Newsmaker: Future builder - Charles Badenoch Chief executive, World Vision UK

Indira Das-Gupta

Despite being bombarded by haunting images of tsunami-ravaged towns and villages in the media, nothing had quite prepared Charles Badenoch for the sheer magnitude of the devastation that greeted him in Tamil Nadu, India. "You just can't appreciate the extent of it all from the TV," he explains. "It's an attack on your senses. There's the horrible noise of crows pecking around and the smell of stagnant water and burning rubbish. But then you start talking to people and see their incredible resilience. They are getting on with their lives, not just waiting for help."

Badenoch describes his time on the ground in a way that cannot fail to engage the listener. This could be a result of his extensive career in the private sector, which included working as a general manger for Xerox's European Network Services and later as a trouble-shooter for venture capital companies. He is the first to admit that he is still learning about the voluntary sector, but manages to explain his charity's aims with greater eloquence than many with years' more experience.

World Vision UK, a Christian charity with an income of £32m that works in 90 countries. It was distributing hot food and drinking water to Indian victims of the tsunami within 12 hours, and had reached 10,000 people in need of aid within three days. But while the first priority was to keep people alive, the charity is now focusing on getting children back to school and generally helping people return to normality. Badenoch visited Pondicherry, Naga Pathinam and Cuddalore, where around 80 per cent of the fishing fleet was destroyed.

He says: "We can't replace all the boats overnight, but we need to help these people prepare emotionally to go back to work. Most adults are still terrified of the sea. I saw one woman who was hysterical at the sight of her daughters paddling in the water."

The charity has a number of projects to help children address their experiences.

"We don't like to use the word 'counselling' - we prefer to say 'encouraging'," says Badenoch. "We are getting children to confront what happened through song and dance, and every day we position their play area a little nearer the sea."

Although some charities were initially critical of India's decision to decline aid from other governments, Badenoch will only say this reflected "the political complexion" of the government. "From what I saw, the aid response was well co-ordinated, with local authorities working alongside NGOs," he says. "We have managed to get supplies to people relatively easily in India because the infrastructure remained mostly intact. This isn't so in other areas where we are also helping. The Nicobar Islands will be a logistical challenge because they can only be reached by helicopter and boat."

Many in the voluntary sector have expressed concerns that the generosity shown by the public towards victims of the tsunami will mean that other causes will lose out. But Badenoch believes the opposite could be true.

"This is an opportunity to focus attention on the issues of poverty and debt," he says. "When I tell people that 30,000 children under five die from preventable causes every day, such as lack of clean water - the equivalent of a weekly tsunami - it really makes them think. We need to remind people of the forgotten emergencies such as Darfur and northern Uganda."

But Badenoch is realistic about what lies ahead and airs the now familiar metaphor about this being "a marathon, not a sprint". He explains: "There is no quick fix. It's going to take 10-15 years to rebuild people's lives and we don't just want to replace what they had. What's important is to give them better futures."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus