Bertelsmann Sponsorships: One Year After the Tsunami
Three-year-old Kapilan no longer remembers his father – a fisherman named Thangadura who died along with tens of thousands of other people on Dec 26, 2004, when the giant waves of the tsunami buried the coasts of his native India under mountains of water. Kapilan shares this fate with 5-year-old Lakshmi, 7-year-old Vinotha, 11-year-old Saranya and 14-year-old Kuppuraj – and thousands of other children in the Southeast Asian regions hit by the tsunami. Each one of these children suffered the impact and repercussions of the monster wave. They lost parents or relatives, or they come from families whose economic situation has deteriorated so much as a result of the tsunami that they are no longer able to provide for their children on their own.
The fact that these children have a roof over their heads, that they are clothed, fed and have access to medical care, comes courtesy of the immediate relief for which people worldwide generously donated funds early last year. But the fact that they can look to the future with some sort of confidence, that their accommodation, livelihood, and education is secure for the long term, for a time when other disasters have long since taken over the headlines – that fact is thanks to donations made by Bertelsmann AG, its companies and employees.
A few days after the tsunami disaster, Bertelsmann AG had pledged one million euros to the SOS Children’s Villages aid foundation, followed up by a fund drive that brought in an impressive €200,000 in donations from employees in Germany, the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Chile, Mexico, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Austria. Bertelsmann matched these donations euro for euro, bringing the total in its dedicated relief fund to €1.4 million. "Our employees have given us impressive proof of how deep their commitment and sense of responsibility are: In the aftermath of the Southeast Asian tsunami…Bertelsmann and its divisions and companies showed deep solidarity with the people affected, and many of our employees individually reached out to help as well," Gunter Thielen wrote in his year-end letter for 2005.
It emerged early on that a great deal of money would be available for immediate relief thanks to a worldwide rush to help, but that ongoing care for the victims, especially the children, would prove a great deal more uncertain. For this reason, Bertelsmann had decided to help the children by "adopting" or sponsoring them for a period of at least ten years. To date, we have the names of roughly 100 Indian children–like Kapilan, Lakshmi, Vinotha, Saranya and Kuppuraj – whose spot in an SOS Children’s Village has been authorized by the authorities and whose livelihood will be funded by Bertelsmann sponsorships.
Given past experience, the SOS Children’s Villages explicitly welcome Bertelsmann’s approach. "The longer ago a disaster occurred, the more difficult it is to find people to help the victims. Public interest has long since turned to new topics. Therefore, the SOS Children’s Villages are especially pleased that Bertelsmann pledged long-term assistance to the people in need in South Asia," declared Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children’s Villages worldwide.
Originally, the Bertelsmann sponsorships were to be dedicated to the children in the SOS Children’s Village in Pondicherry, which is currently under construction. But after consulting with SOS Children’s Villages, Bertelsmann has now decided to support children in other heavily hit regions in Indonesia and Sri Lanka with sponsorships as well. As in Pondicherry, SOS Children’s Villages will be built here; however, the relief organization’s experience here has shown that planning is difficult. An estimation seconded by Günter Dresrüsse, Director Asia at the German Association for Technical Collaboration (GTZ): "The problem isn’t just the buildings or the streets that need to be newly built in the regions in question. The problem also lies with the local public administration, which was also hard hit by the tsunami." Employees died in the flood, countless documents were destroyed and of course so was the administrative infrastructure. Not to mention the fact that the administrative authorities are suddenly dealing with budgets of unheard-of proportions. This requires some getting used to as well.
"In the experience of the GTZ, it will take about five years before the administration and infrastructure are restored in the affected areas," predicts Dresrüsse. Besides, the administrative authorities in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are taking especial care in assigning the children to institutions like the SOS Children’s Villages. After all, they have to make sure that there are really no relatives left who could take the children in. Not until this has been established without a doubt and the necessary formalities have been taken care of, can children be discharged from governmental custody and released to sponsorship programs. And so it may well be a while before all Bertelsmann sponsorships have been assigned. However – Bertelsmann and the SOS Children’s Villages leave no doubt about this – assigned they will be.