by Jo Clark
I RECENTLY spent a day walking with my sister in the Chiltern Hills in Bedfordshire, England. We had a fairly long walk mapped out for the day, but at no point did we have the intention of going from the beginning to the end all in one go; instead we took the opportunity to stop at key vantage points along the way to take stock of where we were at that point – enjoying the view and reading up on details of the places we could see – but also looking back at how far we had come and planning which way to go next, looking forward with anticipation to what lay ahead.
Some weeks before this, at the end of March, I had the great privilege of meeting in Kerala, Southern India, with 50 other people who have been intrinsically involved in The Salvation Army’s tsunami response work throughout southern India, on Andaman, and in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Those involved included project implementers as well as project donor/support personnel, financial, management and administrative staff and project evaluation team members.
Rather like my sister and I had done during the breaks on our walk, the Tsunami Response staff met together to look at where we are now, look back over the past 40 months and reflect on what has been achieved, what challenges we have faced and what we have done to overcome these challenges.
The process was not entirely retrospective, but also involved us considering the ‘way ahead’ and how the lessons we have learned during the response process to date (including successes as well as the challenges we have met) should influence the way in which we, as an organisation and as individuals, continue to participate in rehabilitation and development work in tsunami-impacted communities and how we should respond to other such large-scale disasters in the future. Little did we realise that Myanmar and China were both soon to be devastated by some of the most catastrophic disasters in their history.
This evaluation meeting was not seen as the end of The Salvation Army’s tsunami response, rather it was another significant milestone on a long journey, a key point to stop and take stock of where we have come from and where we are going.
|Jo Clark with residents at the girls’ hostel, Machillipatnam|
|Discussion time at the Lessons Learned conference|
|The beach at Kovallam, where the conference was held|
In some of the impacted communities, The Salvation Army was a part of the community before the tsunami and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. However, even in those communities in which The Salvation Army was invited to work together with the people for the first time following the tsunami, the message from the conference was very much that The Salvation Army intended to stay, embedded within those communities, walking alongside those with whom we have become brothers and sisters. There was a desire and commitment to pursue new opportunities for mission which are coming to light every day.
On a recent project evaluation visit to India, I was sitting in a family home in Kaniyakumari, the southern-most town of the Indian subcontinent. While we sat drinking some sweet, milky Indian tea, a member of the family (whose house was on the shore and had been badly damaged by the tsunami) reflected on how ‘in the early days The Salvation Army staff were the only ones really to sit with us and listen to us. Before the tsunami we knew of the Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil which provides medical care but we didn’t know anything really about The Salvation Army ... now we know they are Christians who care – and they are still here. Many others who came have already gone.’
Kaniyakumari was not a community in which The Salvation Army was working before the tsunami, but it is now a place in which The Salvation Army is well known and plays an integral part in assisting the community members to achieve their own development goals, particularly with regard to public health education.
As has already been shown in this issue, much has already been accomplished in terms of the rebuilding and restoration of houses, infrastructure and livelihoods. A number of the largest tsunami response projects, and many smaller projects, are coming to a conclusion. However, others are still underway and plans are being made to explore new initiatives in tsunami-affected areas.
Following many months, indeed years, of legal and political wrangling to secure land and property permissions and deeds, one of those projects still currently underway will, at its conclusion, provide up to 500 additional new homes and a range of community health, educational or social facilities and programmes in Aceh, Indonesia.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, on Nias Island, there are plans being made to ensure improved standards of care and nutrition for vulnerable children on the island as well as a more general community rehabilitation and development programme planned for some of the villages most affected by the tsunami and subsequent earthquake.
Across the Indian Ocean in some of the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, south-eastern India, new projects are underway to increase economic diversification and address the issues of inadequate water provision and nutrition. Building upon the success of previous women’s self-help group water buffalo-rearing schemes, new projects are focusing on diversifying family income through goat and sheep rearing and the establishment of a small demonstration dairy farm. Planned improvements to local water supplies will also enable the creation of local fruit tree plantations and kitchen gardens which will help to boost the nutrition levels of local people as well as providing excess produce to sell in local markets.
In southern Sri Lanka, where long-term owner-driven house construction and community development programmes are still underway, new initiatives are being explored in post-tsunami resettlement areas, to combat pressing issues such as the irregular supply of clean drinking water and severe soil erosion caused by heavy monsoon rains.
This long-term commitment by The Salvation Army to these communities should not be considered as increasing the dependence of these communities on ‘outside’ help. The constant goal is to work alongside and to support, with community groups taking the initiative and identifying problems and probable solutions. The Salvation Army’s role is one of capacity building and we will help to provide external knowledge, expertise and resources where these are necessary.
And so the Salvation Army tsunami response work is continuing to move forward, made possible by the sustained commitment and dedication of project staff – at all levels – and the direction they receive from The Salvation Army’s mission statement to ‘preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination’.
Jo Clark was Tsunami Response Coordinator at International Headquarters from July 2005-July 2008