BITSunami, a unique multi-crore effort initiated by the alumni of Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani aimed at taking rehabilitation well beyond ad hoc relief activities in two tsunami-affected villages of Nagappattinam district in Tamil Nadu, looks back with pride at the year that was and presents the work done in villages with a generous funding and partnering from socially -responsible corporates - Wipro, WeP Peripherals, TTK-LIG, Covansys, HP, Allsec, Kanbay, Sugal and Damani, RedHat, I-Soft and others.
The Origin: A few days after the disastrous tsunami of December 26, 2004, Sudeep Jain, IAS, an alumnus of BITS and ex-collector of Nagappattinam, appealed to the BITS Alumni Association's Chennai chapter, to participate in the rehabilitation effort. A two-day visit by half-a-dozen alumni to Pushpavanam and Naluvedapathy in Nagapattinam District, gave rise to the idea of a holistic rehabilitation of the two villages. A project report prepared by the core alumni team, sought to address the rural-urban divide through a multi-disciplinary approach. The Institutional impetus came from BITS Pilani Vice-Chancellor Dr. Venkateswaran's valuable advice. Planning and management is carried out exclusively by the alumni on pro bono basis. Members of the core team come from diverse professional backgrounds.
The corporates drew out relief plans in association with BITSunami to be implemented through BITSunami in these two villages.
Wipro Cares which is an initiative of Wipro and its employees to engage in community development, adopted Pushpavanam village, with the objective of making it a better place to live than what it was before the tsunami. In its effort to provide livelihood means to all needy people in the village, it has provided 10 boats and nets benefiting 40 fishermen families. Wipro cares developed 2.5 lakh saplings to be used for a massive coastal tree plantation. With the able assistance of BITSunami, Wipro Cares was able to help reclaim over hundred acres of salinated agricultural land, which was rendered useless because of the muck that the seawater brought in during the tsunami. This has been handed over to 95 small farmers, who have started growing crops.
Wipro Cares believes that both qualitative and quantitative inputs are necessary to make a difference. A good school, with proper toilets, drinking water, fine blackboard and comfortable benches and chairs will go a long way in ensuring good attendance. Keeping this in mind Wipro Cares is reconstructing seven schools and providing the infrastructure in these schools. For a child to continue to come to a school, learning should be made enjoyable. Wipro Cares believes that the community plays an important role in this. Wipro Cares will be interacting with the local community and the teachers to ensure that the learning is made enjoyable and the attendance in the schools will not drop. Three of the seven schools identified for reconstruction have been handed over to the community.
One of the major contributions of Wipro Cares is towards providing a 'sea wall', to minimize the damage from floods due to cyclones and the tsunami. On October 1 and October 2, 2005 in a unique corporate-community joint initiative, Bitsunami Trust, Wiproites and the District Administration of Nagapattinam joined the people of Pushpavanam to pay tribute to the tsunami victims by providing a tree wall by planting 2,54,464 saplings along the 2 km village coastal line. The trees were planted in 24 hours, breaking all prevailing records. This mega coastal tree plantation is expected to be recognized by the Guinness. The saplings will be maintained for one year to ensure their sustainability. The BITSunami Trust is exploring the feasibility of capitalising on this project by setting up a biomass-based power generation unit.
Wipro Cares has launched an housing programme in Naluvedapathy and has undertaken to build 34 houses that were damaged in the tsunami. The house construction has been entrusted to Padmashree Mrs Krishnammal Jagannathan, a Sarvodaya leader of the same region and Secretary of "Land for Freedom of Tillers (LAFTI)" a voluntary organization in Nagapattinam district.
At WeP Peripheral the emphasis is on the development of a model community, the aim was to provide sustained growth and livelihood rather than just a return to the conditions prevailing before the tragedy. Long term involvement and commitment was the prime focus in rehabilitating and developing Naluvedapathy & Pushpavanam village community in a holistic and comprehensive manner. WeP positioned an employee in Naluvedapathy to interact with the villagers and assess the needs of the victims and plan activities that could be undertaken in the rehabilitation initiative. WeP sponsored distribution of fishing nets for tsunami victims in Naluvedapathy to help them regain their livelihood. The tsunami had resulted in filling the freshwater ponds in the village with saline water. WeP facilitated desalination of 30 ponds in the village, to help the villagers regain their sources of clean water for agricultural purposes.
Only 10% of the population has access to safe sanitation in Naluvedapathy. WeP has facilitated construction of toilet facilities for girls and boys in the five schools in Naluvedapathy to initiated awareness on sanitation and hygiene habits. This was also aimed at checking the drop-out rate of girl students from these schools.
Construction of infrastructural facilities in schools is one of the first measures to enhance education in Naluvedapathy schools. WeP facilitated the construction of two school buildings with the mid day meal kitchen in the village. WeP also facilitated in construction of drinking water facilities in all the schools.
Although 100% of the children in Naluvedapathy attend school, perhaps because both their parents go to work and also because the mid day meal programme is an incentive - education is not a priority among the people and the drop out rate in higher classes is high. WeP has taken an initiative to make learning interesting in the schools. To get an understanding of the present education levels and assess the support required by the teaching facilities in schools educational workshops are organized in the schools once in every two months.
TTK-LIG Limited is building at Naluvedapathy a Calamity Relief Shelter cum Community Centre equipped with communication and public address and warning systems at cost of Rs. 40 lakhs. This multi-purpose centre will be managed by the village community itself. The cattle of the villagers can also be harboured safely in the ground level of this shelter. The building has been designed considering the topography of the place, accessibility, wind velocity, soil condition, distance from coast line, etc.
Three houses are being built at a cost of Rs. 5 lakhs by Sugal and Damani in Naluvedapathy village.
The BITSunami trust marked one year of its existence with a function for which the district collector Dr J Radhakrishnan was the chief guest in Naaluvedapathy village on Thursday, February 9, 2006. The trust handed over 3 school buildings including one computer center and distributed science kits and Tamil learning kits to all the schools.
"To dream anything that you want to dream. That's the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed". In the year goneby, BITSunami has indeed proved its trust to the corporates as well as society at large and has made the alma mater proud.