The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Life & light flicker in tsunami zone

Chennai, Dec. 26: As the Christmas lights went off today, candles and earthen lamps were lit across Tamil Nadu’s coastline.

From Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari to Cuddalore and Chennai, thousands of fisherfolk and their children marched silently, the flickering flames in their hands paying quiet homage to near ones lost to the tsunami exactly two years ago.

A carpet of flowers covered graves across the state, the bells at Velankanni’s Portuguese church knelled mournfully, and the fishermen stayed away from the sea for a day.

But on the tsunami’s second anniversary, the candles were glimmering also in hope for the future, though it will be sometime before all the smashed houses are rebuilt and all survivors given a livelihood.

At least one district, Cuddalore, has completed the house rebuilding. What’s more, it has gone ahead and built an additional 4,000 houses in a private-public-NGO partnership that has won admiration from former US President Bill Clinton, now a UN tsunami envoy.

But the most startling successes have come in providing the affected fisherwomen with alternative livelihoods.

At Sadras Kuppam village near Kalpakkam, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation persuaded four women’s self-help groups (SHGs) to take up poultry farming near the coast, defying the seaside climate. Poultry farms are usually set up in the hinterland, where the temperatures suit the hatcheries better.

“The villagers were extremely reluctant to switch to a new livelihood about which they knew nothing. But we trained them with help from Venkateshwara hatcheries and the veterinary sciences university, and built the first poultry farm near the coast involving four women’s SHGs, each made up of 20 members,” said Ajay Parida of the foundation. “Now it’s a showpiece project.”

A proud SHG member, Kanakavalli, confirmed: “We have set up two rearing farms with an investment of Rs 2.23 lakh, and are making a profit of Rs 5 on every bird. We are also growing new varieties of trees to serve as a shield against future natural disasters.”

Another all-woman SHG, in Sammiyarpettai of Cuddalore, is processing dried fish and adding to them a new flavour and a “masala”.

“We took a Rs 2-lakh loan to set up the unit and are repaying our loans with interest,” said fisherwoman Thenmozhi.

Kalaichelvi of Madavamedu, Nagapattinam, has gone for an innovative value-addition. She leads an SHG that is making “fish pickles for the first time”.

“We used to sell only dried fish, but have forayed into fish pickles after a brief training,” she said. The Central Fisheries College and Research Institute in Tuticorin helped with the training, said Sudha Nair of the foundation.

In the same village, members of another SHG have been trained in “crab fattening” in the backwaters.

A “fish-for-all” training and fish pre-processing centre is coming up at Poompuhar in the same district, Nair said. It will train fisherfolk to add value to their catch.

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