Thousands upon thousands of fishermen lost their boats in the tsunami, thereby losing the one means they had of supporting themselves and their families. We soon realized that simply giving them relief supplies was not enough. Empowering them to become self-supporting once again became one of the biggest needs of the hour.
According to an initial government estimate, more than one lakh (100,000) fishermen lost their boats. Where were we to start? It was at this point that the concept of a “Community Boat Project” came into being. Simply put, this project involved providing fiberglass fishing boats to affected villages to be used jointly by the fishermen for the common good of their villages. As we developed this concept with the help of local NGOs, lawyers, fishermen, and the boat-manufacturing industry, concerned companies and individuals began coming forward, providing the funding for this innovative, yet practical and workable project. As the old saying goes, “Where God guides, He also provides!”
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give a village fishing boats, and you feed them for life.”—That little adaptation of the famous Chinese proverb has become our motto for this project that has provided 154 boats to fishermen in the districts of Kanyakumari, Ramnad, Villupuram, Cuddalore, and Nagapattinam.
The joy in the air was tangible on the seashore at a village called Thanthiyarayankuppam. This was the first village in Tamil Nadu where we were able to launch our “Community Boat” Programme. Five brand-new fiberglass boats fitted with shiny new 10 hp engines sat on the beach awaiting the first of many journeys into the ocean. Each of these 30-foot boats can take 5–7 fishermen out to sea at a time, and today these boats represent hope and a new start in life to the fisher folk who lost so much in the tsunami.
The boat launch was preceded by a cultural programme at which the villagers performed a variety of cultural programmes. The headman of the village then gave a touching speech as he thanked those who had made it possible for them to return to the sea again. As we listened to his speech we realized how beautiful it is that God often cares for people through people, and we marveled at how wonderfully this project had come together. While our Family India units around India approached concerned individuals and companies throughout India to support this project, our teams on the ground worked around the clock identifying the neediest villages, placing orders for the boats, and getting them made.
Going out to sea with the fishermen and reeling in the fish was a wonderful experience. The entire village gathered around as the boat came back in, and we ended the day enjoying a delicious fish curry that the village residents prepared.
Originally Published in 2008.