the self-help groups.”

Depending on the size of the village, the self-help groups will comprise 10 to 20 members—one person from a family. Four to five of these cooperatives will then join together to form a cluster. The Ashram is providing the training in the fields the groups decide upon. For example, two of the groups in Alappad Panchayat are a sandal-making group and a tailoring group. The Ashram is also helping the villagers set up group bank accounts, as well as will coordinate and monitor their groups.

The first Matru Gramam meetings took place in Amritapuri in early September. In Alappad, the majority of the men work as fishermen, so the cooperatives will mainly comprise women. “I’ve come with hopes of earning additional money to support my two children who are attending school,” said Sebini, a young women from Alappad. “My husband is a fisherman, but his daily catch is unpredictable and we cannot survive on it.” Just prior to the meeting, Sebini had successfully completed the free tailoring classes provided by the Ashram. The Ashram is providing her and the other ladies in the self-help group with the sewing machines needed for their work. This will be Sebini’s first job.

Jayasree, 40, also attended the meeting. She has been attending Ashram classes on how to make leather goods. “My husband is handicapped and cannot work,” she said. “I have two daughters in school, and when the tsunami hit, our home was damaged. Some walls fell in, we lost most of our possessions.”

In fact, the self-help groups have already received work orders,  including some for government departments.

Recently, the women working in the different self-help groups came to Amma with the first fruits of their work. The tailoring group with their towels, the sandal group with their sandals. When the sandal-making group offered their wares to Amma, Amma smiled, encouraged the ladies and then placed a pair of sandals on her shoulders—one on the right, one on the left—to show her pride in their accomplishment.


88 houses in Cuddalore handed over to recipients

4 September 2005 — Pudukuppam, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu

Today Swami Ramakrishnananda handed over the keys to 88 new homes to the government official, who, in turn, presented the keys to the happy recipients of new homes built by the Ashram in the village of Pudukuppam. These homes are the first to be completed by any organization in Tamil Nadu, despite the fact that the Ashram was only allotted the land by the government a short three months back (news).

In addition to the actual houses, the Ashram also built roads, a community hall and a drainage system.  The Ashram has also undertaken the renovation and expansion of the primary school that was already present at the site. Transforming it from an elementary school that only went up to the fourth grade, to a full 10-standard high school.

This village was the worst-hit in Cuddalore District, with 123 deaths caused by the tsunami.

The Ashram is also nearing completion of another 27 houses at Sambasivapuram in Kanyakumari and the work for construction of 350 houses in the severely battered Nagapattinam District is going on full swing.


First 25 Tsunami homes finished in Kanyakumari

28 August 2005 — Parapattru, Kalkulam Taluk, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu

The Ashram has finished the construction of 25 homes for tsunami-affected families in Kanyakumari, the second-most devastated area in India. The houses will be inaugurated and the residents will move in around 9 September.

The homes are in Parapattru, a village near Mandakkadu, in the Kalkulam Taluk. The 360-square-foot houses comprise one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a veranda, and a staircase leading to the roof, where shelter can be taken in case of future flooding.

The villagers who will soon be calling the new houses home hail from an area three kilometres away. But as their previous houses—which were all destroyed by the massive waves—were directly on the beach, the government has relocated them to Parappattru, which is a half a kilometre inland. At least three people from the 25 families were killed during the tsunami.

Construction on the homes began on 6 July, and the Ashram was able to finish in two month’s time—despite the monsoon. “We worked in rain or shine,” said one of the brahmacharis who worked on the construction. The Ashram has also constructed a main road for the houses, dug a bore-well and installed water tanks. The Ashram’s were the first tsunami-relief homes to be completed in Kanyakumari.

In all, the Ashram is building 100 houses in the Kanyakumari District. With the first phase of 25 homes now finished, it will begin the second 25, in Kolachal, imminently.


Amrita Setu – connecting Alappad with Vallikkavu

28 August 2005 — Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala
Artist’s rendition of the bridge that will connect Alappad and Vallikkavu

Anyone who has ever climbed up to the roof of the 16-storey ashram flats knows how breathtaking the view is. From that height, two things become clear: the ashram possesses the only multi-storeyed buildings as far as the eye can see, and the ashram is almost completely surrounded by water.

When the tsunami hit on December 26th, everyone from the surrounding villages rushed to Amritapuri, knowing it to be the only true place of refuge. Amma then directed everyone to be transported across the backwaters via ashram boats.

On March 29th when the government issued a warning of a possible second tsunami, the scene repeated itself (news). Because of the limited number of boats available and the fact that so many people depended on the Ashram to get them across, it took more than three hours to transport everyone to the mainland. Fortunately, nothing happened, but Amma took note of the long time it took to evacuate and said that a more efficient way to transport people to the mainland must be established.

In the end Amma decided that a footbridge had to be built, with the goal of being able to evacuate all of Alappad Panchayat within 30 minutes.

Swami Amritaswarupananda laid the foundation stones for the new bridge. Extending from the Ashram jetty to the mainland, the bridge will be 100 meters long, five meters wide and seven meters high.

Currently, Alappad is connected with the mainland via only one bridge, which is two kilometers from the southern tip of the penninsula. The government has started constructing another bridge at the northern end of Alappad. Alappad is 17.5 kilometers in length. The ashram is located in the middle.


All 150 houses in Alappuzha completed

26 August 2005 — Alappuzha District, Kerala

The Ashram has finished the construction of all the houses it is building for tsunami victims in the Alappuzha District of Kerala. Next week, the Ashram will hand over the completed houses to the government, and they, in turn, will distribute them to the recipients. The Ashram has built 150 houses in Alappuzha, which is just to the north of the Amritapuri. The Ashram handed over the first 88 of these houses in June, and now the remaining 62 have been completed. Of this final batch, 58 houses have two storeys; the recipients were given the choice of having one or two floors.