The amazing show of strength from all over has been helping Kerala get back on its feet. Great support came from outside the state as non-Malayalis lined up to help the affected, by providing food, clothes, medicines, provisions, toys, etc. While many engaged in collective operations, pooling money and resources, springing into action by volunteering for service at disaster-struck areas, there are a few persons, who, through their inspiring and selfless acts, will remain part of history as nameless ones. Like Vishnu, the blanket seller from Madhya Pradesh, who donated all his goods to people; the aged couple from Tamil Nadu who donated every provision in their thatched shop; the lorry drivers who emptied their diesel tanks for the fishing boats to go on rescue mission; East Bengal footballers who collected money from the crowd after the match; the little children who broke their piggy banks to buy toys for the kids in relief camps. The stories are endless, like the compassion of people who joined hands to make the lives of their siblings from another part of the country better.
From Tilonia in rural Rajasthan comes bundles of love — sanitary napkin boxes marked ‘wearable without underwear’ and ‘with a belt’. The students of Barefoot College, Tilonia, sent relief material for Kerala. Joining them, children from Kotri are making donations to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. A post made by Niyog Krishna, a social worker and a board member of Manthan that works for the sustainable development in these villages, reads, “More than the amount, it’s a statement of love and brotherhood. I’m extremely proud! If every city, town and village in the world can come up with such an initiative, we can make a big difference.”
Humanity Knows no frontiers
The floods in Chennai in 2015 was one of worst calamities in South India. Kerala was one of the states which stood with Chennai during the bad times. A group of youngsters from Chennai had formed a group named 'Frontiers' during this time to meet the need of the residents. This group was also in the forefront for collecting essentials for the relief camps in Kerala. When Kerala started getting flooded, they realised there will be shortage for food and essentials. "We started identifying drop zones in Chennai. We were closely following the posts by celebrities in Chennai, who are actually based in Kerala. We had help from two organisations, the helplines set by Indian Army and Reliance Foundation. We were monitoring the situation in Kerala, identified which of the posts requesting materials is genuine, and then started collected and diverted it to the right groups. About hundreds of people poured in to drop the materials and even some residents called us seeking for assistance to translate some videos and posts. The transportation was handled by Reliance foundation. We always had contact with local relief camps, contacted the responsible person, identified the needs and made sure the supplies reached the needy," says Karthik Menon, a member of the group.
Uniting to help
Bengaluru can always be called as a second home for Keralites. The people in the state have definitely played a great role in relief activities. When Kerala was traumatised with such a calamity, a group of Malayali friends came to the forefront to help the needy. Vishnu Soman, Vishal Soman, Vidushi and Sonu K. Prasad, who are associated with various NGOs in Bengaluru, volunteered to collect the essential materials for relief camps in Kerala. They decided to open collection centres in major points of Bengaluru city and shared it on social media.
Since then, many have flown into volunteer. Says Vishnu, “Even on weekdays, we had a lot of volunteers here. The city has really responded well to the situation. More collection centres are getting opened by the day. We got to see a lot of posts on social media requesting material for camps or localities. First, we listed out the authentic posts and contacted some responsible person from that locality like a priest, headmaster, postmaster, etc. We coordinated with them, understood the immediate requirements, collected the items and sent these to them. We had a volunteer or a group of volunteers with whom we coordinated.” They have already dispatched 4 trucks of material to Chengannur, Kochi and Angamaly; the items of two trucks were shared with other groups. Restaurants like Empire, godowns in the city and student rooms have also opened collection
Social media to the rescue
Actor Karthika Muraleedharan, known for her movies Comrade in America and Uncle, is busy coordinating the relief works in Bengaluru. “At our college Srishti, along with the organisation Goonj, we have started relief works. We briefed students on the situation in Kerala and requested them to donate clothes and supplies. Also, in malls, we have formed stations and asked people to buy and donate things. Other colleges in Bengaluru too have opened collection points,” says Karthika. She adds that Malayali-run supermarkets in Bengaluru have reduced the price of essentials for people to send material to camps. “In my place, bakeries and tea shops have turned into collection points. I have seen people buying things in bulk for relief camps. Schools, societies and universities are coming forward to collect materials and volunteer,” she says. Their team focuses on things like clothes, raw materials, sanitary napkins, diapers and DIY phone charging batteries, she says.
“We have also conducted a cloth drive wherein we collected dresses for people of all ages.” Since roads in Kerala are in bad shape, their team is planning to depend on aviation to drop the collected material. “One flight can accommodate 20 truckloads,” she adds. The response has been good, says Karthika. One reason for this is the awareness they created online. Karthika’s Instagram account is flooded with updates. “Since the calamity has not been extensively covered by the media here, we had to tell them about it. We have used the online platforms to spread awareness. We update every new development, including how they can help through platforms such as Paytm and Amazon. It has worked. Now people are only talking about it. Now, we are planning to come to Kerala to volunteer,” she says.
The Gifts for Rescue challenge, initiated by Nijanthan, who works as a scriptwriter in the YouTube channel Nakkalites, says Jazeel was his inspiration. “Besides him, other artists too offered art pieces and books to donors. So I thought I would take it to the next level by giving gifts in return of contribution,” says Nijanthan. The challenge goes like this. One person has to put a post challenging three friends to donate to the CM’s fund. The person can gift books, paintings, DVDs, etc. (what shown in the post) when the three complete the challenge. Then, they must nominate another three people and continue the chain.
He says the response has been good so far. “Friends of friends have also nominated offering things such as old cassettes, books and terracotta works . One comic book publishing group has said they would gift their old collection of comic books. Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai too nominated her readers,” says Nijanthan, believing that the chain will go on lending help to thousands who are affected by the flood.
Art for rescue
In the wake of the floods in Kerala, many people have done their bit by contributing money and essentials. But Jazeel, a student at Pondicherry University and a freelance artist, has chosen the creative path to help the flood-affected. On August 17, he put a post on his Facebook asking people to send him a screenshot after depositing Rs 2000 in the CM’s relief fund. In return, he promised the contributors a free portrait. “Transfer Rs 2000/- to CM’s Relief fund, send me the screenshot along with your photo, and get a portrait done. Whatsapp: +919497397232 (sic),” he posted. The response, he says, has been amazing. “I didn’t expect such a response. On the first day itself, I got screenshots of contributions amounting to more than `1 lakh,” says Jazeel, who got this idea from other artists. “I saw other artists using their skills for raising funds. Then I thought I would do something similar. I normally charge Rs 2000 for a portrait and hence, I thought I would ask people to remit the same in the CM’s fund.”
As of now, his campaign has fetched an approximate amount of more than Rs 2 lakh. “I am yet to calculate the exact amount. Some contributed the said amount while a lot more people gave more than that to the CM’s fund. There are also persons who gave less than Rs 2000. I am ready to do portraits for all,” he says.
Now, Jazeel is back in Kozhikode, his native place, and is getting ready to work on the portraits. “The contributors have given me time to work on it. I have started doing sketches,” says Jazeel, who works with ink. He has not planned the duration of the campaign. Now, other artists too are joining his venture and the whole campaign has turned out to be a challenge called #artforrescue. Jazeel is happy. “I am grateful to my friends who made it a success,” he signs off.
A star in reel and real life
It is when calamity strikes that the true grit of people is revealed. The unprecedented floods in Kerala were a lesson to rescuers, organisations and individuals cutting across the barriers of economic, social and religious divide to unite. Be it the common men or the celebrities, the motto was clear — help in whichever way possible. Non-Malayali actors too joined in the effort to help the victims of the floods. Neha Saxena, who is a popular actor in Kannada, has been noticed for her roles in films with superstars Mohanlal in Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol and Mammootty in Kasaba. Take a look at her social media accounts over the past four days and they are constantly updated with flood-related information; be it information of relief supplies needed, names of volunteers for help or information on missing persons. And yes, they are posted at regular intervals with the tagline ‘Help my Kerala’.
“I was in Bengaluru a day before the floods hit Kochi and when I heard the news of the devastation that the state was going through, I immediately left for Thiruvananthapuram,” she says. Neha herself calls an outsider with no contacts in Kerala and no comprehension of the written language. But what she had in plenty was the willingness to help. So she got in touch with senior directors and made friends with almost all the volunteer groups and relief camp members in the state, who started giving her information and status updates that she posted on her social media pages. She ensured that all the information she put up was verified. Neha took special care to concentrate on missing people information. “There were so many requests that I decided to concentrate on that. Most of the missing people were found to be safe later on and I also updated that status too.” She even shared some Malayalam posts that her assistant translated for her. Not that she did not face negativity — when she appealed to people to help Coorg as well as Kerala, some commented that Coorg was not a part of Kerala. She states, “We should keep aside barriers of caste, creed and religion aside and think of humanity first. Humanity should be the only religion. I was also sad to hear of petty fights happening in some camps.” She managed to draw attention to organisations outside Kerala for the flood relief work. Neha feels this is the way she can say thanks to a state that gave her recognition, “Kerala made me what I am today!” she ends....