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From the news
- Chancellor Amma Addresses the Parliament of World’s Religions
- Amrita Students Qualify for the European Mars Rover Challenge
The world is seeing an increase in natural disasters and widespread illnesses. With global warming, their frequency and severity will continue to increase. The places hit hardest are often the least prepared—and the least equipped to bounce back. The Ashram’s work includes immediate aid and then continued long-term relief. In this way, Amma is helping vulnerable communities get back onto solid ground. Not only does this come in the form of food and medical aid, but also via scholarships, skill & vocational training, and permanent shelter. Most of the Ashram’s relief work has been in response to emergencies across India, but Amma has also reached out to countries worldwide, including Japan, Kenya, the Philippines, Haiti, Nepal, the US, Italy, and Puerto Rico.
Amrita pioneers research and development in disaster management so that people can be evacuated—and lives saved—before calamities arrive. Events such as landslides, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, chemical spills, avalanches, and forest fires require different technologies to detect and monitor them. Amrita’s Center for Wireless Networks and Applications (WNA) has been lauded around the world for advancing technology in this area, and in 2016, Amrita joined UNESCO’s Landslides Consortium.
Amma is reaching out to people in need during the fallout of the pandemic in areas that include healthcare, economic, and educational support. In terms of unemployment and lack of essential needs, more than US$11 million (₹85 crore) in aid was provided by the end of 2021, especially in rural India, so the poor can find a bridge out of this massive crisis. At Amrita, doctors and scientists are developing innovative approaches such as nano-fiber masks, more affordable PPEs, and even new ways of treating the illness. For lockdowns and school closures, Amrita developed a structured approach to continue education for village children by using online solutions. In other countries, volunteers have initiated food and clothing drives, as well as opened helplines for the elderly and disabled to call for delivery of essential supplies and mental support.
The Ashram gave US$7,000 (₹5 lakh) to each family of the more than 40 Indian soldiers killed on February 14th. The terror attack occurred in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir as the paramilitary convoy passed by. The soldiers were with India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). “It is our duty to support the families of these brave men who died while doing their duty of protecting the nation,” said Amma. “My heart goes out to their families and loved ones. May we all pray for their peace and wellbeing.”
In August 2018, floods hit the state of Kerala. More than 500 people were killed and 1,000,000 displaced. Immediately, more than 400 volunteers formed Amrita Helpline—a 24-hour call-in center set up at the Amritapuri Campus of Amrita. Within five days, the team fielded more than 25,000 calls and connected more than 100,000 flood victims with appropriate relief services. The coordination included government officials, the Navy, Air Force, National Disaster Response Force, Kerala State Police, local fishers, and other volunteer agencies. Amma also sent volunteer rescue teams and emergency medical units to flooded areas and set up more than 30 relief camps. In addition, US$1.3 million (₹10 crore) was donated to the state government’s relief fund.
Cyclone Ockhi sped across the waters around Sri Lanka and South India—ripping down coconut trees, destroying homes and power lines, and claiming the lives of fishermen who were out on the waters. We immediately mobilized food relief camps, often in conjunction with local churches. We also announced a package of $1,500 for each family in which a fisherman had died and made a pledge to help rebuild houses destroyed by the cyclone. As families continued to recover more than two months later, Swami Amritaswarupananda presented a cheque for US$300,000 (₹2 crore) to the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, to contribute to the state’s special Ockhi relief fund.
Incessant heavy rains hit the city of Chennai and its surrounding areas, sometimes resulting in water depths of 40 feet. A team of 500 volunteers immediately hit the scene to provide rescue operations, medical attention, food, clothing, blankets, utensils, and other essential provisions. Some volunteers used boats to pull people out of deep waters. Twenty-five doctors rushed to affected areas and Amrita Hospital sent a Mobile Telemedicine Unit, a vehicle equipped with several emergency facilities including a mini-operation theatre. In the following days, US$700,000 (₹5 crore) was given to Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister to contribute to a relief fund for further assistance.
The Nepal earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people and injured 22,000. Amma sent basic provisions such as rice, lentils, clothing, and blankets. Many people were rendered homeless, so the Ashram began a distribution of tin sheets for roofing that could be used for temporary shelter and afterwards long-term construction. The Ashram also provided two tons of essential medicines and surgical items, as well as 100,000 Tetanus shots—an essential health requirement in the aftermath. The Prime Minister of Nepal remarked, “With the compassion and aid from a great humanitarian like Amma, I feel the burden on my shoulder lessened.”
During the last stage of monsoon, massive floods swept through Jammu & Kashmir. Nearly 300 people were killed on the India side of the border with another 300 people in Pakistan. The Ashram sent two Mobile Telemedicine Units to the disaster zone, and a team of 15 medical specialists and paramedics provided critical care. On the first day, more than 2,300 people were examined in less than seven hours. A US$4 million (₹30 crore) package included medical care, essential supplies, construction of houses for the displaced, and monetary aid for widows.
Extremely heavy rains led to floods in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand and caused major landslides. More than 5,000 people were killed and many homes were destroyed. The Ashram immediately held medical camps to treat the injured, especially for dysentery, as this can easily become an epidemic. In the long-term, Amma started a $13 million (₹100 crore) relief-and-rehabilitation project. This included construction of 500 homes, scholarships for poor children, pensions for widows and disabled people, an orphanage and care home for children, and assistance for women in forming self-help groups (SHGs) so they could set up home-based businesses.
The devastating storm killed more than 6,300 people and displaced about 750,000. In the hardest hit areas, more than 80 percent of all buildings were destroyed and the financial losses for the country were in the billions. Relief teams were based out of Manila, Japan, and Singapore and US$1 million (₹8 crore) was donated to help those affected. The funds went to reconstructing schools, building community centers, and providing scholarships to 530 children who were victims of the storm. The focus was on children who lost one or more parents.
Within three days, volunteers were on the ground distributing food and water for the refugees. After working near the disaster’s epicenter, work focused on Rikuzentakata, a remote coastal town of 23,000 people where more than a third of the population had lost their lives. Later that year, Amma donated US$1 million (₹8 crore) to pay for the education of children orphaned by the disaster.
After a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, 11 palettes of medical supplies were shipped to the country and received by Partners In Health, a global health and social-justice organization. On the ground, volunteers also distributed staple foods to refugees and identified 30 children who had lost parents or other close relatives. Amma provided the orphans with scholarships to help them get back to school in the aftermath of the disaster.
Both Indian states were ravaged by unprecedented floods, destroying millions of acres of crops and displacing 2.5 million people. In response, Amma provided a US$11 million (₹100 crore) relief package for the flood survivors, which included building them new homes. Just 20 days after entering into an agreement with the Government of Karnataka, 100 houses were already complete. The total number constructed at the end of the project was 635.
Cyclone Aila left 330 people dead and one million homeless. Ashram medical camps ran for 10 days, with doctors treating approximately 3,000 people and dispensing more than US$2,000 (₹1.5 lakh) worth of free medicine. Volunteers also distributed approximately 800 articles of clothing and blankets, served 6,000 free meals, and gave away two tons of rice.
One million people were rendered homeless in Bihar when the Kosi River over- flowed its banks. The Ashram pledged US$1 million (₹5 crore) in relief. Medical teams remained on the ground for more than two months, treating 50,000 people. Volunteers also distributed thousands of tents, blankets, and tarpaulins, along with cooking stoves and vessels, food, clothing and school supplies. A government official there commented about the volunteers saying, “I wonder if they are even sleeping at night! We are very thankful to them for accepting our appeal and rushing to help us in this time of need.”
Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the state of Louisiana, more than 100 of Amma’s service groups throughout North America responded by delivering food, clothing, school supplies, and other essential items to the refugees. Volunteers visited relief sites and provided medical care and emotional support. They also helped the displaced to locate one another via a dedicated website they built for the survivors. In December 2005, Amma donated US$1 million (₹5 crore) to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.
Torrential floods displaced millions in Mumbai, especially slumdwellers whose makeshift houses were washed away. The Ashram immediately provided food and blankets for the refugees. Medical teams treated more than 50,000 patients and distributed US$1 million (₹5 crore) in medicines.
A disastrous fire took place in the city of Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu in 2004. It was in a school, and many children were trapped inside, unable to escape. Those who did survive were left with very severe burns, with some incurring scars all over their bodies. Many of the children carried an intense fear of fire to the point where if their mothers tried to turn on a stove, they would immediately run and turn it off. After helping overall community recovery, in 2008, Amma initiated a program to build 51 houses for families affected by the fire. She also gave sewing machines to poor women from the area to help them earn a livelihood.
The relief and rehabilitation work led by Amma stands today as one of the most multifaceted, comprehensive, and sustained disaster-relief projects ever undertaken by a non-governmental organization. What made the Ashram’s activities unique were their holistic nature—virtually every aspect of the tsunami victims’ lives was considered and improved. In the end, many victims stated that in terms of their quality of life and economic independence, they were better off after the tragedy than they had been before. An aid package of more than US$26 million (₹200 crore) was dedicated to direct assistance of tsunami survivors. This included building 6,200 tsunami-resistant homes, 700 new fishing boats, and an evacuation bridge. The Ashram also provided vocational training for 2,500 victims.
An earthquake struck northern India with its epicenter in the Kutch District of Gujarat. About 20,000 people were killed, 167,000 injured, and 340,000 buildings destroyed. Amrita Hospital dispatched a disaster-relief team of a dozen surgeons, two fully equipped ambulances, and 100 volunteers to recover bodies from the rubble, distribute clothes, and feed and comfort survivors. After the initial crisis was over, the Ashram constructed three villages—a total of 1,200 earthquake-proof houses, as well as community halls, a school, several temples, and a mosque.