When Cyclone Phailin hit the Eastern Indian states of Odisha (formerly Orissa) and Andhra Pradesh on Saturday October 9th with winds of 140 mph, everyone feared the worst.
Fifteen years ago, a storm of similar power, Cyclone Orissa, killed 10,000 people.
But this time, the government took serious precautionary measures by evacuating 900,000 people to shelters. And CNN reported just 21 deaths by October 14th, when the Cyclone had faded.
Still, the situation is serious. The Deccan Herald reported on October 16th that the death toll had risen to 36. Many villagers have lost their simple mud and bamboo homes, whole communities are flooded, and crops have been destroyed. Meanwhile people are isolated by blocked roads and broken power and phone lines.
To provide aid, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation — which delivers healthy vegetarian meals to 1.2 million underprivileged school children around India every day — joined forces with ISKCON Juhu and Chowpatty in Mumbai.
A team arrived in Remuna, North Odisha on the evening of Tuesday October 15th, headed by Achyutananda Das. A celibate monk from Chowpatty’s Radha-Gopinath Mandir, Achyutananda is also a qualified medical doctor and an experienced spiritual psychiatrist.
“We will be setting up a kitchen at the small ISKCON center in Remuna, where the famous Ksira Chora Gopinath temple is located,” he says. “We’ll have a volunteer crew of around fifty devotees. We will be constantly cooking kichari, and we’ll hire three or four vehicles, and travel around the Balasore District of Odisha distributing it in different villages.”
North Odisha is particularly affected by flooding. The team is expected to remain there in the Balasore District for seven to eight days days, and plans to feed five to six thousand people twice a day, every day.
Once the initial team has assessed the situation on the ground, they may also call in devotee doctors from Mumbai’s Bhaktivedanta Hospital, who will arrive with medical supplies.
Travelling to one village per day, devotees will feed the inhabitants, provide medical assistance if needed, and more.
“We’ll give them some Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and some classes over a sound system,” Achyutananda says. “So there will also be spiritual activity. And we will give them some emotional help — spend time with them, talk to them about Krishna, talk about Bhagavad-gita. We want to benefit them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
While Southern Odisha has actually been hit worse, and has more property damage than North Odisha, devotees began their relief work in the North because it has a solid base in the form of the Remuna ISKCON Center, and a cooperative team of local devotee volunteers who know the area well.
However after the first seven or eight days, the aid team will assess if they have enough manpower and funds to provide help in Southern Odisha and adjacent states too.
“This is the first time ISKCON Food Relief Foundation has been involved in disaster relief work,” Achyutananda says. “And I am very happy, enthusiastic and eager to help them extend Srila Prabhupada’s grace and compassion to people in need.”
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