Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Nagapattinam is a key town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The wider Nagapattinam area was the worst-affected part of Tamil Nadu following the Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004.
It was at this time that SOS Children became active in the region, providing homes and restoring livelihoods to those affected by the disaster, and eventuality establishing a permanent presence in Nagapattinam.
A place of many hardships
A city of roughly 92,000 inhabitants, Nagapattinam has a traditional economy based around agriculture and fishing. Many people live in slum conditions where even the most basic services such as clean water and decent sanitation are scarce. Waste collection, hospitals and schools are also non-existent in these areas, meaning already impoverished individuals must cope with virtually no support.
Natural disasters are common in Nagapattinam, making life hard for an already beleaguered people. The 2004 tsunami devastated homes, tore families apart, and left many people without the livelihoods which had sustained their families for generations. In a coastal community relying substantially on fishing for its income, he tsunami destroyed nets and other equipment as well as boats.
More recently in 2011, Cyclone Thane wrought further destruction on the area, once again destroying homes and also laying waste to crucial infrastructure such as roads. Many of those supported by SOS Children community work were hard-hit by the disaster - and again, we were heavily involved in the essential work to restore people's lives.
A vulnerable childhood
These recent disasters have left their mark on the city's children. Many are left emotionally scarred by the trauma of losing their families and witnessing such widespread devastation. A lack of health facilities means that children are especially vulnerable at times of crisis.
Transient hardships such as natural disasters punctuate the lives of young people in Nagapattinam. At the same time, many grow up against a backdrop of continual deprivation. Poverty has a profound impact on children. Many do not get the chance to attend school, while the majority suffer as much-needed medical care is unavailable on the many occasions when they become ill.
Girls suffer especially. Their education is less highly prized than that of boys, and it is girls who are taken out of school to help at home or contribute to the family income when times get tough. This is borne out by the appalling disparity in male and female literacy rates. While an encouraging 90.4% of men are literate, the literacy rate among women stands at a shocking 67.9%.
How are we helping?
When the tsunami struck in 2004, SOS Children had to help. We were heavily involved in emergency relief work, as well as in helping people recover their traditional livelihoods. When the scale of loss became clear, and other problems in the area came to our attention, we saw that we had to stay in Nagapattinam.
Supporting local families
We provide a wide range of services to local people in the wider Nagapattinam community. Daycare is a great way to give parents the opportunity to work during the day, happy that their children are safe while they are apart.
For those who have no stable source of income, we help them start their own businesses through financial support, advice and ongoing guidance. With our support, many families have achieved success through tailoring, handicrafts, and even brick-making and chalk-making.
We also run courses on child rights and hygiene awareness, providing with practical tools to help them better understand their children's needs. For families who struggle with everyday necessities, we provide food, so that children are protected from malnutrition.
Caring for children left alone
We originally established our Children's Village in Nagapattinam to care for children orphaned by the tsunami. Today, we care for children left alone by many causes. At the Village, children discover a new home with an SOS family, while enjoying an education in local schools with other children from the community. We support them throughout their childhood and beyond; staying by their side until they are ready to begin an independent life.
SOS Children was there for children in Nagapattinam at their time of greatest need. Our permanent work in the area gives struggling families another chance at success, and has had a lifelong impact on the lives of many children.