GATE Flood Podcast

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Harvest Bridge Podcast Episode 3: GATE Flood with Priya*

March 2024

Below you will find the transcript for the third episode of our podcast! You can listen to the recording on Spotify or watch it on Youtube below. 

“So,  I am so happy really I, I feel sometimes so proud of myself because when during the flood times I went inside to the houses – there was a so much of snakes, I saw. I was really afraid of snakes but when I was entered into the home, I saw so many small, small snakes, and big snakes was lying on the, lying inside the water because at that time I wanted to save the children.” ~Priya*

Welcome to the Harvest Bridge podcast. A part of our work here at Harvest Bridge is connecting local leaders in South Asia with people like you, here in the United States. Through our podcast we want to provide a place where you can hear their voices and listen to their stories in their own words. There is a transcription available for those who prefer to read these stories.

For our third episode, we will share a report from Priya* who leads the GATE ministry in Chennai, India. GATE stands for Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment. The people reached by this ministry are generally among the lowest castes in India’s social hierarchy. This has practical implications such as limited access to housing, jobs and food. It also communicates at a bigger level how they are seen as people. To the government, they are subhuman. Until recently, the gypsies also did not have citizenship, but thanks to Priya’s efforts, that is starting to change. 

We’ll hear more about Priya and GATE’s ministries in a later podcast. Today we want to talk about the flood. In December of 2023, unrelenting rain due to Cyclone Michaung filled the streets of Chennai with water, completely flooding the gypsy colonies. The community was already struggling just to survive. The flood was the final straw. Priya sent us a text saying “Please pray as every gypsy colony is filled with water. This is a very bad flood. Houses are totally damaged. Gypsies are not able to sleep inside their houses with their babies and children due to heavy rain. Lots of snakes and insects are there. Without a house they all are sleeping on the road side & market place without any floor sheets. I bought floor mats that I’m planning to distribute along with flood relief packets.” 

Even before receiving additional funds, Priya instantly responded to help those in the gypsy colony, working to provide food and floor mats. This month Kate had the opportunity to talk more with Priya about her experience during the flood. Let’s listen to her story.

 “So, I am so happy, really. I feel sometimes so proud of myself because when during the flood times I went inside to the houses – there was a so much of snakes, I saw. I was really afraid of snakes but when I was entered into the home, I saw so many small, small snakes, and big snakes was lying on the, lying inside the water because at that time I wanted to save the children. Because children was lying on the bed so I would carry them and bring it out. So, the water was coming, slowly, continuously. So the electricity was, like, I don’t know how it affects, then I was afraid of the electricity. Because old womans are there, so they couldn’t walk it. So, if they touch the electricity, it just passes through all the water so I was wondering. ‘Oh, maybe I can go in the near midnight or one o’clock to save the people’. So that was like so hard.”

Here Priya talks more about the dangers of the flood that went well beyond just the rising water. The electricity could come on at any time, electrocuting anyone unlucky enough to be in the flooded areas. To make matters worse, poisonous snakes were seen in the floodwater as it filled the street. You’ll hear Priya mention the snakes again later. They are one of her greatest fears. But this did not stop Priya from going into the homes to help. She worked tirelessly everyday to do everything she could. When she would get home at night, she couldn’t sleep, thinking about how much there still was to be done. 

But as hard as it was, there was one bright spot for her. Though the government was unconcerned for the fate of people in the gypsy colonies, the support of people like you with Harvest Bridge meant everything to Priya. She could feel your prayers and credits the support from Harvest Bridge with saving the lives of many in the colonies. 

“God sent, without God sending, I never do anything. I really thank Harvest Bridge who really supported us for this year. And last year, COVID time, also a lot of people support us. And flood time, a lot of people support us. Thank you for that. Really you saved a lot of people. That’s why I’m saying always. So, like, you gave a life for us. Like a second life, maybe I can say like this. People have a second life now.”

She goes on to talk about how desperate the situation was.  Not only was the water an issue, but the lack of food and shelter quickly took a toll on the GATE communities.

“It’s hard. It’s also, we say, like die. Because it’s a little hard. Without food and without shelter. No, nothing. They lost everything. So it’s like you can’t even sleep when the people are suffering without anything. So it’s very hard to say  . .  hunger is, hunger it’s like very big, painful life.”

In this next section, Priya shares more openly about this experience. Her words show us just how devastating it has been for her, and also the strength and courage she has shown in her ministry. 

“You know, Kate, I was like, my heart was like continuously crying, crying, crying, crying. Automatically. I never stopped crying when I saw the people. Because at that time I don’t know, my mind was also blocked – Where I have to go, where I have to take the children, where is this, where this? The pastors were also helping. But there was a lot of snakes. I was really afraid. Oh, my goodness, a lot of snakes inside. A lot of new animals came inside. There was a crocodile. Like you say, like a different crocodile, was there. Oh, how can I save these people? ‘O Lord give me strength’. I was like in the middle, I don’t know how to save these people – or old people, or newborn people, newborn children. Or electric power is there… what I can do?”

Snakes and crocodiles in the water. The constant threat of electrocution. The most vulnerable people, newborn children and older adults at risk. It all sounds hopeless. But in this  devastation, Priya holds to her faith.

“Oh, but God gave us strength and no damages, like no one died. So that’s very special. We lost our like, utilities and the houses, but not the humans. That was like God’s grace, you know?”

Then Priya talks about the persecution against the people of this community when she tried to get them a safe place to stay.

“And there was, you know, I was experienced with… when I’m going to the marriage hall I’m asking, ‘can you help with these people to allow them inside the marriage hall?’ Everyone says ‘What?! No, no, no gypsies, no no, no gypsies, no tribes, no tribes. They are untouchable. We are not allowing them’. Then I said, I can pay for them. Can you allow, can you allow?  Then finally I pay like 5000 rupees for another marriage hall to give them a space. So, that was like, so bad. They want money. But they don’t see the people.”

They don’t see the people. The government doesn’t see them as humans. But Priya knows her God does, and how important prayer is for them. 

“Every house, is, oh my goodness . . . I couldn’t take a video, but it’s a really hard time to take a video. But it’s very, very hard, really. Not to have like, not to expose so hard. But really I need, we need prayers, Kate. That’s what I’m requesting people to really pray for GATE, pray for GATE. Please, please, I’m begging you. Please pray for GATE. That’s very important for us. Your prayer comes like thousands of thousands miles away from here, to hear the people’s sounds. That brings a victory. So your prayers brings our victory, I know. So please pray for us. We are very honorably thanking you. ”

Priya did send a lot of videos during the flood to us here at Harvest Bridge. But here she shared that some of the worst areas she couldn’t bear to record. 

“Oh my goodness. I’ve never seen this type of flood. When I was walking this water was here. [My husband]  was saying don’t go because the water comes like very, very close, even though we don’t know how to swim. That’s very, very big problem for me. And I’m walking in the water. [My husband] was saying ‘you don’t know how to swim. Be careful because the water is coming here.’”  

When Priya* talks about how high the water was, she gestured to her neck. She went into neck deep water to help. This would be dangerous for anyone. But Priya can’t swim. Still, she didn’t let that stop her.

“When I went, I entered into the house there was like snakes and some insects and the waters comes on my mouth. I drank some water. Bad water. Oh my gosh. So many bad things happened.”

Getting the flood water into her mouth was very dangerous. The flood waters carried sewage and disease leading to illness throughout the colony. 

“Then, one, you know, one baby was lying on the, like what you say? Swing. The baby was there. So, I entered into the house and I save the baby and come out. I couldn’t come out because water was, level was increasing. Then one boy was come and he take the baby and he pulled me outside. Or I also die on that time if that boy didn’t come very fast. So, God’s grace is there.”

In this last part of her story, Priya shared that she went into one house to rescue a baby. But then the water level rose and she was trapped. A boy came and helped her get outside. 

We couldn’t be there in the flood waters with Priya. But she felt your support. Thanks to you, Harvest Bridge was able to send funds to help over 2500 families for $24,000. That’s less than  $10 per family to provide immediate relief. 

Let’s hear one more word now from Priya, who wants to thank you personally for your support.

“I want to thank them because 2023 was like a hard time for all the gypsy colony and tribes groups. So who all supported us, it’s very grateful thanks. Even prayer support and financial support. And physically they, the people really touched by the heart, so they help a lot. So thanks for that. And our pastors teams also are thanking. Every month support is receiving from Harvest Bridge, for relief package, and the Covid. Even babies – if you’re not supported, for GATE ministry, the babies surely die, because we don’t have huge of money to support at the flood relief time. So, you saved a lot of children and older, elderly women and you saved a lot of souls in GATE ministry. So really, I’m so happy to say thank you. And really, I want to hug you all, so, I don’t know how to expose my feelings so it’s a hard time to say. And you touch, you are in our hearts. You, you are like, Harvest Bridge is in my piece of heart. So I give my heart for Harvest Bridge.”

The work continues as the GATE community still struggles to recover. God’s work is not done, Priya continues to serve, and she knows you are here, supporting her. 

Thank you for listening to the Harvest Bridge podcast. Follow us on social media, or subscribe to our email list to learn more about the ministry of leaders throughout South Asia who are doing much, with little.

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