The Southern State of India was devastated by floods that claimed the lives of more than 500 people and rendered lakhs homeless. It is their hour of need. It is our time to help
It is the month every Keralite, especially those living in Kerala, looks forward to. Many families plan their holidays during this time. It is the month of Chingam, the first month of the solar Malayalam calendar… the month Onam is celebrated. Unfortunately, this year it was not to be. The Onam of 2018 will be etched in memories as a nightmare, an experience that scarred lakhs of families for life. When nature threw the worst ever curve ball, all the people of Kerala longed for was for the turmoil to be over. They wanted to pick themselves up and move on.
Kerala, ‘God’s Own Country’, the beautiful strip of land with coconut groves and coffee plantations, beautiful backwaters and a rich cultural heritage, was ravaged by what is called the “worst flood in a century’. The state had not experienced anything of the kind since 1924, commonly referred to as the “Great Flood of 99”, as it occurred in the year 1099 of the Malayalam calendar. Kerala has been criticised in the past for her poor preparedness for such natural calamities. The Idukki Dam gate was opened after 26 years and massive landslides were reported in the districts of Idukki, Kannur, Kozhikode Malappuram Palakkad and Wayanad. The water, along with the mud and sludge, destroyed everything in its path. While more than 500 lives were lost, lakhs were rendered homeless. Over 1,500 refugee camps set up across the state catered for the basic needs of the affected people. These floods will have a huge impact on not only the lives of the people, but the economy of the state and the environment.
After any natural disaster, the most trying period is the aftermath and rehabilitation. The victims and survivors who are physically and psychologically traumatised need to rebuild their lives. Those who have lost their loved ones have a longer journey of recovery ahead of them. And it is during such disastrous times that we come together as one large community and help those who have been stricken. We as a species are social animals and it is the protective nature of our social relationships that has allowed our species to thrive. These social connections are especially important because stress can lead to a sense of vulnerability and loss of control. Understanding the shared vulnerability inspires kindness and a desire to stand together and support each other.
The pain and suffering of the people of Kerala resonated around the world with donations pouring in from all corners to help rebuild the state. In Sydney, like in other parts of the world, Onam celebrations were cancelled, and all the money raised through ticket sales donated to the ‘Rebuild Kerala’ cause. On 26 August, a vigil was organised by the Sydney Malayalee Association at Martin Place to raise a collective voice and call upon all communities to support the people of Kerala. Sydney was wet on the morning of the vigil—was it a paradox or a divine communication of sorts! People from all ages, groups and communities came in large numbers to offer their support.
In his message, Hon. Ray Williams, Minister for Multiculturalism, said, “I offer my sincere condolences to families and friends who lost their loved ones in the tragic floods in Kerala, which has left more than 800,000 people displaced. Australians are no strangers to natural disasters and the immense scale of this tragedy has touched our hearts. I applaud efforts by Malayalee Australians to help families in their homeland, and on behalf of the NSW Government, I offer my deepest sympathy.” Luke Foley, Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of New South Wales said, “I stand with the Malayalee community in Sydney and the Kerala people and offer my deepest condolences for those who have lost a loved one.”
The other members who addressed the gathering are, Hon. Dr Geoff Lee MP, Member for Parramatta, Hon. Jodi McKay MP—Member for Strathfield, Hon Julia Finn MP, Member for Granville, Dr. G.K. Harinath, Chairperson, Multicultural NSW and Mr. Sreeni Pillamarri, President, United Indian Associations.
The Sydney Malayalee Association through the Sydmal Flood Relief Appeal under the able guidance of Babu Verghese, K P Jose and John Jacob, raised and transferred $30,000 to the Kerala Chief Ministers’ Disaster Relief Fund. This would not have been possible without the collective support of the people of Sydney. The team is now working closely with Councillors Susai Benjamin, Blacktown Council and Charishma Kaliyanda, Liverpool Council, who have offered to help and support the fund-raising activities. The Bengali Association and the Gurudhwara Committee have also offered their financial support, along with other Indian communities who are actively raising funds through the United Indian Associations. Sydmal is organising two other fundraising activities, one on 1 October at Bowman Hall, Blacktown and the second one on 3 November at All Saints Catholic Church Hall in Liverpool.
Let us hope that with all the efforts, Kerala will rise to glory like a Phoenix. Together let us rebuild Kerala.