Volunteerism for Tsunami Victims

Background Information

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (26th December, 2004) was undoubtedly one of the worst natural calamities of recent times. It wreaked havoc, claiming the lives of 200,000+ people in South/Southeast Asia, and destroyed property worth billions of dollars. This catastrophic event brought together several well-meaning donors/charities from across the world to combine their resources in order to help the affected. Amongst them, Habitat for Humanity (HFH – a reputed non-profit/non-governmental organization) decided to work closely with the affected people in Pondicherry, South India.

The project

The goal of this project was to help construct new houses for the local fishermen whose homes had been devastated by the tsunami. In line with their mission, HFH planned to source volunteers from large corporations across the world to help construct these homes in south India. However, the selection process for volunteers was competitive/rigorous and only a few got selected based on merit. Once selected, each volunteer had to raise his/her own funds to be able to actively participate in this humanitarian effort. The final list of selected volunteers included employees from reputed firms such as Credit Suisse, Coutts, Santander, Diageo, HSBC, Schroeder, The Body Shop Foundation, etc.

Selecting the Ground Handling Agent (GHA)

Charity Challenge (CC), a reputed tour operator representing Habitat for Humanity, was in search of a competent and trustworthy ground-handling agent (GHA) in south India. After a rigorous due diligence process that lasted nine months, Chetak was appointed as CC’s local travel partner in south India. This selection was a matter of great pride for Chetak; however, this was only a first step towards shouldering the responsibility of managing an entire group of volunteers. What followed were several months of sustained and dedicated effort from the Chetak team to ensure smooth sailing of the entire project.

Once the volunteers landed in India, their typical workday looked as per below:

  • 0700 | Sumptuous Indian/Continental breakfast at hotel
  • 0830 | Travel by air-conditioned chartered bus to construction site
  • 0930 | Body stretches to loosen limbs and warm up before the start of work
  • 1000 | Forming into pre-assigned groups and begin work such as
    • Digging
    • Carrying material (e.g. bricks, cement bags, sand) in wheelbarrows
    • Mixing mortars
    • Plastering walls
    • Fixing window/door frames
    • Painting
    • Cleaning up surrounding areas
  • 1300 | Simple/healthy lunch at construction site
  • 1730 | Travel back by bus to the hotel
  • 1900 | On select days, cultural activities in the evening (e.g. classical dance), specially organized for the volunteers
  • 2030 | Dinner which involved various kinds of Indian and Western cuisine

Value add for volunteers

Working together as a team to help the needy brought a unique happiness to the volunteers. The physical work undertaken in scorching heat was often exhausting. However, the inherent motive to help society per se was more valuable than the temporary physical challenges that were present throughout the work. The participants were well educated and well placed individuals working in swank offices around the globe. Yet, they were willing to get their hands dirty and work with mud, cement, and various basic hand tools along with local masons, plumbers and engineers. Moreover, this project helped create an indescribable bond among the locals and the foreigners, which was very satisfying for both. Many volunteers had never experienced this kind of happiness before, and some were moved to tears by this intense experience.

Chetak’s contribution

Before starting the project, we had to deal with the exhaustive requirements of global corporations. Handling employees of various reputed firms meant that there was no scope for any margin of error with regards to quality of service. Moreover, our team was highly competent in ensuring that every minute aspect of the project was perfectly planned.

Once the volunteers were in India, Chetak’s team had to keep several important aspects in mind: (1) maintaining the highest safety norms throughout their weeklong stay (2) providing efficient and punctual ground transportation (3) assuring timely and healthy meals (4) monitoring each volunteers’ health at regular intervals (5) periodically updating the local beneficiaries regarding the progress of construction work (6) ensuring that the daily schedule was strictly adhered to. Chetak’s team deftly handled any challenging situation that came their way. In line with Chetak’s philosophy to showcase Indian culture, the cultural activities on select nights were the perfect medium for unwinding and relaxing after a hard day’s work in the sun. Moreover, the directors regularly visited the construction site to ensure that there were no loose ends at any point during the project.


The Chetak team was proud to play the role of an enabler for this noble cause. The aim of these groups was not tourism per se, but to work towards a cause that brought happiness after the devastation brought about by the tsunami. The volunteers wanted to personally put in sweat equity by raising funds and building homes for these fishermen and their families. From Chetak’s perspective, this was a project that helped the company be associated with a worthy cause and helped actively promote voluntourism within the country.