Humans of Plan India

Interaction with school chidren at a school in Alappuzha
Interaction with school chidren at a school in Alappuzha

One district, 20 days, and hundreds of families and children

Thus began my part in the distribution of relief material under Plan India’s humanitarian response to the Kerala floods. Hundreds of thousands had been displaced due to the worst floods to have struck the state in a hundred years.

Plan’s work had just kicked off when I joined the Emergency Response Team in Alappuzha district, one of the worst affected districts of the state. I recall distinctly, arriving on 13th September, when we immediately started off the relief work by distributing non-food items in the villages, including educational kits to school children in flood affected areas. This gave me the opportunity to interact directly with the most affected population including children. In villages, kits were collected, mostly, by the elders of the affected families. When they thanked us, we witnessed the happiness and an assurance in their eyes that now resuming to usual life will be much easier with cooking ware and utensils which forms an essential part of daily life. Our warm and jubilant welcome in school was a reflection of the high spirits of children and teachers who has joined back school soon after the flood receded. Children were very excited to know more about me and were asking me about my native place, family, why I am in Kerala etc. Some of them tried teaching me songs and counting in Malayalam. They would ask me to pronounce few Malayalam words and as I attempt it, they would break into laughter while applauding and appreciating me at the same time. For a moment, language did not seem to be a barrier. Children’s joyous smiles as they got a new school bag, notebooks, pencil box, colours etc. invariably led to a cheerful end of the distribution.

Every day, while en-route to various distribution points across the district, we saw the marks that the receding water had left behind. We also got to hear stories of devastation it caused, especially to the schools. Many had to be closed for weeks before they were made functional for classes to resume. Library books, official records/registers, desks, computers, printers, etc. were badly affected due to the flood and were left out in the open to dry – a scene that silently spoke volumes of the damage caused to the school infrastructure and most of all, to children’s learning.

Happy faces after the distribution of education kits
Happy faces after the distribution of education kits

My interaction with children in all the schools I visited was memorable and inspiring, and one such encounter was when I met Malvika, a fifth grader who had been evacuated along with her family during the floods. I watched in silence as she recited a poem she had penned herself, based on her experience of the Kerala floods. Her heartfelt words moved everybody to tears, irrespective of our knowledge of the Malayalam language. Her words barely needed translation, as each of us experienced her emotions as she spoke.

When I asked her what made her write the poem, she shared, “I was too scared during the flood. I saw my relatives suffer so much. There weren’t even clean clothes to wear. I had a pet kitten which we couldn’t take aboard the rescue vessel, so I kept it on top of piles of things at home to save its life. But when I returned, it was gone. I could not even go to school for many days. All of this made me want to write down what I was feeling – what all of us were feeling.”

Her poignant reflection at such a tender age, speaks to her ability to understand others’ pain far better than many of us. Moreover, it also showed that the floods in Kerala not only caused physical damage but also had a strong psychological impact, especially on children, which must be addressed. I am glad I could witness the happiness and joy on their faces as they received school bags, books and stationary kits from Plan India as a first step to returning to normal life. The educational materials were engaging and designed to alleviate their difficult experiences of the flood. I cannot forget the warm welcome we received from the teachers and students in every school. My poor attempt at a Malayalam rhyme was whole-heartedly appreciated by children and teachers alike, which was overwhelming.

It was truly a lesson in humanity, witnessing the humble and helping attitude of the local people. Officials from the District Child Protection Unit not only guided us in the identification of schools but also accompanied us to the field for distribution. Our local drivers volunteered to manage the crowd and handle the distribution kits. Vendors ensured that distribution kits were ready and loaded well in advance, which at times meant keeping up till 3:00 a.m. Volunteers from villages helped us complete registration processes seamlessly.

I cannot imagine how our work in Kerala would have been possible without the unconditional support of all of these people. In the process, I also learned so much about a state that I had visited for the very first time. Be it a “Thank you, Chechi!” from a child, or a blessing from an elderly woman placing her hand on my head, it made me feel something that I can never express in words, but will always bring a smile to my face. Those 20 days in Alappuzha are among the most enriching and ofcourse, the most memorable days of my life. There is a long way to go still, but we are working to slowly rebuild lives in a state I have come to regard as my own.

In memory, till we meet again!

Written by: Priyanka Kumari, Plan India – Grants Management Coordinator