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  South Asian Disaster
Diaspora responds to the Tsunami Appeal
by Ram Gidoomal

Diaspora communities have come together in force to keep the spirit of giving alive following the devastating Asian Tsunami tragedy. The headlines in almost every newspaper in the UK reflect their incredible generosity. ‘British Asians dig deep…’ ‘Spirit of people is astounding’.

The stories from across the country are truly humbling. Celebrities, charity organisations and local groups have joined hands to honour the victims of the largest natural disaster in recent memory. As the South East Asian region begins to recover from the initial shock and is now facing the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, all sections of the community are stepping up their determination to help.

Meera Syal, the star from the BBC’s Goodness Gracious Me series will be hosting a special charity event with Sanjeev Bhasker of The Kumars at No. 42, performing stand up comedy routines.

DJ Nihal of BBC Radio One joined forces with Bobby Friction to perform a special event for the aid agency OXFAM. They have also put together plans to link up with other leading musicians like Raghav and the Rishi Rich project for other events.

Faith groups have mobilised local people to lead relief efforts. Temples, Mosques, Gurudwaras, Churches and community centres across the UK flooded over with volunteers and gifts in kind spilling out of their doors. One of the largest churches in London, Kensington Temple in Notting Hill, is releasing a UK exclusive from Anil Kant’s recently released album ‘Pray for India’. The album titled ‘Hope Music to Change Lives’ features his hit song ‘Khudha’ sung by the renowned King of Ghazals, Jagjit Singh. The album also features a special appeal from Johnny Lever and songs by other Indian music artists who have been generous enough help raise funds for children’s work including the reconstruction of home and schools.

I was also touched to see a special appeal by the Lions Club in Harrow, an area with a large Indian population, targeting their efforts to Banda Aceh in Indonesia. They had received a direct appeal for help from their Indian friends in that part of the world. One Diaspora group with links, networks and relationship with another Diaspora group, responding with amazing speed and generosity. And stories of Diaspora groups responding to other Diaspora groups kept coming in. Another friend from Jakarta, emailed me with news of his NRI group that has been actively involved in co-ordinating relief work in Aceh. Their local connections have enabled them to be effective link-people for outside agencies.

It is also heartening to see members of some Indian communities targeting their efforts to the devastation in Sri Lanka. The wife of the Indian CEO of a large software outsourcing and call-centre company in London, Prospectbase Ltd, has arranged home help and child care for their three young children and decided to go to Sri Lanka for two weeks. She told me: ‘I lost a child recently and just feel for those who have been bereaved. I may not be a nurse or a doctor, but I can offer comfort and love to those who have been affected. I just cannot stay back and watch. I want to go and help!’

The response of the Diaspora to the Asian disaster fills me with awe and pride. Our people and the media have demonstrated a response reflecting global citizenship at its best. During previous tragedies, the focus of media coverage and concern dwelt only on Britons. This time, compassion has reached out to all without regard to ethnicity, religion or nationality.

My colleague Deepak Mahtani, International Director of South Asian Development Partnership (SADP) recounted his discussions with one of his Swiss business contacts in Geneva. At the end of the telephone conference call the board responded with a pledge of 100,000 Swiss Francs towards the initiative that SADP are coordinating with the Emmanuel Hospital Association in India. He told me how he just wept after putting the phone down, moved by the generous response of his Swiss associates.

A crucial challenge will however be sustaining efforts over a longer term period.

I will never forget the generous response of the British Asian community following the earthquake in Latur in Maharashtra in 1993. However, once the story went off the headlines, the victims were forgotten. Six months later, I was approached by a breakfast TV programme GMTV enquiring whether there were any needy causes overseas that they could help raise funds for as part of a new dimension to their broadcasting. My mind immediately went to the forgotten victims of Latur. GMTV launched a special appeal on their Breakfast Television programme with a fitness expert, a person of African Caribbean origin, known as Mr Motivator. The simple slogan for fundraising was ‘Lose Pounds, Give Pounds’ i.e. get fit and give to a good cause. Several hundred thousand pounds were raised and a brand new hospital built in partnership with EHA named Priya GMTV Hospital. Priya being the name of a little girl who survived after being buried alive for several days. She was the longest surviving victim of that earthquake - saved by the iron frame of the bed she was hiding under.

Many similar stories are emerging of people who have survived the Tsunami in miraculous ways – a man afloat on a coconut tree for 8 days, a little child thrown by a wave to the top of a tree and literally hanging on for his life.

The challenge facing us all is to ensure that the efforts for rebuilding towns and villages continue long enough for the infrastructure of the affected areas to be rebuilt – but rebuilding will take more than money. The hardest hit communities will need near total reconstruction – that is if they can be rebuilt at all.

The first week back at school for many highlighted just how serious the issues are. In Sri Lanka, for example, students face important exams in March. How will they be motivated to study? Where? (Over 200 schools have been destroyed.) With what?

Local groups have responded by working to provide counselling, ‘back to school’ packs (with books, clothes and stationery), temporary study halls and vocational guidance - but they need long term help, the needs are overwhelming.

It is encouraging to see how this catastrophe has provided all manner of diplomatic openings. India, although itself afflicted, has sent aid to Sri Lanka and the Maldives to cement its standing as the primary power in the region. China is also loosening its purse strings. Within Sri Lanka, the government and Tamil Separatists appear to be cooperating in the relief effort, but recent reports seem to indicate that this may be short-lived.

And across the affected region, rumours are already spreading of greedy officials pocketing goods intended for the victims. Political differences between regions and controlling governments are causing tensions. The Diaspora communities, along with donor governments and aid agencies, have a crucial role and responsibility to ensure that internal political wrangling does not hamper the fair distribution of aid and relief. Transparency and accountability must be monitored for all funds transmitted to receiving countries. There is also the responsibility to ensure that the media takes an ongoing interest in reconstruction efforts as this in itself performs an accountability function.

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Tsunami Appeal | Diaspora Responds to the Tsunami
Feb 2005 Update from Emmanuel Hospital Assn (EHA) | Feb 2005 Update from Youth For Christ
100 Days Post Tsunami Report from EHA | April & May 2005 Update from EHA
June 2005 Update from Emmanuel Hospital Assn | June 2005 Update from Youth For Christ
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