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UUA President Visits Holdeen Partners In India, Offers Aid

recovery

(Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; Feb. 16, 2001) UUA President John Buehrens, currently in Ahmedabad, India, reported that he was deeply moved by the way in which partner groups of the Holdeen India Program have been central to organizing an effective response to the devastating earthquake of January 26. Latest local estimates are that as many as 70,000 people were killed and nearly 600,000 rendered homeless.

Holdeen partner groups such as SEWA of Gujarat -- the Self-Employed Women's Association -- had programs operating throughout the affected region. The Disaster Mitigation Institute of Gujarat, another UU Holdeen India Program Partner, joined other Holdeen partners in working with the government to make disaster response efforts more effective. "Our partners have been key in telling Indian and international agencies what aid will be most effective," said Buehrens. He, UUA Holdeen India Program Director Katherine Sreedhar and UUA International Relations Director Olivia Holmes, met with leaders and organizers of SEWA, and visited devastated areas in two districts, including villages where no building has been left standing. SEWA's office in Bhuj, the town at the epicenter of the quake, was destroyed. Those working with SEWA have reported that some 48,000 of its 200,000 women members lost their homes, but only about 80 members lost their lives. Many deaths were in multi-story buildings, not in the huts of the poor.

building"Early reports, even by the government of India, ignored much of the rural devastation," says Buehrens. "It took our Holdeen partners to help them see the scope of the problem and to try to redirect aid efforts beyond donor-driven concerns to the real concerns of people on the ground. Long term response requires more than relief," he said. "More than medicine and hospitals, or food aid, or used clothing, it requires the things our partners work on -- livelihood for the poor, equity in how aid and resources are used, and efforts to rebuild housing."

The UUA Holdeen India Program is providing up to $100,000 in special grants to its partners in Gujarat. The Rissho Kosei-kai of Japan, a partner of the UUA in international interfaith work, has contributed another $25,000. Donations now exceeding $30,000 have also been received from many individuals and UU congregations.

Over the weekend of Feb. 9-11, Holmes and Buehrens, with a larger delegation from the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, attended the 101st annual meeting of the Unitarian Union of North East India, held at the village of Nongkrem, in Meghalaya State. The 10,000 Unitarians of that region are primarily Khasi tribal people who have very limited resources as farmers. Hearing that their North American guests were going to Gujarat, they took a special collection, raising over 10,700 rupees (some $250) to take as aid funds. Buehrens and Holmes presented the gift to the group of SEWA workers with whom they met as a token of the spiritual solidarity, as well as material aid, extended by Unitarian and UU friends far and near.

The UUA delegation spent part of February 14 visiting the SEWA Bank and its affiliate, the Women's Housing Trust, which will play a key role in the rebuilding effort in Gujarat. On Feb.16th, following their visit to Ahmedabad and Bhuj, they visited villages in Surendranagar district, west of Ahmedabad. Buehrens and Holmes return to the United States on February 20.

suppliesThe UUA's program to bring aid to the Ahmedabad region and to the Holdeen India partners, is continuing. Funds can be mailed to the UUA at the address below. Make checks payable to "UUA-HIP" or "UUA-Holdeen India Program" and note on the check: "Emergency Aid to India."

c/o Unitarian Universalist Association
P.O. Box 3054
Boston, MA 02241-3054.

womanThe UUA's Holdeen India Program was created from trusts intended to assist the most impoverished groups in India, particularly in the areas of "maternity, child welfare, education and migration expenses." To accomplish these purposes in India today, the Fund is committed to enabling these most vulnerable groups to improve their lives and change their social and economic conditions in directions of their own choosing. The Fund makes grants to registered voluntary Indian organizations that share similar aims and are working with disadvantaged groups in their own efforts to address the problems and issues they identify as critical to them. The UUA's Holdeen India Program was created from trusts intended to assist the most impoverished groups in India, particularly in the areas of "maternity, child welfare, education and migration expenses." To accomplish these purposes in India today, the Fund is committed to enabling these most vulnerable groups to improve their lives and change their social and economic conditions in directions of their own choosing. The Fund makes grants to registered voluntary Indian organizations that share similar aims and are working with disadvantaged groups in their own efforts to address the problems and issues they identify as critical to them.

Further information on the fate of the Holdeen India partners and aid work connected with supporting their efforts will be distributed as available. Click here for more information on the Holdeen India Program.

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