Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar established Ananda Marga to help all human beings develop spiritually. However, people suffering absolute poverty or devastated by natural calamities are mentally unable to meditate or do other spiritual practices. Hence Ananda Marga’s affiliated relief branch AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) operates disaster relief operations and development projects to help those in need. Its sister organization, AMURTEL (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team Ladies), primarily focuses on the needs of women and children who typically suffer the brunt of calamities and poverty.
One of the few voluntary organizations of Third World origin, AMURT was established in 1970 and incorporated in the USA in 1985. It is a non-profit NGO – formally recognized as such by the United Nations through its Department of Public Information – having charitable and tax-exempt status in the US, UK and various other countries.
Its objectives are to aid the poor and underpriviledged of the world through disaster relief in the event of natural or man-made disasters, and long-term community development and rehabilitation projects.
In pursuit of these goals AMURT has maintained a long-established working relationship with the Red Cross and numerous other disaster relief and development organizations.
AMURT and AMURTEL have undertaken numerous disaster relief responses over the past five years including Indonesia, USA, India, Haiti, and Myanmar.
On January 12, 2010 at a few minutes before five in the afternoon, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, registering 7.0 on the Richter scale. At least 240,000 people died as buildings everywhere collapsed, and more than 300,000 were left injured and one million homeless. Considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti was just beginning to recover from three crushing hurricanes in 2008 when this most recent catastrophe hit.
The worst destruction was in the capital city of Port au Prince, where AMURT and AMURTEL both run schools. With teams already active in the community, we were able to begin relief operations hours after the earthquake, and have continued providing food, water, medical care, and basic supplies to over 20,000 survivors.
AMURT is now part of a coalition of local NGOs that serves close to 100,000 people by utilizing community organizers and linking them with humanitarian supplies directly. This system of community power is rapidly becoming the most effective way of ensuring food and other goods being distributed by the large international agencies reach all in need, especially the most vulnerable.
Surrounded by tremendous needs everywhere, our AMURT and AMURTEL teams divided up tasks. Both teams temporarily turned their schools into medical clinics for the local communities, staffed with volunteer doctors and nurses, and sent out mobile medical units to outlying communities.
AMURT’s medical team provided urgent care in the first two weeks after the earthquake for up to 100 people a day. The team also networked with multiple international teams to provide urgent care to many of the spontaneous camps, occupying any open space in the capital city.
AMURTEL focused on immediate assistance, distributing food, water, tarps and any other supplies available from international agencies. Every day our community outreach team met with community leaders to assess ongoing needs.
AMURT and AMURTEL has developed a very strong child protection strategy in close cooperation with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Kinder Not Hilfe (KNH) and Save the Children. Save the Children trained five organizations in trauma counseling for children affected by disasters at the AMURTEL center in Boudon and AMURT coordinated with Save the Children in setting up 20 Integrated Health and Education Centers (Child-Friendly Spaces) throughout Port au Prince. As we have learned from many other disaster situations, it is critical to provide children with a safe environment that encourages them to feel a sense of normalcy and, through art, drama and play, begin to overcome the effects of the traumas they have experienced.
Following the devastating earthquake-cum-tsunami that struck Indonesia and other South Asian and South-East Asian countries in December 2004, AMURT focused its relief efforts in Aceh, Indonesia and Tamil Nadu, India.
Over a 3-year period AMURT and AMURTEL participated in the emergency relief and rehabilitation phases of rebuilding Aceh province where 168,000 died. With grants of US $3.2 million received from AMURT chapters worldwide and from international aid agencies, over 25 projects were undertaken in the fields of education, early recovery, livelihood, shelter, trauma healing and children’s welfare. AMURT accessed the readily available local talent and resources to provide people centered and efficient services with a low overhead budget. Its multi-faceted building complex for physically challenged children has become a showcase for high level facilities provided to children often neglected and stigmatized for their physical and mental handicaps.
Following the earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in May 2007 AMURT and AMURTEL teams hastened to provide emergency relief. In an 18-month operation, with $600,000 from international aid agencies, AMURT and AMURTEL completed 13 projects in the emergency and rehabilitation phases of the relief response. Included in these was the construction of 35 temporary primary schools out of local materials in conjunction with UNICEF.
AMURT/AMURTEL volunteers provided timely trauma counseling services to survivors of Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans in August 2005. Working in three evacuation shelters set up in Louisiana, our four-member team cared for 375 victims in the initial two-month recovery phase.
Following the 2004 tsunami, AMURT disposed of 322 bodies in the first week following the disaster in Keerakolaichal in Nagapattinam district. In the rehabilitation phase, AMURT constructed a children’s memorial park to honour the victims of the devastating tsunami.
AMURT and AMURTEL volunteers served more than 10,000 people in 12 relief camps in the localities of Madhepura, Saharsa, Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Bhagalpur in Bihar province, following the worst flooding in the area in 100 years in August 2008.
Similar camps were set up in Orissa and Bengal in September 2007 following monsoon flooding that left over 300,000 people in need of emergency aid.
AMURT/AMURTEL have been in the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar since shortly after cyclone Nargis killed 100,000 people in May 2008. With assistance from KindeNotHilfe of Germany, AMURT carried out emergency relief distribution to 6,645 households in 42 communities and erected 4 child care centers for 197 children in four villages in 2008. Currently AMURT is constructing 290 homes in five villages of the Delta through a community-based approach. Five new primary schools for 528 children in five villages are also presently being
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