“I used to carry my child wherever I went. It was extremely exhausting for me. During the floods, we felt really helpless carrying our child who is both physically and mentally challenged,” says Radha, mother of Nirmala. Nirmala, a 13-year-old girl from Manamathi village in Thirukazhukunram block of Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu, has multiple disabilities; she suffers from intellectual and locomotor impairment of profound severity. The impairment has made her unable to walk, move around or talk, thereby making her completely dependent on her mother to take care of her. Her father and grandfather, both daily-wage agricultural labourers, are the main breadwinners of the household, earning around Rs. 200-300 per day whenever they find work.
When the floods hit Tamil Nadu in December 2015, Nirmala’s family was residing in a house with thatched roof and mud walls near a lake. The floods caused the lake to overflow, resulting in flood water nearly submerging their house, forcing them to take shelter elsewhere.
The Tamil Nadu floods in 2015, we all know, caused unimaginable havoc, claiming over 500 lives and causing total or partial damage to the houses of more than 30 lakh families. ActionAid India had plunged into action soon after the disaster with emergency support and recovery efforts to help the most vulnerable populations overcome the impact of the disaster and rebuild their lives. In this context, ActionAid India, with support from Cipla Foundation, started constructing 25 flood-resilient houses in partnership with Society For Rights of All Women with Disability (SFRAWD) and Centre for Community Services (CCS) in Tuticorin and Kancheepuram districts. All the houses are disabled-friendly with provision of ramps. Inauguration of four of those houses was held on July 16. During this programme, Nirmala was also handed over a house; it has a hall, a bedroom, a bathroom and kitchen space.
Women and children with disability face multiple vulnerabilities, with their situation just worsening in times of disaster. Our post-flood initiatives in Tamil Nadu are, therefore, focused towards ensuring rights to shelter, and safe and dignified life for women and girls with disability.