As Uttarakhand reeled under the onslaught of floods, an anatomy professor at the Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Government Medical College, who also happens to be an Art of Living faculty, started relief operations in Srinagar and surrounding areas. His name is Dr Harish Chaturvedi.
"The devastation was alarming. Each one of us had to help in this crisis. I started relief operations from 18th June 2013 which are continuing till date," says Dr Harish.
The team included his wife (also a doctor), Dr Monika Pathania (an Art of Living teacher) and many other volunteers who first met the Nagar Palika Adyaksh, SDM Srinagar and various other NGOs who were involved in relief work, to facilitate and expedite the operations.
When Dr Harish reached Srinagar on June 23rd, he realized that there was no food at night for the busloads of evacuees that came every day. Together with some Art of Living volunteers, he started a Langar seva at night, from 7 pm to 11 pm. The freshly prepared hot food was like nectar to the lips of hungry and tired pilgrims. For those survivors who were not able to reach the Langar due to damaged roads, the volunteers walked to Sirobhgarh to distribute tea and biscuits in the morning.
Under his guidance, a team of Art of Living doctors, which included DR Monika Pathania and Dr Vyas, set up a medical relief camp at Gauchar Airbase to provide immediate medical care to the evacuees.They also sent relief material in the Indian Air Force helicopters or private choppers for air-drops to the affected areas like Kedar Valley.
Soon the relief operations spread to surrounding villages that had been affected by the tragedy including Silli, Chandrapuri,Vijayanagar, Agastyamuni, Ookimath and adjoining Villages, Pauri and adjoining Villages, Guptkashi, Kalimath & adj villages, Sonprayag & adj villages and Triyuginarayan & adj Villages.
Everywhere they went, the team knew that immediate action was of vital importance for the very survival of the villagers. In Silli, Dr Harish set up a medical camp and relief distribution camp for more than 80 villagers. Similar medical camps were set up and relief material provided in Vijayanagar, Agastyamuni, Ukimath and adjoining Villages, Pauri and Guptkashi.
They were the first volunteers to reach Chandrapuri, that had been devastated and almost entirely cut off as the road network leading to the village had been severely damaged. There, they set up a medical and relief distribution camp – distributing medicines, food, blankets, torches and other things to more than 60 villagers. The team had braved an alternate route of 10 kms to the village, which included trekking for more than 3 km on foot.
"As the Chandrapuri market and village lie on two sides of the Mandakini river, a bridge was the only connectivity for the villagers which was washed away by floods. Therefore, our alternative route was Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Durgadhar, Tilwara, Mayali, Siddha saud, Basukedar, crossing villages of Bashti, Bheeron, Pali, Dalsinghi, Arkhund , Kund, Neli and Chandrapuri. It was a difficult trek across mud, stones and flowing water with the earth giving away under our feet," recollects Dr Harish.
He adds, "Being a doctor, I know that working in difficult circumstances takes a toll on the body and mind. But we were able to withstand the severe physical and mental duress due to our regular practice of meditation and pranayama which enable the body to remain healthy and fit, and reduced levels of stress on the mind."
More medical camps and relief camps were set up in Sonprayag & Triyugi Narayan and 12-15 villages around them, where people were not getting food grains due to road blocks between Guptakashi and Phata and between Phata and Sonprayag.Everywhere they were met by families who had lost their members working in Kedar ghati. Distribution of relief was provided to more than 100 families.Volunteers carried rice & flour weighing up to 20 kg on their backs & shoulders, to those families where women and children were the only survivors.
Dr Harish and his team also travelled 105 km via alternate routes to reach Kalimath, Neli and Kund, the routes to which had been cut off, clearing stones and boulders that blocked the way. In many places they were helped by government arranged JCB machines (heavy earth moving vehicles) and by the villagers.
Praising the spirit of local Uttarakhand people, Dr Harish said, "At many places we were helped by villagers en-route in clearing the roads. These are people who have been directly or indirectly affected, who today are not at all equipped for the future. But they worked for several hours with our team to manually clear the roads because they know that this relief team and material is needed in the villages ahead."
He also speaks of heart-warming stories of villagers, who even after the devastation, have not lost their courage and their will to fight. They are making efforts to return to normalcy and not giving up hope.
With the rescue operations by the brave heroes of the Indian Defense forces completed, Uttarakhand faces the long-term need of restoring and re-establishing itself. Dr. Harish highlights that the inhabitants of Uttarakhand are facing acute shortage of the three main indicators of quality of life - food, medical facility and livelihood. Ration is running out in most villages in the remote areas.Fever and infections are going untreated as no medical facility is available. Those who used to work in the surrounding areas do not have employment anymore. Damaged school buildings and the the migration of teachers to other areas have caused severe disruption in the education.
"We are continuing with medical and relief operations and are now focusing on the vital need of rehabilitating the stricken villages in these areas. Roads, food and medicine are the immediate needs. Long term needs are re-establishing livelihood, reviving education and releasing mental trauma," stated Dr Harish. Also being a Blessing teacher, Dr Harish blessed the local public and prayed for the welfare of the flood affected people of Uttarakhand.
Release of mental trauma, is a very important aspect in the aftermath of this catastrophe. This has been recognized as an integral part of any re-building exercise after a disaster. Dr Harish and his teams are utilizing the Art of Living techniques of trauma relief workshops, meditation and counseling to help the survivors. In these tough times Dr Harish recalls, "I never missed my Sudarshan Kriya and Padam Sadhna, come what may. It was this strength that kept me going."
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