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Relief and Rehabilitation

The history of the Ramakrishna Order’s relief services is as old as that of the Mission itself. Besides their multifarious permanent constructive works, from their very inception, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have been ever ready to promptly organize ameliorative and healing services whenever the nation has been faced with sudden calamities caused by freaks of nature, follies of men, or scourges of epidemics. Its relief activities have also extended well beyond Indian borders. The Order’s first organized relief work was started by Swami Akhandananda just two weeks after the Mission was founded by Swami Vivekananda on 1 May 1897. Swami Akhand­ananda drew inspiration for his humanitarian services primarily from Sri Ramakrishna himself. The Master used to say, ‘If God can be worshipped in an image, can He not be worshipped in a living person?’ Swami Akhandananda literally transformed relief and rehabilitation into acts of worship. Basic Approach: To date the Ramakrishna Mission and Math have together conducted hundreds of relief works in India, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, during calamities and hardships issuing from such a variety of causes as famines, floods, fires, epidemics, cyclones, tornados, riots, earth­quakes, landslides and droughts. Relief works for evacuees and refugees were carried out on a very large scale during some of the worst national calamities. Apart from these, hundreds of small relief works are conducted throughout the year by various Centres wherever local needs arise. After helping people to survive the devastating calamities caused by nature and human folly, the movement is often faced with the urgency of rehabilitating the suffering people. Within the last decade the Mission has done rehabilitation work worth crores of rupees in various parts of India. In large-scale rehabilitation certain service logistics can be handled only by the government machinery. But the Rama­krish­na Mission brings to bear a philosophy of work and methodology of service that has a unique place in the overall national disaster-­management framework. Nearly a hundred and ten years of uninterrupted service have given the Mission the experience and expertise from which scores of other organizations have drawn lessons. It is pleasing to note that there are many other organizations which conduct relief operations in India today. In 1897, when the Ramakrishna Mission started its first relief work, there were hardly any other organized services in the field. It was in fact a pioneering activity of the movement. There have been many recent developments of far-reaching significance in the field of disaster management. In the first place, primary relief is now considered only a small part of relief—it is neither the first step nor the last. Disaster preparedness is now of primary concern. Considerable resources are presently being devoted to anticipate and warn susceptible populations about impending disasters. Mitigation of the effects of disaster through prior planning, prompt and efficient rescue and relief, and socio-economic and psychological rehabilitation of the victims are all important priorities. Incorporation of efficient developmental models and environmental safeguards in the rehabilitation programme are also important issues. The Ramakrishna Mission tries to realistically address many of these issues in its relief and rehabilitation programmes. Some key elements of the Orders approach to and methodology of relief are: Worship of God in humans as the guiding ideal. Strictly apolitical conduct of activities and avoidance of populist publicity. Financial accountability through detailed records of the sources and utilization of funds. Reaching out to the most needy through careful field surveys. No discrimination on religious, ethnic, sectional or other grounds. Involvement of local people in planning as well as implementation of specific programmes. Rapid and efficient provision of services and use of current technology wherever feasible. Time-bound programmes and avoidance of ‘indiscriminate charity’ to prevent wastage of resources and dependence among bene­ficiaries. Participatory approach involving monks, volunteers and technical experts. Focus on development—socio-econo­mic, environmental and cultural—empowerment, and preventive strategies in rehabilitation.
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