A Roof Over Their Head

1st May, 2012

28 June 2006

The word tsunami brings to mind pictures of nature's fury and the aftermath , grief, homelessness and hopelessness. Immediately after the tragedy struck, Mr.s Neerja Birla rushed help to the victims in Thanzhanguda, in Tamil Nadu, by arranging for rations, repair of battered boats and providing new fishing boats so that people could pursue their livelihood. The Aditya Birla Group also made a commitment to resettle the villageRs.on a permanent basis.

In the ensuing months, the Group partnered with the government, the Rotary Club of Mumbai, Habitat for Humanity and Mehta Charities to build houses for the displaced families. The work was completed by mid-May 2006. On 31 May 2006, Mr.s. Rajashree Birla, Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, presented a symbolic key to the 119 quakeproof, concrete structures to the Collector, Mr. Gagandeep Singh Bedi. MembeRs.of the village panchayat and senior persons from the Group , Mr. K K Maheshwari, Dr Pragnya Ram, Mr. M H Upadhyaya, Mr. V T Moorthy , and, of course, all the beneficiaries were present on the occasion. Mr.s Birla cut the ribbon, lit the ceremonial lamp, turned on a public tap and planted a sapling to mark the event.

Here is what she had to say on the occasion:

"Shri Gagandeep Singh Bedi, government officials, membeRs.of the village panchayat, our co-sponsoRs., Habitat for Humanity, India, Rotarians, brotheRs.and sisters.

"The tsunami has been one of the worst disasteRs.in our country. It took every one by surprise, claiming more than 6500 lives on the country's south-eastern coast. Tamil Nadu has been one of the most affected areas. Pondicherry has suffered the brunt where more than 350 people have lost their lives, many their livelihoods and their peace of mind.

"I am sure, most of you have lived through this nightmare. Even as we empathise fully with you, your resilience, equanimity and fortitude in the face of such a crisis and your determination to carry on in as positive a manner as possible have been extremely commendable. While we fully share your pain and understand the trauma that you have gone through, we must commend you for the fine example you have all set for our country and for all of us present here. Many of you gathered here would have reached out to save the lives of your brotheRs.and sisteRs.who were being dragged by the waves. We salute your selflessness. At the same time, we would like to express our heartfelt sympathy to those families who have lost a loved one to the tsunami.

"The government's work in grappling with the enormity of the tsunami disaster and doing their best to rescue people, to provide them with a roof over their head and their basic amenities, must have helped enormously.

"Even though we live far away, my family , Kumar Mangalam, Neerja and I , felt very miserable on hearing about this tragedy. In our own small way we tried to help out in Cuddalore, where our company Tanfac is located. Our team, led by Mr. Maheshwari and Mr. Upadhyaya, participated in the relief work to help rehabilitate the people.

"Apart from immediate relief in terms of looking after the essential needs of the people of Thazhanguda, we felt that the most lasting contribution would be to provide a solid roof over their head. We therefore decided to opt for constructing houses in this village, given that so many people were rendered homeless. We have been very fortunate that the District Collector, Shri Bedi, has been extremely supportive, allocating this village to construct 119 permanent houses.

"Habitat for Humanity, a global organisation committed to building houses for the poor and who have been our partneRs.in constructing 100 houses in Renukoot, in Uttar Pradesh, were more than willing to team up with us in this project. We truly appreciate their involvement. The Rotary Club of Bombay Seaface also wanted to help out and was looking for a reliable group that would ensure that the money they spent would go in the right direction. They too teamed up with us.

"These 119 houses that have been constructed, I believe, have been built from the finest material, are tsunami and earthquake-proof. They have been built at a project cost of Rs.3 crore. Of this, the government has provided for the land which has been valued at Rs.23 lakh, our Group has contributed Rs.115 lakh, in addition to Rs.30 lakh for immediate relief. Habitat for Humanity has been a committed and generous partner with a contribution of Rs.120 lakh, while the Rotary Club and Mehta Charities collectively pooled in Rs.25 lakh.

"Apart from the financials, both Habitat and our team at TANFAC have invested time and expertise in raising these houses. This beautiful housing complex, which you can see from here, is the outcome of the genuine commitment, affection and respect that all of us have for you.

"Our prayeRs.are that your new houses bring you a lot of peace, prosperity and happiness. While I will present the key to Shri Bedi as a symbol of our handing over these houses, the government will allocate them.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to request all of you, the new inhabitants of these houses, to maintain them as a model village, always clean, green and happy. As perhaps many of you may be aware, our TANFAC Jan Seva Trust does a lot of meaningful work for the underserved sections of society. Among this, perhaps one project that can be equally applied in this village is the setting up of self-help groups led by enterprising young women. We could team up with the village women and train them in Tanjore painting, tailoring, candle making and in other arts, which would help them contribute significantly to their household income. I also believe that it is very important for all of you to educate your children. While the state provides significant opportunities for the same, with the additional income that will flow from self-help groups, you could have a better quality of life. Please do give this a thought and we would be happy to take it further.

"Once again, I wish you all every happiness and may the Goddesses Saraswati and Laxmi grace your homes. "

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