Onam Aashamsukal !

I was looking forward to the Independence Day week mini vacation. Our teachers’ trip to Vagamon & Munnar was on the anvil. Though it had been a fortnight of bad news, locally for us, and a hectic one too, a break in the hills with friends would have been the perfect antidote to the prevailing morose scene.

Meanwhile, the news of rains in the western ghats started coming in the news as a trickle. The trickle gained volume and now it had the potential to disrupt our planned activities during the trip. But the weekend before our scheduled departure it had turned into a deluge, especially in the places in our itinerary. It was throwing normal life out of gear in Kerala, the state that is entirely bordered by the ghats on its east. Hence, our trip was cancelled, for the third time, for reasons beyond our control.

Though it was a disappointment, it also paved way for some relaxed time at home. And so, I was savouring the time off. By now, the deluge was turning into a catastrophe. God’s Own Country was flooded. It was nothing like this generation had seen. An entire state was underwater, in historic proportions. The unrelenting rainfall was adding to the woes. Many of my friends were updating their status as ‘safe’ in the ‘flooding across Kerala’. A few of them were already engaging themselves in rescue & relief work. I made calls to some of my dear friends in Kerala to ascertain their safety. Though they were safe, they painted a grim picture of their surroundings.

The situation reminded me of the Chennai & Cuddalore floods of December 2015. I was reminded of how the staff of our school had responded then to the crisis. We had sent messages to parents about the collection drive for the floods, stationed buses at vantage points in our town, collected materials that were contributed, segregated & made them into family kits in our campus. This was all done in two days, inspite of the rain holidays & inspite of the fact that many of our own neighborhoods were also affected.

Forward to the present, we were thinking of some similar project. It was a 5-day holiday again. As we were finding how best to respond to the current crisis, I got messages from my 12th grade students regarding this. They wanted to collect relief materials. They even had come up with a rough poster. I conveyed to my Principal the plan the students had put forth and she quickly & enthusiastically approved the same. She gave her full support, as usual.

So we finalized the poster after back & forth corrections which the students edited multiple times. They printed the posters and stuck it on some most visited commercial establishments in town. Their social awareness group ‘Cognizance’ played an active part in this. Our school website & Facebook pages were updated with the poster. On Monday, the day the full school reopened after the holidays, the Student Council of std 12 put up an Assembly in school to create awareness among students and to motivate them to contribute.

But a few did not need any motivation; they had brought in materials on Monday itself after seeing the poster in the websites. This was how the trickle started. We wanted cartons to segregate & pack. A random call to a packaging manufacturing company, whose proprietor turned out to be our school parent, brought in perfect sized boxes, for which he refused to take a payment. Over the next four days we carved out some time in our packed academic schedule to collect, sort, segregate, pack & label the materials.

The 11th graders quickly grasped what was to be done & meticulously carried out the work. A handful of 12th graders would check with me every evening to see what materials were needed & brought in those supplies everyday, inspite of me telling them that they have contributed enough. Parents and teachers contributed generously. One parent, a garment store owner gifted huge sacks of dresses and blankets, worth tens of thousands. Teachers brought in cleaning supplies. But the best contribution came from the housekeeping staff. One of them came and told that they have collected RS.5000 and asked for suggestions on what to contribute. I left it to their choice. The next morning they added around fifteen numbers of 5kg bags of rice and 1kg packets of toor dal. Our team was humbled and enthused by this gesture. The trickle of empathy initiated by students had turned into a deluge of compassion.

An attender from our stores department suggested and helped us pack a carton of the sturdy synthetic bags in which the supplies were given. He said these bags will be helpful in distribution of relief in camps and homes across Kerala. Such was the thoughtfulness employed by each one involved in this project.

After deliberations, we decided to hand over our relief consignment to Jipmer hospital, which was doing a commendable job by sending medical teams and supplies. Students with the help of drivers loaded the materials in our school bus and we reached the hospital campus. Two staff were waiting to receive us. Seeing our bus full of supplies, one of them rang up a few people to come over to the auditorium to help unload. But our students did not wait for help and started unloading. Within a few moments everything was unloaded and neatly arranged. The return trip to school was a relaxed fun journey.

By evening I got a message from one of the doctors that the materials from The Study was well segregated & packed, which saved their volunteers extra work. This was a testament to the diligent work done by our students. The notable fact is that it was done with empathy, and compassion. A joint effort by all in our school and driven by students.

David W. Orr, an environmentalist and environmental educationist writes in his book, Ecological Literacy:Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” — David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy:Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World

The world will pass on to a wonderful generation which can traverse the virtual world and the real world seamlessly, negotiating the digital space with their technological expertise and enhancing the real world with humane qualities.

I write this piece not for publicity, but to highlight the fact that our world will be safe with our succeeding generations. Also, an institution which gives space for students to explore their humanitarian side will help in creating a peaceful world. Whatsoever controversies the heads in power create, the people-to-people connect across borders and breaking barriers is what matters in ensuring a great world to live in, for all.

Wishing my friends a great Onam and a greater year ahead.

~Punitha Lakshmi

#keralafloodrelief #keralafloods2018 #standwithkerala

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