Women leaders in fostering community resilience…

Disasters do not discriminate, but unless inclusion rightly mainstreamed humanitarian assistance to affected population may lead to discrimination and result in hampered community resilience, retard recovery and tearing social fabric.

It was towards the end of the second week of November in 2019, Neera was chewing a mouthful of betel leaves, squatting on the doorstep leaning on one of the wooden poles that were holding the tin roof of her wooden house she put up with the support her husband in the previous year. She knew the season is going to break and the tiny land sandwiched between the low rice fields, and the irrigation canal and the river, where her tiny wooden hut was going to be underwater again, and as most of the time, her shelter, livestock and the few utensils she owns would be pitilessly taken away by the raging waters. But this time, she will have to face it alone. Her husband could hardly move. She walked in and began to pray to almighty Allah, and she determined to make sure the next morning she will leave the home to a safe place. But the rains were ruthless and the following morning she woke hearing water under her bed. She waded out and she saw nothing but water till the horizon, and the water was swelling. 

Neera Lebber Kolisanvibi came to the land where she had her food children live in semi-permanent shelters in 1968 following her marriage, she was only ten years old girl and his husband was 23 years old. She barely had her “girl life” childhood and mothered four children year after the other. She endeavoured the hardships of not only of a child-marriage but also being a minority Muslim woman. She raised her children, raised the livestock, made sure food on the table when her husband returned from his work, tired and hungry; he worked as a labourer for over 50 years and now laying on the bed with partial paralysis. 

Neera’s village is named “five houses” as there are five houses for the whole village: the one of Neera’s where she lives with her husband’s and the houses of her children. And every year, the Northeastern monsoon hit their village hard, oftentimes resulting in complete property and livestock loss. 2019 was no exception in terms on the loss of property and the damage, but the heat of explosions on the day of Easter had affected the social supporting system she used to have; most of the people looked at Muslims with a doubtfulness. She knew, that though she could rebuild in the previous times, this time would be harder. 

Even though they were evacuated to relief-centres by the disaster management centre of the government, Neera felt, isolated and helpless: she wanted to talk to someone, to be listened, she wanted to tell her grievances on her goats and chicken, and losses of shelter and household stuff. 

A few hours after they were offered a cooked hot meal by the government, the Red Cross Volunteers came to see them. Neera was feeing her husband when a girl in Red Cross jacket approached her. 

“She was kind and did not hesitate to sit next to me and ask how are you” Neera melt into hot tears. “She talked to me for sometimes, she listened to all my worries, I felt so relieving. Red Cross provided me with a Kaftan, a sleeping mat and, my husband with a Sarong, since the morning were with the wet cloths. Neera humbly thanked the team. 

She returned home with the family after the floods subsided and found her home taken away by the floods, and the livestock was no more there, she sought sheer in her elder daughter’s house, but this time, unlike previous times, there was no hope for rebuilding. One morning Neera began to clean some debris of her broken hut, trying to find some usable things at least kitchen utensils, and then, one girl and two boys in Red Cross jackets appeared before her. They gave her a kitchen Utensils and she nodded and thanked them. They also took her information and the family details and went back. The next day morning they came back and broke a piece of news that Neera could nor resist crying. “You will be getting a cash grant of 30,00 rupees” she fell on her knees and thanked Almighty Allah- Allah is good. Tears of happiness ran along her cheeks, and Neera turned back and leaned on her elder daughters shoulder. “She was worried about her life and my father’s life, and she was thinking day and night about that,” the daughter said. “Thank you, now I know my husband will not starve, and I will not trouble my daughters living under their roof,” Neera said wiping her tears; behind the tearful eyes, there was a determined woman. 

When the Red Cross team visited her after the first half of the grant was issued, she had already bought a goat. She was still living in her daughter’s house but more hopeful in putting up a new hut and buy some chicken. “This one will give me babies in three months, I will buy a few hens and a rooster when I get the next portion. I also have a plan to put up a new hut in that high land. And I will not then encounter the same again the next year” Neera added with confident. 

After three months when Red Cross teams visited Neera, she was preparing the meals for her husband, the mud-walls of her new hut had raised up to roof level, and there was a coocorokoo fused into the air. Noticing people with Red Cross Jackets, Neera came running to welcome the team. “As-salamu Alaykum” she welcomed the team with a wide smile and invited them inside the house. “One minute, I have something to show you” she hurried into the house like a girl and came back with two goat cubs on her both hands. “She gave me two babies”, Neera proudly said. “grace to the support given by the Red Cross I could rebuild my life, thank you so much for that”. Neera added. 

There are hundred thousands of Neera’s in Sri Lanka, in South Asia, and around the world, who are differently affected by indiscriminate disasters because of first being women, then being elderly women, thirdly being women belong to minority groups, fourthly but not finally being a victim of a child-marriage. Today Neera, in the absence of her husband’s active role in the village, leading her community, setting an example of “fostered resilience” in the face of recurrent disasters. “Flood will happen in every season, but we have to live in them, giving us money instead of tends allowed me to decide and prioritise my needs’ and I could jumpstart my life again and do something sustaining” she gathered all wrinkles of her face and wore a smile of power and strength. 

Neera’s story shows us “cash as a dignified response intervention” could empower the communities and build solid bridges between “Response” and “early recovery and recovery” and “foster resilience” through the repose activities carried out at the very aftermath of the disasters. In the face of recurrent disasters communities learn to live with the disasters and adapt news ways in which they cope with dynamics of disasters, and “the response” in the context of recurrent disasters of similar scales will significantly contribute to faster recovery and fostering resilience. 






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