Friday, September 01, 2006

Tsunami-hit elderly learn to help themselves

Tsunami-hit elderly learn to help themselves - Indian, Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu) - For days together, in the aftermath of the tsunami that ravaged Tamil Nadu in south India, Perumal would only watch from a distance when aid workers distributed relief.

The 75-year-old man from the coastal district of Cuddalore explained why.

‘I have been pushed around, I even fell once. I know I will get nothing. The fastest get the food, the old and injured don’t get anything.’

Perumal was not the only old man complaining along the coast. It needed HelpAge India to make a difference to the situation. But HelpAge is not the only NGO at work among the aged and infirm, battered both by age and a disaster that killed almost 10,000 people in Tamil Nadu and wiped out entire communities.

The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has also chipped in by promising micro-finance to the elderly.

Two weeks after tsunami, a survey of 1,507 elderly people in Cuddalore district showed they had received almost no assistance.

‘There were no special packages for the elderly as they were seen as an integral part of the family. In the coastal areas only those people are considered family who can fish,’ Rajeshwar Devarakonda, head, HelpAge India Tsunami Project, told IANS.

‘When our own children wanted us to die, HelpAge helped us,’ said a despondent Radha of Cuddalore’s Granny Care Board.

HelpAge formed Elders Self Help Groups (ESHG) to empower Radha and 5,634 other members like her. In the last one-and-a-half years, HelpAge has established 350 self-help grouns for sustaining livelihoods and for advocacy.

In this year, HelpAge India has earmarked Rs.700,000 to provide for Income Generation Seed Capital through the groups.

‘The self-help grouns have been graded on their performance by NABARD. The challenge has been to unite them at the village, block and district levels,’ Devarakonda said.

‘If the self-help groups have regular savings, proper lending policy and systems including problem-solving ability we will help them,’ NABARD DGM J.K. Chetalan said at the workshop.

The elderly have requested NABARD to assist them in opening bank accounts for self-help groups, which is a big hurdle for the movement.

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