Sometimes the miracle stories aren’t only the ones about people rescued or re-united; they can also be about those who bravely set aside their immense sorrow and fought to give meaning to their lives again. 50 year-old baker, shop-keeper and man of all seasons, Thanbirasa Kulendran symbolizes the fighting spirit and positive energy that SOS encouraged in its rebuilding initiatives in Komari village, post-Tsunami, ten years ago.
Kulendran’s story is tragic, his composure while relating the cataclysmic events of a decade ago is formidable; though his 42 year-old wife Kavitha, seated nearby in their living room, breaks down frequently. “I was out in the paddy fields when the water first came in. When it came the second time around, I was holding on tightly to the hands of my two younger children. I don’t know when or how they let go of my hand and got lost in the water. We searched for them for a long time later but we never found their bodies. My wife had taken our older daughter with her; she was unconscious with many wounds but survived. My son was 9 years old and my daughter was just 4 when the Tsunami snatched them away from us,” says Kulendran stoically.
Having lived at a temporary camp for six months, the baker and his wife were the first to return to Komari and occupy the first of the 677 houses constructed by SOS, setting an example for the rest to follow. Kavitha explains why she encouraged her husband to return, “We had lost everything in the Tsunami, our children, our house, our shop, our belongings. At the camp we didn’t have water, proper toilet facilities, we were in bad shape. I told my husband even if others don’t turn up, it is better for us to return to Komari and start our life again.”
Gradually once people overcame their fear of the Tsunami re-visiting their erstwhile homes which were at a lower height than the relief camps, they trooped back to live in the new houses. And start afresh with the money and educational support provided by SOS; additionally, the newly-built kindergarten and social centers were places of refuge, where children could play to escape feelings of fear and youngsters and adults could confide in grief counselors and therapists to deal with their loss.
Kulendran believed that God would give him back the children he had lost and today he has two little children, a girl and a boy, born post-Tsunami; giving them a decent education and a secure future is what motivates him to struggle against formidable odds. “Both these children studied at the SOS kindergarten that has helped them in their studies” says the baker. “My older daughter, who is now married, also benefitted from the sewing and computer classes run by SOS. Today even if SOS exits from Komari, there is a building for conducting classes, there is awareness, we have a local school principal, a gram sevak ( village worker) from Komari, so people here can continue the work” he concludes. “We have learnt the value of education now, and will ensure we give the best possible lives to our children; we will never forget what we owe SOS for this second chance”, adds Kavitha as Kulendran sets off towards his make-shift bakery behind his home. He will soon re-open his shop to sell his baked goods to a nearby school—a fresh start to a second lease of life.
A few kilometres away, a long and winding graveled road leads to a row of houses set amidst fairly large compounds of leafy trees and shrubs. The coconut tree that 42 year-old T Kumaralingam planted eight years ago when SOS built him this house, is today over 20 feet tall. It jostles for space with other trees he has planted in his garden—guava, jackfruit, mango, banana, orange, lemon, tomato. As he proudly displays the small shop that he opened with the money given to him by SOS a decade ago, Kumaralingam shares his formula for the upturn in his fortunes after once losing it all.
“I lost my father in the Tsunami of 2004. I also lost my home, my shop, my van, my cows—we were totally helpless till SOS took over our village. With the initial money of Rs 10,000 that SOS gave me, I started this small shop, managed to plant trees that give me fruit, also purchased an auto-rickshaw and am today managing my daily needs” he says reminiscently. He freely admits that it will take him time to get back to the level of prosperity he enjoyed before the Tsunami but with perseverance and commitment, one can regain any position that is lost, is his firm motto.
“I will never get back my father; but I have a fire inside me to put in my best efforts and to never give up. And thanks to the foundation laid by SOS vis-à-vis education, I want to help my children study and do well in life” he says determinedly.
Both his children—sitting beside him in the auto-rickshaw as he prepares to take them for an evening drive—score high marks in school, showing ample promise and keenness to fulfill their father’s aspiration.
Like the trees he planted, this idea that also took root years ago, will bear rich fruit one day.