Cyclone Ockhi had claimed 144 lives from Vallavilai and seven other parishes under the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram.
Thiruvananthapuram: Fr Darwin Peter prefers to stay back rather than return to Rome so that he can carry on with his initiative to rehabilitate fishermen families who have been bereaved in coastal villages. Cyclone Ockhi had claimed 144 lives from Vallavilai and seven other parishes under the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram. Only 12 bodies of fishermen belonging to Vallavilai, Neerodi, Marthandanthurai, Eraviputhanthurai, Chinnathurai, Thoothor, Poothurai and Erayumanthurai were recovered. Fr Peter, 44, the parish priest of Vallavilai St. Mary’s Church, is doing what no Government does.
Vallavilai is a fishing hamlet which is on the Kerala border, 38 km from Vellayambalam Bishop House in Thiruvananthapuram. Clad in a white linen shirt, denim jeans and sandals, Fr. Darwin can pass off as a ‘cool guy’ in your neighbourhood. But the moment people start pouring in to his office room for blessings, paltry donations and other services, realisation dawns that the ‘cool guy’ is indeed the parish priest at Vallavilai whom everyone considers as an incarnation of God.
They have reasons to consider him so as here is one priest who has come up with free training in stitching to the widows of all the 33 fishermen belonging to Vallavilai who perished in the deep sea in Cyclone Ockhi. Son of Peter Manuel, a former fisherman and Ances Mary, Fr. Darwin has also formed an Ockhi fund where 50 paisa will be donated from each fisherman’s catch of Rs 1,000 (Re 1 will be going to the St. Mary’s Church fund) and the computerised accounts are managed by his office staff systematically.
Fr. Darwin had served in Rome for eight years where he got his PhD in ‘Image of fish and fishermen in the Eucharistic Liturgy’ from St. Anselm, an international Benedictine University in Rome and even got a gold medal.
On Wednesday, 180 students who have completed graduation, engineering and management courses attended a job fair where several IT companies had promised jobs under the aegis of the Employment directorate of the Tamil Nadu Government. Fr. Darwin has already submitted a Detailed Project Report on having a fishing net manufacturing unit worth Rs 1.5 crore to cover the 1100 fishing boats from the eight parishes. 20 women from Vallavilai will be given jobs in this unit where a private NGO in Chennai has promised to provide the machinery within the next few months.
“In Vallavilai alone, there are 182 big fishing boats where a majority of the fishermen catch sharks and tuna from the deep sea as far as Oman, Diego Garcia and South Africa. Each boat costs between Rs 70 lakh – Rs 80 lakh and a majority of them had lost their fishing boats in Cyclone Ockhi”, said Fr. Darwin, who originally belongs to Erayumanthurai parish, to DC.
Fr. Darwin’s noble gesture doesn’t end there. He went to all the private schools in Vallavilai and spoke to the management and got them to waive off a year’s school fees of Rs 20,000 – Rs 30,000 each for 11 students in the parish. Sensing Fr. Darwin’s dedication to the parishioners, a local private school run by Marthoma Church has promised free education for life to a seven-year-old boy and his sister who lost their father to Cyclone Ockhi.
Sensing that the family members’ morale was very low after losing their loved ones, Fr. Darwin contacted IMS Retreat Centre at Punnapra in Aalappuzha and Rajagiri School of Social Sciences, Kochi, and they came to Vallavilai and provided meditation and counselling services.
He also held seven medical camps where doctors and nuns from Chennai, Dindigul and Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Pala provided their services. Different varieties of rice, chanadhal, potato, onion, pulses, coriander, chilly and turmeric powders, coffee, tea, sugar, maida, tamarind etc were provided to the parishioners.
Father Davis Chiramel of Kidney Federation of India donated one container of rice and green gram and Social Service Society, Kollam and Thrissur donated 20 sacks of rice for each of the eight parishes in Kanyakumari district.
The list is endless and the Kerala Government should take a leaf out from Fr. Darwin’s initiatives and emulate it in the coastal areas of Kerala where over 100 fishermen died in the State in the cyclone.
45-year-old Amaladas who lost her 50-year-old husband on November 26 last year, on the eve of Cyclone Ockhi hitting the Tamil Nadu and Kerala coasts, told DC that initially Fr. Darwin provided Rs 10,000 to all the families in Vellavilai from the Government fund.
“Sadly, we don’t want food, but we wish our husbands had come back. Fr. Darwin has been providing Rs 3000 since the last two months to all the families in Vallavilai who lost their breadwinners. This is not enough, but still something is better than nothing”, said Amaladas who has to take care of her aged parents as well as 20 and 17-year-old daughters.
26–year-old Anish Joseph and 32-year-old Stellus Rockioas returned to Vallavilai on Wednesday and came to see Fr. Darvin after more than 45 days in the deep sea where they hunted for sharks and tuna fish. They thanked their lucky stars for not going to sea during Cyclone Ockhi while lamenting that some of their friends did with unfortunate results. "We did not go then due to a marriage in the family.
A majority of our friends got trapped inside the enclosure in the big boats of 65 feet as they got scared on seeing the high waves. Unfortunately except five boats, the rest of the 177 boats do not have insurance as the yearly premium comes to a whopping Rs 99,000 which most of us cannot afford”, said Anish and Stellus.
Unfortunately the family members of the 144 fishermen are yet to receive the promised Rs 20 lakh from the Tamil Nadu Government. As per the notification released by Gagandeep Singh Bedi, Agricultural Production Commissioner and Principal Secretary to Tamil Nadu Government dated January 21, they are expected to get the first instalment of Rs 10 lakh soon. After six months, they will get the second instalment.
Fr. Darwin has no time to rest. He presides over five services daily and when he has free time, he travels to Fort St. George where the Tamil Nadu Secretariat functions to battle the red tapism. He also takes the neighbouring parish priests in a rented car to Chennai seeking possibilities of novel rehabilitation schemes for the parishioners to lead a decent life. No wonder a dozen Bishops including Soosa Pakiam, Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram, priests and nuns made a beeline to
Vellavilai and the neighbouring parishes to take stock of the yeomen service Fr. Darwin has been rendering.