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Rebuilding hope



The Marist Tsunami Fund and its activities - Third Year Update

17/03/2008: General House

The haunting images of death and destruction which dominated the media for many months following the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 were once again at the forefront of everyone’s mind when news came in April 2007 of another destructive tsunami this time in the Solomon Islands.

In the early morning of April 2, 2007, near Gizo, in the Solomon Islands, an underground earthquake measuring a magnitude of 8.1 triggered a tsunami with waves reported as high as 10 meters…a very dangerous height for this country which is made up of volcanic islands and coral atolls.

When it was over, 13 villages were wiped out leaving 3,000 homeless and damages estimated in the millions. Fifty-two people were reported to have been killed and an additional sixty reported missing. Numerous aftershocks, the worst of which measured 6.2 caused many people to flee to the high ground fearing that more destructive waves would follow.

Within hours of the tsunami, word reached the General House of the destruction in Gizo and the surrounding communities. The District of Melanesia, under the sponsorship of the Province of Sydney, operates several apostolic works in the region. At Vanga Point, on Kolombangara Island is the St. Dominic’s Training School, the Vanga Teaching College and the newly constructed, St. Marcellin School. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, but the school’s wharf was destroyed and several buildings were damaged.

Sharon Attard, a Marist teacher volunteering in the Marist schools at Vanga Point, was in Gezo when the quake and tsunami struck. She wrote to her friends back home:

Here in Gizo it is hectic and I am only just hanging in there. I am yet to let out a good cry however there doesnt seem to be the time. I have spent the last few days trying to get the bishops house in order and surrounding office for the Gizo Diocese. People are coming and going to see the Bishop and the stories of death and survival are plenty.

Diarrhea is now spreading amongst the children due to poor water and, of course, malaria will start to increase as mosquito nets are few. Food is scarce as the Chinese shops have suffered greatly as well. I have walked up and down the main street many times in search of an open store. Thankfully the bread shop is in operation.

Everyone is having a rough time dealing with the shock of feeling the quake and tsunami as well as the loss of lives and homes. I think most people feel completely helpless; me included…

Initial grant to aide in relief efforts

During the days immediately following the earthquake and tsunami, Vanga Point became a rallying point for all the villages on the northern part of the island. Br. Tony Burrows and the rest of the Vanga Point community, including the students and the staff of the school found themselves organizing the relief effort for that part of the island. As an increasing number of people came to seek help at the St. Dominic Rural Training Center, it became evident that more outside help was needed.

Within days, MAPS, the Sydney Province office for solidarity under the direction of Br. Chris Wills, coordinated a campaign in the Marist schools, communities and among benefactors in Australia to raise funds to purchase food, clothing and supplies. The campaign realized $70,000 AUD of which $30,000 went for immediate relief and $40,000 was set aside for recovery efforts once the emergency passed.

Since funds were still available in the Institute’s Tsunami Fund, and since most of our sponsored recovery projects in Sri Lanka and India were completed (or nearly so), an offer to assist in the relief and recovery efforts at Vanga Point was made. The offer was followed by a formal request, and the General Council approved an initial grant (SOL 01/07) of $10,000 USD. As in Sri Lanka and India, the initial $10,000USD was meant to assist with the relief effort. Recovery projects would follow after the immediate crisis was over.

Recovery comes next: dormitory construction at St. Dominic Rural Training Center

Once the immediate crisis had passed and people felt more confident that the danger of more quakes had subsided, the brothers turned their attention to helping the people return to their homes and begin the work of recovery. The students of the training school played a very important role in this regard. Using the skills they had learned and provided with a kit of tools, they accompanied groups of people back to their villages and helped out in the repair of homes and the planting of vegetable gardens.

Meanwhile, back at the school the brothers and the staff turned their attention to repairing the damage at training center. Br. Tony Burrows summed up the situation as follows:

1.Wharf is totally collapsed.
2.Two staff houses are damaged. One is leaning over rather dramatically and cannot be used.
3.Mechanics workshop and carpentry workshop have collapsed walls.
4.Boys’ dorms have cracks in all cement walls and will need some attention.
5.Electric line across the river needs a new “bridge.”

First on the list was the rebuilding of the wharf. Without it, the transport of food and supplies will be difficult. The Royal Australian Navy has been asked to help with the demolition and removal of debris of the wharf, and Caritas Australia has indicated it’s willingness to help with the construction of a new wharf.

The school’s dormitories have become a pressing concern. A closer inspection revealed more damage than had been initially thought. A decision was made to replace them. In September, the General Council approved a grant of $88,644.12 to rebuild all six dormitories (SOL 02/07). Work has begun, but the construction of the wharf will have an impact on the September 2008 timeline set for completion of the dormitories. The General Council’s grant will help with the purchase of hardware, cement, roofing materials, steel, paint, freight, and compliance costs. The students of the technical school will be involved in the construction of the dormitories.

The work of recovery continues in the Solomon Islands.

Contributions – Disbursements 2007 (Year 3)

Contributions to the Tsunami Fund continued during 2007. An additional $860.00 was added to the fund thanks to the generosity of the Province of New Zealand.

These contributions bring the grand total raised to $1,194,230.56USD.

Contributions to the Tsunami Fund Campaign (USD)
As of 14 February 2008

Income 2005

$ 1,181,216.81

Income 2006

$ 12,153.75

Income 2007

$ 860.00

Total Raised

$ 1,194,230.56

Disbursements from the Tsunami Fund during 2007 totaled $ 98,645.00 USD. These disbursements financed relief and recovery efforts in the Solomon Islands.

Projects Supported in 2007 (USD)

Solomon Islands – Emergency Relief

$ 10,000.00

Solomon Islands – Dormitory Construction

$ 88,645.00

Total Tsunami Fund Disbursement in 2007

$ 98,645.00

These disbursements, in addition to disbursements made in 2005 ($293,683.45) and in 2006 ($449,073.54) total, $841,401.99.

Tsunami Fund Disbursements -- Current Situation
As of 14 February 2008

Total Income (2005-2007)

$ 1,194,230.56

Disbursed 2005

$ 293,683.45

Disbursed 2006

$ 449.073.54

Disbursed 2007

$ 98,645.00

Current Resources In Fund

$ 352,828.57

As of 14 February 2008, $325,828.57 remains in the fund. According to the funding guidelines initially approved by the General Council, this fund remains active until January 2010. At that time, the General Council will close the fund and decide the destination of any remaining funds.

Update on on-going works in Sri Lanka and India

No disbursements were made in 2007 for projects in Sri Lanka and India. The new school in Payagala, Sri Lanka has been completed. Once the crisis passed in India, our brothers there developed a Child Trauma Care Project to help children recover from the tsunami. The program includes educational and recreational activities as well as counseling and assistance to parents and families still suffering from the effects of the tsunami. The fund has helped to sustain this project for two years. A third year of funding has been requested and is under consideration.

Lessons we’ve learned and continue to learn

A natural disaster happens without warning, and it happens quickly. Besides death and destruction, survivors find themselves dealing with a variety of emotions including confusion, shock, fear, despair and grief over the loss of family members, friend, property, livelihood and life as they once know it.

Responding to an emergency in an appropriate and effective manner can be a difficult task to accomplish given the extent of the emergency, the need to act quickly, and the available resources. No one agency or individual is equipped to deal with the demands and attention required by crisis survivors. Communications, networks of professionals and agencies, and adequate financial resources are needed when reacting to an emergency. Planning for emergencies should be focused in these areas.

The aid response we can give in crisis situations can be looked at as coming in two phases. First, we can assist with relief efforts…helping people with the essentials of survival: food and water, medical attention, clothing and shelter. Once the emergency passes, we can assist with recovery efforts…helping with repairs and rebuilding efforts so that a sense of normalcy can return and people can get on with their lives. When a crisis occurs, there is an initial outpouring of resources coming from all sectors of society. Once the crisis has passed and aids agencies leave the area, on-going recovery can be uneven and sporadic. People will, “fall through the cracks.”

When we review our response to each of the emergencies, we find that we responded more quickly the second time. When the tsunami of 2004 hit the countries bordering the Indian Ocean, we were not prepared. It took time to launch a fundraising campaign and to establish an identifiable fund. We had to establish guidelines and procedures for disbursing grants from that fund. In essence we learned what to do as we dealt with each new challenge.

Our hard work and learning paid off. When the tsunami of 2007 hit the Solomon Islands, we were no less surprised, but we were better prepared to respond. We had an established fund with adequate resources available. We had guidelines and procedures to disburse funds. We had good communications. We had some experience dealing with previous emergencies. These factors helped us to remain confident and focused on dealing with the crisis.

Final word of thanks

This concludes Rebuilding Hope: Third Year Report. Again we express our sincere thanks to all who have made this fund possible. Three years have now passed. When the second quake and tsunami happened in April 2007, in the Solomon Islands, we were ready. That readiness to respond was due to your generosity which created this fund after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2005. We thank you for your generosity

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