'Independent' readers raise £3m for aid effort

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The charity chosen for this year's Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal has launched a fresh aid effort to help thousands of children orphaned and made homeless in India by the tsunami disaster.

The charity chosen for this year's Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal has launched a fresh aid effort to help thousands of children orphaned and made homeless in India by the tsunami disaster.

The Railway Children, based in Britain, fears that up to 12,000 children affected by the disaster in south-east India could end up destitute in the country's vast railway stations, and forced into a life of begging, stealing, drug abuse and prostitution.

Staff from many of the organisation's partner charities in the worst-hit regions of south-east India - Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh - were immediately rushed to the disaster-hit zone to help the relief and aid effort. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, a local partner charity sent in clothes and food for nearly 1,000 children and gave aid and medical supplies for 10,000 refugees and 50 medical camps.

Now the Railway Children has begun a new initiative to cope with the aftermath of the disaster. Based on its experience of previous disasters, it predicts that many of the children made homeless, orphaned or displaced by the tsunami will jump trains and head for India's largest cities.

It is now funding new charities and devoting money towards putting charity workers in every major station in the region, including projects running in the devastated Indian Andaman and Nicobar islands, where 15,000 to 20,000 children are thought to be affected.

Before the tsunami disaster struck, IoS readers raised more than £23,000 for the Railway Children's innovative work in India, the UK, Russia and Mexico to help save homeless children and runaways. With our sister paper, The Independent, we then urged our readers to donate money to the national tsunami aid appeal run by the Disasters Emergency Committee. By this weekend, our readers had raised nearly £3m for the international aid effort.

Our Christmas appeal for the Railway Children had focused on the charity's support for projects that rescued runaways in the isolated Siberian city of Chita, where children endure -40C temperatures and live in squalid cellars, and in Bombay, where thousands of children every year end up destitute in the city's stations.

Katie Mason, the Railway Children's project director, said: "The very generous donations from The Independent on Sunday readers will enable the Railway Children to reach out to even more children, lost and alone at the world's railway stations, including the thousands of children in India affected by the tsunami disaster. These children are frightened and very vulnerable. They desperately need our help."

Independent on Sunday readers can donate to the Railway Children by calling 01270 251751 or donating online via www.railwaychildren.org.uk/ios

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