When humanity needs a flip, there show up people with strength and commitment to support them. It is on the basis of this human spirit that the world still spins on. A similar group that keeps its commitment to their surroundings and people is called Agents of Hope, a charitable trust based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Despite their silent work over the past two years, it was only during the Kerala floods that their presence was noted by society, especially the social media.
“We were mainly focusing on individual cases where assistance was needed in the form of medical support and education for children belonging to economically backward sections, but showed promise and grit. But, with the expansion of cases that came to us, we thought it best to make it a legal entity and register it as a Trust,” says Shaarika Menon, the founder-president of Agents of Hope. According to her, ever since the registration, there has been more clarity and focus. Initially, her close friends served as members and gradually the membership and volunteer base increased. The flow of volunteers during and after the Kerala floods was almost miraculous, she recollects. She remembers how unknown faces in faraway places were ready to offer help in logistics and act as carriers of hope. The good news is they have all become volunteers of the organisation ever since.
They learnt many life lessons in the process. “The severity of the tragedy could never be gauged by images or news reports. The destruction had to be witnessed to totally understand the gravity of the disaster. The stench of the surroundings, the multiple feet high sludge and the fear and gloom on people’s faces actually make one question the imbalance of human fortunes”, she adds.
“As a child, I always thought of myself as an agent whose duty was to deliver help to others and to be of use to someone else. I even imagined and called myself agent 009. So, finally when the organisation had to be named, it just came to me with no difficulty,” quips Shaarika. The organisation had a very humble beginning, but the faith and kindness of its benefactors helped it grow into what it is now. But they are struggling to keep up with the increasing needs of its beneficiaries.
The organisation has made compassion its mission and has been tirelessly working to bring stability and hope to the lives of those who may have been unwittingly ignored by chance and society, left helpless by circumstances beyond their control. Apart from uplifting and empowering women, educating the poor and spreading awareness backed by research, it also has its focus on health. Their major body of work and focus currently is the continuing commitment for the Kerala flood relief in certain pockets of the affected areas. Houses and people have been left ravaged and Agents of Hope has so far successfully aided in food and water supply, distributed thousands of medical kits, beds and mats, and replaced books, study materials and toys. They handed over a modest amount of household articles and clothing as well. “Our dedicated volunteers worked day and night cleaning out houses and surroundings.
We were also able to supply motor pumps and help clean and sanitise 60-odd wells in two panchayats, making water potable again. I would like to remember the help of Adharsh and Navneet of Kanal, a folk music band based out of Sasthamkotta, Kollam, whose members – around 25 of them – had volunteered to help us supply the relief materials in Konni and surrounding areas as well as help clean houses and premises.”
Cherukulanji, Pandanad, Malakkara and Konni were the areas they focused during relief activities. As the primary needs were taken care of, it was pertinent to address the mental issues that are a natural by-product of any calamity. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common phenomenon that is usually seen in many victims of a natural disaster. Addressing this timely and effectively is as important as any other health concern. Currently, research-based psychological intervention programmes are being held in these areas to the affected people along with members and staff of the panchayats who had a tough time dealing with the disaster on a professional level as well. Mindfulness based training workshops (eight weeks and short-term) is what has been scheduled to be imparted.
“There is yet a lot to do in the flood-ravaged areas,” adds Shaarika. “Houses are to be reconstructed and fixed. There are many areas where the allowances awarded by the government or other agencies remain insufficient to totally make the houses livable. There are a couple of houses on our list that need a total rebuilding. Efforts to find suitable donors for these projects are continuing. We at Agents of hope believe in lending our hands only to people genuinely in need and identifying them by direct investigation becomes an important aspect of our ground work. This is to make sure that the money left with us in confidence and trust by our esteemed donors does not go wasted on undeserving projects. We believe in making a difference, no matter how small.”
The flood relief has been the most extensive project Agents of Hope has undertaken so far. Apart from its successful execution, the organisation has a few proposals underway relating to tribal population. Social researches and topics of social concern are also on their agenda. “Nothing is more satisfying than realising that humans have the ability to share their brethrens’ burden as well. Lending that shoulder is what truly defines the human spirit – a truth I have learnt through those people who have opened their hearts and pockets generously to these causes,” she concludes. Neena Jose is the secretary and Anish G. Nair is the treasurer of the organisation. It also has an active executive committee.
(Shaarika Menon is a former corporate lawyer. Armed with a post-graduation degree and MPhil in Psychology, she runs a psychotherapy clinic called Mind port in Thiruvananthapuram.)...