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Opportunity Teams Battle Hurricane Sandy & Cyclone Neelam at Home and Abroad

By Emily Riemer

As many of our own Opportunity team members along the East Coast of the U.S. await power and water services following Hurricane Sandy, we join the rest of America in mourning the loss of life and the destruction of property. We applaud our first responders and the many public officials guiding us through these trying times.

CEO Sam Chandar (left) visits with a client (June 2012).At the same time, in India, where Cyclone Neelam touched down Wednesday in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, eleven people have been reported dead, power is down and schools and businesses are closed. Though relief and rescue teams across the country’s southern states have been deployed to combat the destruction caused by the storm, and the government is working to respond, the recovery will undoubtedly be slow for more remote and impoverished areas of southern India, where many Opportunity clients reside.

Early Wednesday afternoon, as an update to our staff, Harry Turner, CEO of Opportunity’s Global Microfinance Operations, sent this message from Sam Chandar, CEO of one of our microfinance institutions in India, describing the preparations for the storm.

Two of Opportunity’s women clients from Chennai (International Women’s Day, March 2011)."Chennai is bracing itself for the onslaught of Cyclone Neelam approaching us at a speed of 85 kilometers per hour [about 50 mph] and [it is] targeted to hit us in the next couple of hours. All harbors, schools, colleges and government institutions have been closed. Hundreds of trees are uprooted and there are power outages in several areas. It is raining heavily across Tamil Nadu. There are possibilities that the cyclone may change direction at the last minute and head for Andhra Pradesh. It is expected that Mahabalipuram on the coast will also suffer damage. As a precautionary measure we have advised our staff to leave early and return to their homes. As usual, in the spirit of [Opportunity India], we try to maintain calm even during the storm."

It’s times like these that we at Opportunity are grateful that we can offer some financial stability and help to our clients in extreme poverty. When a natural disaster hits, families already in a precarious financial position risk slipping back into a cycle of poverty. But fortunately, our Indian loan clients have support in rebuilding and growing their businesses if the unexpected occurs. In addition to small business loans, Opportunity India is also developing an emergency loan product and they’re working with our insurance subsidiary, MicroEnsure, to pilot health, life and accident insurance. In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Opportunity India conducted a housing survey to measure the need and interest for financing home improvements. We’ve disbursed over 150 housing loans, which include loans for home improvement and incremental building purposes, as of September 2012.

Clients receive orientation for Opportunity India’s housing loan program in June 2012.Though these products are helpful for our Indian clients, many undoubtedly will still struggle to protect their families and pick up the pieces after this tragedy. Please keep our U.S. colleagues and friends affected by Sandy, and our global staff and clients in India who are struggling with Neelam, in your thoughts and prayers now and in the coming days and weeks as they deal with the tragic effects of these storms.

We’ll continue to provide you with updates and reports from our leaders about our clients and our staff on the ground in India to let you know how they are faring after Cyclone Neelam.

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