"You helped us when the tsunami ravaged us. We have come to return the favor."
This declaration came straight from the hearts of fishermen from Kovalam, as they set out to rescue beleaguered flood victims in nearby Chennai (Madras). Unusually heavy monsoon rains had breached rivers and caused widespread flooding, resulting in the mandatory evacuation of over 150,000 residents of the West Tambaram area of Chennai.
A year ago, this group of 36 fishermen had received assistance from Project SHARE here in Chennai. Now these same fishermen used their 30-foot fishing boats to rescue over 1000 people, pregnant women, newborns, the sick, aged and physically challenged.
These fishermen are now heroes in the entire locality. Of their efforts, the secretary of the local Lions Club said, "The gesture of the fishermen was heartening. They did not accept a single paisa (cent) from the residents, some of whom willingly offered a few hundred rupees. Only after a lot of pressure, they even accepted food from us."
To give some background to these selfless words and actions we need to go back to December 27th, 2004. It was the day after the tsunami and we were traveling throughout the worst affected villages along the coast to survey the damage. Things were still out of control. Fear, apprehension and uncertainty gripped everyone we met.
At one of the larger fishing villages, 24 year-old Sundar, approached us and in broken English said, "Sir, many people come and offer help, but no one returns. We need 1,200 liters of engine oil, lubricants and fuel to service our boat engines. If we don't act soon, they will be irreparable. Please help us!"
With the timely help of sponsors, within two days SHARE had delivered the needed oil and lubricants to these fishermen of Kovalam. Sundar later expressed that this single act of keeping their word, and returning with the help needed, inspired them to do all they could to help others in their time of need. The rest is history.