Ensuring the right to Life is perhaps the noblest responsibility an individual or an institution can carry. In Namma Chennai, Alert is a volunteer-driven organisation that is undertaking this and DC got in touch with the passionate person behind the organistaion - Kala Balasundaram.
The one-of-a kind- service that the organisation has been rendering for thirteen years has made it ‘the friend-in-need’ whenever there is an emergency in any corner of the state. Kala left her 2-decade old lucrative job in the IT industry five months back to devote more time to making a better tomorrow, which Alert has been doing.
It was, however, not an overnight decision to get involved in social work. The scene of helplessness at any accident site and the silence of bystanders used to haunt her, and that prompted her to take up the initiative.
“I was in school that time. One day I was coming back from Sriperumbudur and somewhere near the Gandhi memorial there was a car accident. I could see the body twitching and blood was spattered all over. I asked my mom whether I could do something but she said there were people to take care of the situation,” recalls Kala, adding, “I’m not blaming my mother but that is what the general mindset is. Always passing the buck to others, which should not be the behaviour.”
Kala shares another horrific experience from past she believes led her to feel even more strongly about the perplexity and the helplessness overwhelming people at times of an emergency.
“I was a college student at that point in time. I was at Chennai central railway station with my parents where we saw an elderly man having an epileptic seizure. It was a goddamn busy railway station and unbelievably, not a single person around bothered to stop and attend to him. I was shivering, gripping my parents’ hands.”
All these deep-rooted horrific memories received a trigger, a few decades later, when Kala was using the way to reach her office in Siruseri around 2005. “Back in the day the roads were in extremely poor condition. It was not the present-day IT expressway that we see today and accidents were very common. It would be typically a young person lying on the road, besides his two-wheeler… some people trying to help, some just standing by and busy vehicles zooming past. My heart would scream at the onlookers, ‘why aren’t you doing anything?’ and at the same time my conscience would hit me hard. What even I am doing.. that was a huge wake-up call.”
Not much later, Kala decided to get trained in first response (CPR, handling fractures, small cuts, fainting cases) and soon she was joined by a few colleagues from the company she was working at. “The training we took from St. John’s, GVK EMRI took just a few hours and it is very simple. Anybody can learn it. “
It is always the willingness to learn that makes the learning all the more worth it and serve public more efficiently. There were many including doctors, who are quite popular in the medical fraternity, who refused to acknowledge the awareness that is required. Bridging the gap between the time when an emergency occurs and till the time the ambulance arrives, the need for a first response is crucial and can save lives. “A doctor told me he would keep away from such situations as it involves a lot of legalities. I was shocked after hearing a doctor say this. Wherever I was turning to, I was getting this discouragement.”
No such negativity could deter Kala. She is grateful to Dr J. S. Rajkumar who recognised her aspirations and pledged complete support, which rendered a foundation to the trust. “He advised me to work as a trust and not just as individuals since we were very few in numbers.”
The organisation officially started its journey on Oct 2, 2006 and till now has trained close to a lakh of people across India, predominantly in Tamil Nadu with a curriculum as unique as its vision is. “It’s a very simple training given by our members who are not medicos and the course is endorsed by the Indian Medical Association and we have also signed an MoU with the Karnataka government’s education, home and health department. ”
Kala is grateful to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for the goal he set for her when she was wandering perplexed. “First we thought to start an ambulance service. In 2007 I had the good fortune to meet Dr Kalam who acknowledged the work we were doing as a team of 10 individuals was supposed to be done by the government. Since I had the ambulance service in mind, he told us to visit a facility in Andhra Pradesh as his guest. He was the chairman emeritus of 108. We realised that 108 was already doing a good job and we figured we should do
what he advised - train one person from every family in emergency care. Now when we train people in groups,where the number ranges from 20-300, we look upon them as such number of families.”
As easy as the curriculum is, the organisation also has a simulation lab to give trainees a real-time experience. “We are the only an organisation that is non-medical and yet has a simulation lab.”
Talking about another milestone in Alert’s journey, Kala says, “We have managed to create a network of volunteers. When there is an emergency, one needs to dial the ambulance and our registered volunteer, in the closest radius (2/3kms) from the accident site will get a notification instantly and will rush to the spot to offer first response.” Talking about her links with social service, Kala marks she has always been into social service right from young days. “I have volunteered with Red Cross Singapore, Chinmaya, Delhi and Sri Sathya Sai trust.”