Inside the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in the heart of Kochi, close to a thousand volunteers, most of them in their 20s, are hard at work collecting a variety of food and essential supplies, making lists, packing them into huge cardboard boxes and stacking them at the backs of trucks and pickup vans.
These young men and women form the backbone of ‘Anbodu Kochi’ (with love, Kochi), an initiative by the Ernakulam district administration to coordinate and channelise the food and relief supplies towards a large number of shelter camps on the outskirts of the city housing thousands of people whose homes have been ravaged by violent floods. The same team, consisting of several Malayalam actors and actresses, had worked wonders in sending a large number of relief supplies to Chennai when it faced devastating floods in December, 2015.
Ex-collector MG Rajamanickam, who is the brain behind the initiative, is in the middle of hectic talks inside a small room within the stadium. There are discussions about the specific items that need to be sent for emergency purposes as well as the formal letters that organisers of relief camps need to bring to collect supplies.
“Yesterday, we sent supplies for 1,60,000 people to be airdropped to relief camps on the outskirts of Kochi. Today, we have sent supplies for 1 lakh people through the Army and Navy. We are not taking cooked food as they are perishable items. Items like bread, milk and water are the need of the hour,” he told the Indian Express.
“Since trucks are not coming from Coimbatore because of flooding in Chalakkudy-Thrissur, we need more supplies from here. We also have to send essential items to the district administrations in Chengannur, Alappuzha and Thiruvalla,” he added.
From bunches of bananas to sacks of rice, buckets, mugs, dhotis and underpants, there are a wide variety of items strewn across the indoor stadium. According to detailed lists prepared for each relief camp, each set of volunteers are engaged in packing those items in cardboard boxes, sealing them and keeping them aside to be shipped. Many of the volunteers are also engaged in receiving supplies brought by private organisations and individuals. There’s a decorum and methodology to the entire process and heads of volunteers are consulted before making key decisions. The public has been especially asked not to contribute cooked food or used clothes.
Outside the stadium, large military trucks, capable of moving through deep flood-waters, are parked waiting for supplies to be loaded. These trucks are primarily going towards the taluks of Aluva and Paravur which have been completely cut off from the rest of the district.
Anand Krishnan, 21, is a native of Wayanad district in Malabar, ravaged by landslides and floods. A student of sound engineering in Kochi, Anand says his parents and relatives are in a safe place. Since he lives nearby, he chose to volunteer when ‘Anbodu Kochi’ was asking for more hands on the deck. He works for almost 12 hours from 8 in the morning till 8 at night.
“I have a stiff back, but it’s fine. It’s for a good cause. This is what we have to do, right? It’s our duty to help,” says Anand, who will leave for his hometown on Sunday.
“I haven’t seen anything of this magnitude in my life. Elders say such floods have occurred even in the past, but maybe because there were no media to document it, it went unnoticed,” he says.
In another corner of the hall, Akhil, also from Wayanad, is busy fashioning cardboard boxes out of sheets. He works in a private firm in Kochi but has taken leave to volunteer for ‘Anbodu Kochi’.
He too works for almost 12 hours a day, but he says the work makes him feel as if he’s doing something for the people.
“Till the water recedes on the roads, I can’t go home. So when I am here, there’s no point in sitting at home. I can come here and contribute,” he says.