Nagapattinam, November 2006: Thangaselvi is now 12 years old and lives in the village of Nambiyar Nager in the district of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.
Father Parsuram Ezhlumalai 40 years
Mother Puyal Rani died at 38 years
Brother 1# Raji 21 years
Brother 2# Ravichandran 18 years
Brother 3# Murugesan 16 years
Brother 4# Manikandan 14 years
Daughter 1# Thangaselvi (subject) 12 years
Daughter 2# Ramya 6 years
Sister in law Elavarasi 22 years
In the tsunami, Thangaselvi and her family lost their mother and much of their house was destroyed, leaving the father to look after the two girls and three boys. After receiving compensation for the loss of his wife, the father took to drinking and then disappeared from the village, eventually spending much of the money.
When I visited the family a year ago, the father arrived at the home, the first time in many months; he was drunk and visibly distressed. For the whole of the evening he created unrest, further de-stabilizing the family unit, he tried to fight with the eldest son who challenged his behavior. He kept going up to the photograph of his wife and screaming, the children were obviously upset but stayed by his side. The next day he had left again and has not returned since, although they are aware of his whereabouts, they have little desire to have him back into the family home.
The eldest son of the family, Raji, decided that he would have to take charge of the situation and married a young girl from the village Elavarasi. 22. He felt that by being married, his new wife would become a substitute mother for the rest of the family and therefore create some kind of stability for his younger siblings.
The eldest brother is a fisherman, like his father, but finds it difficult to make ends meet as he is now responsible for food and shelter for the whole family, he goes fishing for fifteen days of the month and has his own boat, but says that since the tsunami the catch has decreased dramatically. Raji says that the average income for the family per month is Rs1500, and with this he has to clothe and feed the family.
As well as her new family unit, Thangaselvi’s has had her school friends and teachers to turn to, many of her friends, eight in total, had lost their mothers. The teachers also played an important part to their recovery and seemed to provide a matriarchal support system for the sisters and with the support of UNICEF’s DIET (distress Institution education training) project, the teachers were better able to help the children over-come the loss of their mother and regain some sense of normality to their lives.
She is now in third grade and her teacher K.Sumathi, along with the head mistress A.Sampuravarthani, feel that she has made amazing progress in her school work as well as socially. She is a very hard working girl at school as well as at home, with higher than normal grades and a large circle of friends. Her confidence radiates as she talks about wanting to become a teacher at the local school….math’s is her favorite subject and one day she will become a math’s teacher.
UNICEF has contributed in many ways, as well as the DIET training, they have received training in sanitation, new desks, benches and sports equipment.