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“We Shall Overcome “

 

                                                                           AN ENCOUNTER WITH DEVASTATION

Nobody had remained silent after 15th of August 2018, the day Kerala stood still. When the rains started it was a relief for almost everyone in Kerala parched by the cruel summer but who knew that it was going to be the worst flood the state has seen in almost a century. For me being a citizen of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, and one of the few places which was not fully  affected by the rains compared to other cities of the state where the havoc wreaked by the floods were news that was continuously relayed through television and social media. However the lack of any personal loss had not affected the citizens here and we were the backbone for the rest of the state in supplying relief materials and providing volunteers. For the first time the whole state was unified in collectively braving the disaster. The contributions of money and relief materials were pouring from all over the country and globe. The people and the government worked hand in hand efficiently to ensure that all the contribution reach the needy.

Slowly the rains started receding and finally the behemoth rainfall of the century stopped. If anyone was relieved that this was the end of their travails they were wrong as only now the magnitude of the catastrophe started becoming evident. The loss to public and private property could not be quantified. Many people lost everything they had worked for, places where their houses stood now remained in ruins and people whose home withstood the flood could not be returned to as it was damaged and everything in it was unusable.

We, the members of JCI Thiruvananthapuram, wanted to contribute essentials to people affected in those areas like how we had done to the flood affected people in Thiruvananthapuram but what to give was the question as they needed everything from provision to household items that had perished in the floods. Finally, after much brainstorming, we decided to distribute utensils as whatever utensils remained in the households were filled with debris. Next issue was to find the revenue for the same as for the completion of such a daunting task we needed more resource in cash and also in people. Luckily we could collaborate with two other like minded teams namely the Nirmala Bhavan Old Student Alumni Association and Kerala Law Academy 1992-1995 alumni association. Together we all could raise an amount of  Rs Five Lakhs and as we had decided to distribute the utensils in the form of a kit containing the essentials utensils to start a kitchen like plates, glasses ,spoons , ladles, canister , knife etc . Finding the most affected area was another task and all of us through our reliable sources zeroed in Aranmula area of Pathanamthitta District. We contacted the panchayat office and they wholeheartedly supported our initiative and undertook the task of finding the people in their locality who were the most deserving for such a contribution.

Finally on September 1st 2018 , a seven member team comprising representatives of the three organizations working together set out  to the flood affected area. After a two hour journey we reached our destination. We first went to the panchayath office where we were welcomed by the panchayth president Mrs Elsy Christopher and the Jilla Vice President Mr George Kondoor and other ward members. From there they lead us to the first location of the distribution. The members proceeded in their vehicle and took the lead and we followed them. Quite frankly nothing had prepared us for the scenes we all were about to witness. It was disastrous. Places which thrived on greenery and life were reduced to nothing but a place covered in mud and debris. The famous town of Aranmula which has a unique cultural identity was now in shambles. Houses, vehicles, shops everything was covered in a veil of gloom and mud. The roads which withstood the impact of the flood with the tar intact was covered in layers of dried mud raised a dust cloud anytime a vehicle passed on it. Such was the devastation that none of us could imagine.

We reached the first location by 9.30 am and after an introduction by the Jilla vice president we began our kit distribution. The panchayat had restricted the kits only to the people whose homes were flooded. The people were very happy with gratitude brimming in their faces but there was a forlorn shadow in their eyes.  We distributed nearly 80 kits in the first location and then proceeded to the next location which was nearby the banks of river Periyar which flooded the whole area. The houses in those areas were in utter ruins crying for salvation from their present state and those scenes left our team nearly baffled and speechless for the unspoken thought in everybody’s mind was what if this happened to us. In the second location also we started our distribution while the panchayat members were calling out the names. I was responsible for the sorting of plates into the carry bags. Likewise every team member had a job. It was getting tedious as we had lot of locations to cover and I was finding it difficult to get the plates from the mini truck that carried all the utensils and putting it inside the kit at a go and that is when a team member of ours asked a local boy whose family came for collecting the kit to help me. The child whole heartedly and efficiently did the task assigned to him. While we were progressing with our task I started a conversation with the little boy, his name of Jibil and he was a student of std 6. His whole house was submerged in the water; though his house was intact they lost everything inside the house including all the electrical appliances. I asked him about his school and he said his school was converted into a relief camp and it will be reopened soon but he had lost all his books and uniforms and he pointed to a girl standing next to him and said this is my sister and even she lost everything. This really pained us for we didn’t know what to say except the words of hope. We bade goodbye to everyone in the second location and proceeded to few more locations.

When we reached the seventh location, it was at house and all the people in the list gathered there and we soon started our distribution. The house where the distribution was held also was once covered in water and they had to clean the entire house, but still the pungent smell of bleaching powder and mud was overpowering our noses we couldn’t fathom the plight of the people living in that situation. After this we proceeded to St Josephs Roman Catholic Church in Maramon which was a relief camp during the floods and still housed few inmates whose homes were beyond repair. All of us including panchayat members were provided the lunch which was cooked in another relief centre. Lunch was a simple meal that consisted of rice , baked green gram sautéed with coconut, coconut chutney and mango pickle. We all got a feeling that we were also the members of the relief camp. Those were unforgettable moments of our life. After our lunch the panchyat president Mrs Elsy Christopher showed us the church and surrounding and recounted the tales of flood. The president who was a middle aged lady was working actively inspite of serious pneumonia attack. Seeing these officials working tirelessly raised our respect for all the government officials.

From there we proceeded to our next location and the distribution of kits continued. The distribution of utensils kit finally got over by 6 pm evening and our team swelled with pride for we could distribute 570 kits of utensils to 570 families. Even though it was a tedious and tiring task nothing could beat the contentment we all felt with what little help we could do. The panchayat members and people alike couldn’t express their gratitude in mere words and their faces were  covered with a melange of emotions, for utensils were something people needed and we were all the more happy to know that our help truly reached the deserving people.

After having our dinner along with the panchayat members and biding adieu to them we started our return journey by 6.30pm. The words cannot explain the ordeal of people living there with their homes covered in soot and silhouettes of gloom haunting their surrounding but instead of being tired our team was replenished with energy seeing the fighting spirit of the people and their determination to turn the words “We Shall Overcome” into a reality.

This is the experience of a volunteer who worked in the field and distributed relief kit. Varsha Menon, Lawyer, Thiruvanatahpuram

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