Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

I get goose bumps when I think of that night

Photo: Gurubari, who is sponsored through ChildFund, lost her home in Cyclone Phailin

“It was past midnight. I woke up to the alarmed voice of my wife shouting, “The house is cracking!” We ran outside, moments later our house came shattering down right in front of us,” recalls terrified father of six Sangram. “I still get goose bumps when I think back to that night.”

Luckily, Sangram’s children were staying at a community centre when Cyclone Phailin struck the coastal state of Odisha in India. “I am thankful to the project staff who insisted that I allow my children to go to the community centre, but we decided to stay here, as I underestimated the cyclone threat,” he says.

Sangram’s 15-year-old daughter, Gurubari, is sponsored through ChildFund. For her, the biggest loss after her home were her textbooks, which were washed away by floodwaters that gushed through her house after it collapsed. “I don’t have a single book left and I don’t know whether I will be able to get another book set,” she says.

Thanks to the disaster risk reduction plan put in place by ChildFund’s local partner in Kendrapara district, no lives were lost, but many homes were destroyed and it is estimated that villagers lost more than 75 per cent of their farming land because of heavy rains.

11-year-old Loknath from Puri district had only ever heard about stories of big typhoons before Cyclone Phailin hit, but on 12 October he was one of a dozen children seeking shelter at a local school before the storm.

“I was not very sure what was going to happen,” Loknath recalls. “Though there was no electricity, we had some kerosene lamps in the hall. We cooked our food inside the hall and started singing and talking to each other to pass time.

“Gradually, the wind began to blow with a moaning sound. And soon it became louder and louder. I felt as if the wind would blow the building away and we would all be thrown into the River Daya, which was just 50 metres away,” he adds.

Despite losing all of their belongings, Loknath’s mother, Rashmita, is thankful to ChildFund staff for convincing them to leave their house before the cyclone struck. “Initially we thought that nothing would happen to our house,” she says. “But the project people came and forced us to leave the house as soon as possible. Thank God that we adhered to their advice. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened to us.”

Millions of people have been affected by Cyclone Phailin and the subsequent floods – thousands of people are homeless and, once the water recedes, at least 1.5 million acres of crops will have been lost.

ChildFund India is working in partnership with International Medical Corps to determine the needs of children and families in the areas hardest hit by the disaster. The Indian government has begun relief activities and ChildFund is coordinating with the government closely. We are also working with local health officials to protect families and children against waterborne diseases and other health risks that may arise, especially due to the flooding.

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