Purpose and Fear – Work in a Natural Disaster Area

On 16 July 2013, thousands of people lost their lives in North India in the country’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. Here in Udaipur we all followed the pictures and news as we watched the death toll rise and the number stranded grow by the hour.

Uttarakhand 2013

There was a massive loss of lives and properties in the region. Individuals came forward and organized themselves into groups to contribute to the relief efforts in their best capacities. I, as part of Foster Care India, decided to form a team and headed north to participate in the rescue mission and provide our full support to help victims of this disaster.

Uttarakhand 2013As our first step, we spoke with trauma and disaster relief specialists worldwide in order to have a well prepared understanding of the work that we wanted to undertake. We arrived in Dehradun, Uttarakhand to take a 6-hour drive north to the flood affected areas. We associated with a large not-for profit organization to arrange for the logistics and immediately started our journey.  The closer we got to the flood ravaged Uttarkashi, the more fear we felt.

Let me be clear, Uttarkashi was not a place where many lives were lost.  People had evacuated in time but they lost livelihood, belongings and housing. As we moved further, we precariously crossed the roaring river below and drove along the damaged roads that were almost impassable.  We passed active landslides and watched as crews tried to pull smashed trucks to safety before the next rains started.   It is hard to describe the sense of purpose and fear that appeared at the same time.  It was a humbling experience for all of us.

IMG_2799In Uttarkashi, we trained first respondents and field workers on how to work with children who had experienced trauma or were newly orphaned due to the death of both parents in the disaster.  It was a significant realization for us that we were part of the relief period that would be followed by years of rebuilding and recovery. We learned so much about how to help and how to make a difference.  Since we had come all this way to help, we decided that our greatest impact would be to train the first respondents to share tools and awareness with school teachers and villagers in the most affected areas. We approximately reached over 80,000 people through our training about psychological first aid, a tool published by The National Traumatic Stress Network and World Health Organization.

After a few days in Uttarkashi the skies threatened to open again.  We made the decision to head south to safety where we knew we could leave and return home without roads being washed away.  We had the option to make that decision.  Many did not.

When we arrived 5 hours south in Rishikesh, we immediately linked up with other NGOs working to support those arriving from Kedarnath and Badrinath, the pilgrimage sites which got worst hit by the floods.  The stories in the eyes of these victims were haunting.  We waited at the bus stand at a government established camp to meet people who had been trapped for 10 to 15 days and were waiting for airlifts or walking over 80 kms through rough terrain. We helped rescue teams in distributing food, water and offered our full support.IMG_2831

We got a chance to speak with many individuals waiting for their loved ones.  One of the poignant experiences we had was with a young man waiting for his sister.  We supported him as he traveled from one hospital to another with a hope of finding her. I continued to follow up with him and sadly, he still has no information on his sister’s whereabouts.

We finished our trip at the Dehradun Disaster Relief center where we shared the psychological first-aid toolkit with the government officials. The lessons we learned during this trip were life changing.  In our hearts we were most grateful to share Foster Care India’s vision of Every Child’s Right to Family with everyone we met.  We demanded from everyone to offer their support and love to all these vulnerable children that they met during this rescue, recovery and relief process.

If our contribution touches even one child’s life, we would know that our efforts were a step in the right direction.

If you would like to donate and help thousands of children and families to make it through this crisis, here is the link –

http://support.savethechildren.in/uttarakhandfloods/index.php?adurl=mainsite&adunit=home&size=150×323&agency=direct

Ian Anand

Uttarakhand 2013