Relief at last – stories of people helping Kerala stand again

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Life in Kerala is limping back to normalcy. The torrential rains wreaked havoc in the last one month and soon the state began to sink as it received one of the heaviest rainfalls in the last eight decades. Efforts at various levels including the government, bureaucracy and civil society is slowly helping the state to slowly get back on track.
It’s been close to two weeks since the volunteers of Anbodu Kochi have been working tirelessly at the Regional Sports Centre in Kochi. From the time rains drowned Wayanad, the volunteers here began arranging relief materials and before anyone knew, the entire state was grappling with flood waters. Ramesh Menon, a volunteer here, says it all happened too soon.

Order in Chaos
The roads were cut off as several districts were submerged in water. “We began getting SOS calls for materials and soon, several people joined us. We began updating the list of requirements and we put out all of that on social media. We didn’t deal with any cash transaction and only dealt with materials that were donated. The Navy and coast guard were working closely with us during this time. Several IAS officers like APM Mohammed Hanish, MD of Kochi Metro Rail Limited, MG Rajamanickam, MD of Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd and district collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla, have been working shoulder to shoulder with the volunteers,” he says.
The group was formed in 2015 when a bunch of people wanted to help people stuck in Chennai floods and they approached MG Rajamanickam, who was then the district collector and began relief initiatives. “We always heard complaints about the youngsters of the country not being responsible. But the efforts we saw during the floods disproved this myth. Over 2,000 volunteers came together then and we sent relief materials to Tamil Nadu. When the floods ravaged Kerala, we now had a set-up to help. We have volunteers from all walks of life from kids to senior citizens and relief has poured in from all corners of the country,” says Rajamanickam.
From fishermen to film stars, everyone was seen on-ground. Actors like Indrajith Sukumaran, Poornima Indrajith, Tovino Thomas, footballer CK Vineeth and several leading personalities have also been working with relief activities. “We had more than 5,000 volunteers working with us here and people came did their work and left. We dealt with over 2,600 tonnes of materials. We worked with the district administration. People are now slowly returning to their homes and now our focus is on helping them rebuild their lives,” says Indrajith. Most of these were first time volunteers.

From Chennai, With Love
When the news about the floods spread, help poured in from all corners of the country. Collection centres were set up in all cities and dispatch vehicles set forth to Kerala to bring succour to those affected by floods. Managing such centres is not an easy job as Aabha Muralidharan, a city-based activist, says.
She is a part of Anbudan Tamizhagam, an initiative started by the joint efforts of the Government of Tamil Nadu, State Disaster Management Authority ( SDMA) and the general public. IAS officers like Dr Santhosh Babu and Dr Darez Ahmed and Dr K Satyagopal are coordinating the relief efforts and a collection centre has been set up at the Chintadripet Library.

Lessons from the past
After the first floods that hit Chennai in November 2015, The New Face of Society (TNFS), a Facebook group was formed to coordinate relief measures. This time, the group came forward to work for Kerala.
Dilip Srinivasan, an architect and entrepreneur, has been actively working with all the admins of the group to direct relief materials to the right place.
“Our page admins are scattered all over the group. So during the floods, someone or the other was online to ensure that work happened round-the-clock. But the biggest challenge was accessibility and communication,” he says.
Collection hubs were set up in Chennai City (Egmore), Chennai North (Perambur) and Chennai South (Chromepet) to gather materials. “We had around 40 Malayalam speaking volunteers here. Our volunteers went on-ground to help out with these activities. We formed a bridge between the people who needed help and the army and NDRF,” he says. Right now, the team is focusing on materials needed for rehabilitation.

Work in Tandem
In Chennai, the team at Anbudan Tamizhagam is now working to help people get on with their lives. “We are sending Back to Home kits so that they get some breathing space after the devastation. In fact, once this initiative came into place in just three hours we had the modus operandi and a website was created in no time by Mithun and Iniyan. With the involvement of the government in this, we are getting big suppliers to support this. And at the same time, every drop counts.

“Yesterday, a person dropped a small packet of relief materials at the centre. He sold fish in the market and that was all he could manage. We also received a carton of candles, which were made by differently-abled children. The beautiful thing is people who want to give can give. A major takeaway for me is that when bureaucracy and civil society work together, we can find solutions,” says Aabha.

Anbodu Kochi also started a kitchen with the Khalsa Aid to support the victims. Over 10,000 food packets are churned out every lunch and dinner time from this kitchen. As Rajamanickam puts it, “Sound partnership is important for crisis management. When the floods took over, the government machinery sought support of volunteer forces. People come together in moments of crisis and it’s not a recent thing. Even during the freedom movement, there were peak moments when the nation worked together more than other times. One needs to harness the power of such moments to bring out results.”

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