Dear Friends,

Greetings of Peace, Love and Joy this Easter Season to you and all around ! May our Risen Lord fill you with the Easter blessings and accompany you in all your endeavours !

Where do I begin ? The recent tragedies in Gujarat have brought to focus not merely the State in which we live but also the frailty and vulnerability of life in general. As usual, it goes without saying, that the poor and the marginalized, are the biggest sufferers in any calamity, whether man made or God ordained.

January 26th will surely go down in the history of our State as its blackest day ! The earthquake that struck for those long seconds around nine in the morning literally devastated large areas of the State killing thousands (nobody still knows the exact figure but conservative estimates put it at over 50,000) and rendering thousands of others homeless. A tragedy of such immense proportions also generated plenty of sacrifices, goodwill and generosity. Volunteers rushed in from all parts of the country and the world and so did material supplies and finances.

The major problem, however, was the fact that we did not have in Gujarat, a Disaster Management Authority; this resulted in a tremendous lack of coordination and confusion. Even today, ten weeks after the earthquake, there is no policy in place and everyone is at wit's end as to how one can actually address and expedite the much needed process for total rehabilitation.

Both as individuals and as an organization, we have been very involved right from day one. Our involvement has been at three distinct yet interrelated levels :

1) In our hands-on approach among the affected people of the Naliya and Lakhpat areas; we have been able to cover 137 villages in these two talukas: providing immediate relief, rations and medical services to several hundreds of families that were affected.
2) Playing an advocacy role by trying to ensure that the victims actually get their just dues, trying to prevent discrimination to vulnerable communities like the Dalits, Kolis and Muslims and also takin up other human rights issues.
3) Networking and collaborating with other NGOs, Government, Church bodies and civil society at large. I was appointed Convenor of a fora called the Earthquake Affected Relief and Rehabilitation Services (EARRS), a network of over 50 voluntary organizations which came together on January 26th; besides, I am also the Coordinator of the response of the Society of Jesus to the earthquake.

Yes, since January 26th, as we mentioned to several already, the pattern of our life changed. In fact, for some days we were literally working for 24 hours. Several of our other programmes had to be put into cold storage or just cancelled. One of the positive fallouts was the response from all over. I want to thank you (even if I have already done so), for your messages of concern and solidarity. We have been flooded with telephone calls, letters, emails, faxes…..besides, several have sent in their generous gestures of sacrifices through financial and other material help. God bless each one of you !

Just now, we are trying to evolve a policy to ensure that there is a meaningful and just rehabilitation (without discrimination) of all the victims. Major networks of NGOs with several from civil society, have come together on a new platform called the Gujarat Lok Manch (Gujarat Peoples' Platform) . We are determined not to repeat the disastrous response to Latur (where there was a major earthquake a few years ago) and Orissa (where we had a terrible cyclone not long ago). In these places the approach was purely top down (the victims were never consulted), There were stereotype houses built for the people which are today being used as cattle sheds and there was heavy competition among other donor agencies, each vying for a slice of the disaster. Only a meaningful response, addressing the trauma of the people will really help in the rebuilding of the devastated areas. The holistic reconstruction of the areas could take anything from 3 to 5 years. Yes, the road ahead is going to be a long and difficult one.

Many of you have also been enquiring about our Chhatralayas and the children from our boardings. Three Chhatralayas in Gothada, Jhagadia and Zaroli, were badly affected and all of them have to undergo major repairs and reconstruction. In Bhachau, where the buildings came down two little blind girls were killed in our school for the handicapped. The worst part however, was that right from January 26th, most of our schools had to close down and then the Government announced a long vacation right up till the middle of June. This is something that we did not bargain for. Most of us felt that one important way to restore normalcy and to lessen the trauma among people, was to ensure that the schools start functioning as soon as possible. It is true that some school buildings were either totally destroyed or badly damaged. Many school children died in the earthquake. There were others (eg. a girl from our school here, Loyola Hall) who lost all their family….. but in spite of all this, we feel that a subjective approach could have been taken by each school management. But this was not to be. The result is, that the whole process of education has, because of the earthquake, taken a very severe beating. The greatest sufferers once again are the very poor who will find it very difficult to regain lost ground.

In each of our Chhatralayas, we have been trying to have summer programmes for the children, bringing them together in creative expressions of play, fun and games and at the same time ensure the development of their intellectual capacity.

There is another tragedy, perhaps a greater one that stares us hard in the face : DROUGHT!!! This year with the failure of the monsoon for almost three consecutive years, Gujarat faces an all time "worst drought". Already people are leaving their villages to go to areas where they can have at least a little drinking water. With temperatures already soaring up to 40 degrees Centigrade we may have drought related deaths in the not too distant future. A familiar sight in most areas of Gujarat is to see women walking long distances to fetch a pot of water. The earth is parched and the livestock are slowly dying of thirst! We are desperately trying to respond to the drought both on a short term and a long term basis. We appeal to you !

My letters of late seem to have become a voice of a prophet of doom! Gujarat seems to have had it all : In less than a year we have had three days of deluge (floods which caused untold havoc in several parts of Gujarat), a very, very severe drought, the rise of fundamentalism and communal riots and then this earthquake ! There must be some reason as to why God has decided to put many of his interventions into one basket !

This letter has really become a long one. If you are interested in receiving more details either of the drought or of the earthquake and our response, please do not hesitate to drop us a line. Kindly note, however, that our phone/fax numbers have changed as under :

Tel: (O) 91-79-7910654 , 7911265
Fax :7911181

Please also send us your email address for faster communication.

Thank you once again for your love, concern and solidarity. Do keep in touch and have a Very Happy Easter !

With love and prayers,

Your brother,
Cedric Prakash,sj