One does not live by bread alone. Sumathi realized it not until she had some bread again: She could not eat any longer. However, she lost much more than just her appetite. Neither could she sleep any longer. And, in some quiet moments, she was thinking to herself, she even should not live any longer. At least she was asking: What for?Sumathi had experienced what – to people in India and Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia – has become a synonym for the most horrible, most traumatic nightmare you can imagine. Something like war. Or rape. Or torture. Or maybe even worse: A nightmare called tsunami.It seemed to be a never-ending nightmare. Though it only lasted ten minutes. Externally. Internally, it kept torturing Sumathi on and on. Day by day and night by night. “All these horrible pictures kept revolving in my mind”, the 25-year-old Indian says. “Just as that strange humming sound used to haunt me like a bogy. It sounded like an aeroplane coming closer, but very very frightening, increasing in volume with every single second passing.” It was the sound of the tsunami wave rolling towards the shore, rolling over the shore at the speed of some 500 miles an hour.Sumathi comes from the region most affected by the tsunami, being closest to the epicenter of the tremendous earthquake of Dec. 26th 2004: Car Nicobar, the main island of the archipelago of the Nicobares. Even an early warning system – had there been one – would have proved useless there: the time-interval between the earthquake and the tsunami-waves hitting the shore was not more than five minutes. Yet, to Sumathi and her family, these were five decisive minutes to at least save their lives. Everything else was taken away by the tsunami.Panic-ridden and shocked by the earthquake, Sumathi, her husband and her little child, rushed out of their house at the shore, to find refuge in the jungle, yet having to climb a steep hill to reach it. That hard-to-climb hill turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They escaped the tsunami-wave, mounting up to a height of about 80 feet, only by a hair’s breadth. “Later, when we looked down, everything at the shore had gone. No house, no plants, not even the trees, were there. There was only water. Everything was flooded.” Thousands of people from the surrounding villages had died – those who did not make it to the top of the hill in time, those who stayed back, those who wanted to take a few more minutes to pack their belongings.The pictures flashing into Sumathi`s mind during these moments kept haunting her in a constant flashback after she was, two days after the disaster, replaced – as one of 2500 people relocated who lost their homes in Car Nicobar – to Port Blair, the centre of the Andaman and Nicobare islands. In a temporary shelter at Bamboo Flat, close to Port Blair, she got everything she needed to survive. That is: nearly everything. Food to live on. A room to live in. Yet, there is more to life than food and clothes and accommodation. There is more to human beings than just a body. There is a soul. And of what use are bread and shelter if the soul is suffering? Caritas was aware of that when, after its first relief activities, the organization started to finance and provide psychological help for the victims, with Sister Roselyn Karakattu in charge of all psychosocial care in India. Closely cooperating with the dioceses of the areas affected as well as with the organizations of CHAI (Catholic Health Organization of India) and Sarthak (a Hindi-Wort for “meaningful”), she established a network of psychosocial workers in every village, in every shelter, working on three levels. Level 1 are the primary health workers, assigned to identify traumatized tsunami victims and find out how deep their traumas are. Depending on their reports, the affected will be assisted by the secondary or tertiary level. Secondary health workers have attended a special psychological training to deal with traumatized people. The most severe cases that require treatment of a psychiatrist are, on the tertiary level, left to special experts, doctors and psychiatrists.One of the psychosocial experts on the tertiary level is Sr. Annama, staff member of ACANI, the diocese of the Andamans and Nicobares. Sumathi went through Annama`s therapy – and became a new human being.Annama remembers Sumathi as “completely paralyzed and apathetic when I got to know her in September 2005. It took her three or four days to open up her mouth and speak. As for that, there was no difference between her and many other people in the temporary shelters: A lot of people there just don’t have any more motivation or the will to live. They just lie down on their beds, bored, apathetically, staring at the ceiling, unable to cope with the situation that their life, once so well arranged and hopeful, has been destroyed in one single moment.” Looking at Sumathi I am led to believe Annama has performed a miracle. “She`s just out of all recognition, I hardly cannot believe it`s the same woman I met weeks before”, Annama tells me amazed. “Just look at her shining eyes and her bright smile. And did you notice the way she is enjoying her work?”It took Annama a lot of patience to reach Sumathi`s soul. Patience and love. These are qualities you cannot study in a training or at a university. You need to have them within yourself. Slowly, step by step, Sumathi began to open up her soul to Annama. “New hope grew inside of her during our sessions. And she was able and willing to work again.”The chance to make a living again is intrinsically tied to the psychological help provided by Caritas. That`s why Sr. Roselyn calls it “psychosocial help”. The entire life of the victims has to be re-established again. Socio-economic empowerment is an important part of that.Now Sumathi is working for the diocese of Port Blair – as a primary health worker. “It seems as if she was made for this job”, Annama tells me gladly. “After our counseling, she participated in our psychosocial training and passed with flying colors. Knowing the sufferings of the tsunami victims from her own experience, she can approach them in an absolute competent and credible way. She can understand them like no other can. And I see how people trust her.So do I when I accompany Sumathi making her visits at the temporary shelter of Bamboo Flat. “Here”, she tells me, “I have to deal with people who suffered a thousand times more than I did.” That is: people who did not lose just their entire belongings but their entire family. Or men like 49-year-old Selvam, who lost his (uninsured) restaurant at Car Nicobar, in which he invested the entire savings of his lifetime, and who survived floating, seriously injured and unconscious, on a tree trunk and feels it is too late now to start a new life. Or women like Rada who was smashed against a wall by the tsunami waves, thus breaking her left foot and just succeeded to climb on a piece of wood, with her foot aching unbearably, before she was about to drown. Later, she was saved by her son. Or girls like Nisha who, emotionally totally disturbed, confined her activities to lying on a mattress all day, quite sure her life was over at the age of 18.Nisha was suffering from the same symptoms as Sumathi: Anorexia. Insomnia. Apathy. And from the same movie playing in her brain all over and over again. The tsunami movie.“By talking to Sumathi”, Nisha says, “hope grew within me. I learned to accept the fact that my old life is over, but a new life will start. Only months ago, life was dull and I didn’t feel like doing just anything. And now”, she tells me, being all smiles, “I found the love of my life, right here in the temporary shelter: I married a few weeks ago.”
Causes Stefan Teplan Supports
Caritas international (international wing of Caritas Germany), Reciclazaro (Brazil), , Humanitas (Costa Rica), Dalit-Solidarität in Deutschland (Dalit...