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We were unable to contact East Coast RDT immediately after the Tsunami .... please now see Newsletter 1st April 2005

19/1 Manual Jacob Lane (near Beach Road, Tuticorin 628001,
Tamilnadu, India.


these children need your help

tel: 00-91-462-500347
e-mail: yazhini@sancharnet.in or ecrd2002@Rediffmail.com

... the longest journey starts with a single step ...

tamilnadu, indiaThe East Coast Research & Development Trust works in the coastal villages of Tuticorin and Tirunelveli districts in Tamilnadu, India, helping children who drop out of school due to poverty.

Kids like these end up becoming child fish workers or child salt pan workers; if they earn any money it's a very small amount and often all they receive is enough fish for their own meals, nothing more. They have no proper clothing and even when they come home they rarely have their own bedroom so sleep here and there, often in bad company which means they get into bad ways.
Without our help, there is no way out for them.

How can we describe these children to you? Their heads are dry, their hands are blistered, their faces look pale. They have to bear the extreme hot sun and extreme cold weather. All the child fish workers know is sea, catamarans, fish nets, and fish. Their work is hard and they become hardened by it, losing their childhood in the process.

Can you help us, to help them? We need to help over 1000 children, give them some way back to a normal existence. They need to be taught to read and write, and have access to sports equipment, so that they can have the chance to develop their natural skills and talents and make something of their lives.

tamilnadu, indiaWe already collect a number of the children in the evening, after their day of heavy work, and give them an hour of recreational sports, followed by an hour of study and learning. Some of them, once they have learned to read and write, can be persuaded to attend regular schooling.

Others, though, do not want to go to formal school, or their families cannot afford the fees; however they still attend the evening classes on an ongoing basis. We should like to start vocational training centres for these fish-worker children, offering them technical training in matters like outboard engines and practical items linked with the fishing industry.

Ideally this would include setting up a workshop and spare parts centre where they can earn a little money through their training period, but dually the workshop and spare parts centre will offer a much-needed facility for the fishermen who at present have to travel 40-50Km to repair broken equipment.

tamilnadu, indiaWhat is really needed is to set up a proper Centre for the Abolition of Child Labour, and provide free teaching and recreational activities for all these fish-worker children and salt-pan-worker children, each according to his needs and abilities, academic or vocational. More than 1000 children are at present trapped in the spiral of work-food-sleep and we want to give them back a normal childhood and the chance to develop their natural talents and make the most of their lives.

This, though, costs money; we need to be able to pay qualified teachers and provide a good quality of education. We also need to provide free medical care - there are no hospitals or doctors in the coastal villages, and we need to set up mobile clinics and health awareness campaigns to benefit both the schools and the people involved in the fishing industry.

We need qualified doctors, transport, weighing machines, and medicines, to care adequately for these people who at present have so very little.

tamilnadu, indiaThere are many background factors making the whole situation worse. The Government of India, in collaboration with Russia, is constructing India's biggest Nuclear Power Station in the Tirunelveli District, at a cost of 17000 crore. Yet India's natural assets of hot sun, heavy wind, seawater waves, river water and vast quantities of refuse, would make it easy to generate electricity in other ways.

Any nuclear power station has a life of only 20-25 years, and the hazardous waste afterwards, containing radiation, represents further long-term danger to this area of coastline. Local industries already dump their waste products into the water, such as chlorine and sulphur which turns the water a yellow-ish colour. Cancer and tuberculosis are on the increase among fish workers - including the children.

The effluents of the new Nuclear power plant will kill sea creatures in the vicinity, further complicating a situation where the existing fishing comunity is struggling to survive. The Indian government provides petrol at subsidised rates to foreign intensive fishing ships (but not to the native fishermen) and these ships take only the big fish, damaging the entire seabed by the methods they use, as well as throwing the dead, rotten, small fish back into the water and polluting it further.

tamilnadu, indiaThe mining of garnet sand (red sand mixed with uranium) creates further problems. According to the directives of the Coastal Zone Regulation Act, no activity is allowed within 100 meters from the shore to the high tide area. Yet somehow private companies dig the shore 10 feet deep and remove *all* of the sand.

Consequently there is no sand on our beaches - in fact no beach at all. Villagers have tried to protect the churches from sea erosion (the fishing community is strongly Christian) by building a wall around the church in two villages, but this hasn't helped and seawater enters the doorsteps of the houses and the churches.

There is no longer any place to harbour the fishing catamarans on the beach - because there is no beach. The boats have to be left to float day and night on the sea. When there is rain at high tide, the catamarans are dashed against each other and damaged. This is a community in crisis.

The fishing people are in many ways cut off from the rest of the world because the planned coastal road has not yet reached our villages. But we learn that the Government now plans to allow many polluting industries to settle down along the coast, so if the road does get built, the pollution will only increase still further.

tamilnadu, indiaYet the Indian Government declared the Gulf of Mannar to be a National Marine Park or Biosphere Reserve, in 1989. The UN Council for the Environment also issued directives for its protection. All five species of Marine Turtles nest on the Islands and many crustaceans, molluscs, gastropods and fish inhabit the natural sea grass beds.

We have no less than 117 species of coral here, and the coral reefs serve as the spawning grounds for the fisheries. Yet a small number of fishermen, in desperation at depleted catches due to the other problems, have looted the coral reefs to sell at market, simply to get money to survive. We need to make all the local people aware of the vital importance of coral reefs to the long term viability of the local fishing industry, let alone preserving the reefs themselves for posterity.

There is *so* much to be done here. We know it can't all happen at once, but with the help of donations from anyone who cares, we can make a start in rescuing as many children as possible from the fish work, and gradually get our vocational centre up and running. This in turn will benefit the fishing industry because it will lessen the cost and inconvenience of repairs, and meanwhile some children will escape altogether from the loop which takes their childhood and binds them to a future from which otherwise there may be no escape.

tamilnadu, indiaEnabling children to be successful in other ways is strengthening for the community as a whole and seeing the fulfilment of their children's potential will lift the spirit of this depressed and oppressed native fishing people. Dually the increased focus on environmental education will help to make the entire community more aware of what must be done to protect the environment in order to safeguard the fishing industry by which they live. And maybe the Government also, if enough publicity can be gained for their cause.

We have to start with the children, because they are the biggest losers in the present situation. With your help, we can give them free education, we can give them organised recreation, we can give them medical care and hope and the power to take definitive steps towards restoring the balance. Increasing the literacy of this community will make for a stronger voice in the longer term; 1000 uneducated child-fish-workers have no chance but in five to ten years time, these same children will be adults and if educated and with a strong grasp of environmental issues, they *will* be able to make a difference.

In the meantime the attention of the world must be drawn to the devastation being wreaked on this area by the industrial pollution, the illegal garnet sand mining which has taken away the beaches and the huge intensive-fishing ships that destroy the sea beds in the process of plundering so many of the fish stocks, let alone the problems that the nuclear reactor is likely to bring with it.

tamilnadu, indiaPractical steps against the sea erosion can be taken by involving the children in planting mangroves, which are said to help both in preventing erosion and in protecting the eco-system, but so much more needs to be done to protect both the bio-diversity of the area and the long term security of the fishing community whose very survival depends on these matters being addressed.

We can only work towards resolving all these problems with *your* help. We urgently need funds for the vocational centre for the children, for the workshop, for the teachers required, for the medical staff and equipment. If you can help in any of these respects, please e-mail Ms. Hemalatha on yazhini@sancharnet.in. Even the smallest donations are so much appreciated.

But we also need *publicity*. Even if you aren't able to help us financially, please send the Internet address of this page to everyone you know so that people across the world become aware of the crisis we are facing here. The islanders don't have any means of fighting what is happening, by themselves, and seemingly no-one else has been aware of what has been going on.

Hopefully the power of the Internet can make a difference - if everyone who reads this does something definite, by forwarding this page to friends, or by making a small donation, we *can* give these children a chance in life and also work towards safeguarding this whole area, which is surely what was always intended when it was declared a national biosphere reserve and directives were issued by the UN for its protection.

We urgently need your help *now* to draw worldwide attention to this crisis, and would very much welcome any support you can offer, to help us to put things right.

East Coast Research and Development is a public charitable trust, registered under the Tamilnadu Trust Act, Govt. Reg. 97/IV/02.

Bank Details: Indian Overseas Bank - Tuticorin Main Branch, Tamilnadu - A/c Name: East Coast Research and Development. A/c No: 19097.

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