Rohit Devan studied in Kerala. He has been back home in Goa for the last five years. Though he still has friends there, he never got to visit them. A chef, by profession, he suddenly took off with his mother’s car 10 days ago to drive into the flood-hit state with whatever supplies he could stow into the SX4.
He spoke to HotFridayTalks about his experiences in helping with relief work as Kerala tries to get back on its feet after the devastating floods.
Rohit spent some of the tumultuous years of his life in Kerala. He says, “My friends have grown from teenagers to fathers. In the intervening years, I never came back to meet them. But during the floods, I knew I had to return and do my part. I work at two restaurants in Goa. I told one of the bosses that I am leaving for Kerala and he immediately made peace with my indefinite leave.”
Initially, Rohit just forwarded his plans among his friends to collect donations and supplies. He spent a day collecting all the material from across Goa as there was not enough time for the people to send it to him. He then drove till Mangalore and halted there to plan out his work.
Rohit says, “So much was happening that I knew I would be overwhelmed on entering Kerala. I asked my friends what they needed apart from the supplies I was carrying. On their suggestion, I collected bleaching powder, mosquito repellents, and other supplies.”
Rohit first reached Kalapetta, where a friend collected supplies. Over the next few days, he made his way through Wayanad, Kozhikode, and Kumarakom, providing the supplies to collection points among the local relief workers. Some of his friends helped him and at some places, people contacted him through Facebook.
Rohit says, “One of my friends sent out 100 trucks of supplies to different hamlets and villages. Here the lifestyle in the rustic hinterland is very precarious. They are living in rented constructions, which may be sustainable but not very safe. Reaching out to these people in the wilderness has been a challenge. There is a dull energy among the people, accepting the devastation as their fate.”
Rohit is awed by the help of some local heroes. He speaks of Jeffrey Mathew, the owner of a homestay in Kumarakom who has been using a kayak to supply relief to the people stranded in the backwaters. He says, “Jeffrey uses a kayak to go about and help people, from rescue to relief work. His homestay has hosted Airbnb guests, and now they are contacting him to help in some way. So, he has been receiving help from across the globe.”
Though there are some logistic concerns like trucks of supplies being stopped at district borders by excise officers to check for alcohol and the hoarding of supplies by some, Rohit feels that the locals are very proud of their state. He says, “I don’t want to take a tone of sympathy for the locals. We have to understand their mindset if we really want to help them.”
Rohit and his friends come out as the guerrilla volunteers, doing their bit without associating with any NGO or government organisation. He says, “My funds are dwindling, and I am still planning what I need to do next. But I am going to be here till I am satisfied that I have done whatever I could for Kerala relief.”
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