For many, the December 2015 deluge in Chennai is only a memory. But for those who have been a part of rebuilding the lives of affected communities, the process is still ongoing.
In November, I was a part of the Vaasagar Thiruvizha (a readers’ festival), an event organised to commemorate The Hindu Tamil’s third anniversary in Chennai. There was a huge downpour that day and foreseeing the havoc it could cause, the chief guest, Tamil poet and lyricist Vairamuthu, announced that he would give away 1,000 bedsheets and sleeping mats to those in need.
During this time, we did not have the slightest idea there would be a deluge impacting the lives of so many.
Cuddalore, one of the badly affected cities during the November rains, was top priority then, and we were sending supplies and relief material to all areas that we could reach. It was around this time that the rains began to hit Chennai, and parts of the city began flooding.
There were power cuts and lack of food and other basic amenities everywhere. We saw an opportunity to support a community that has sustained our institution for generations, and The Hindu Group’s Chennai Rising programme was born.
Being a media company, we began to spread the word through our stories and social media promotions about our initiative and requested help from interested donors and organisations.
With enormous support from companies such as KPN Travels and many generous donors who came forth to contribute supplies, we reached out to many families in need. Around 150–200 volunteers from different institutions and cadres joined us to work tirelessly for more than two weeks.
We were constantly receiving relief material from different parts of the city. The volunteers segregated them, maintained an inventory, and dispatched the supplies to the respective destinations.
To maintain credibility, we also had a special team handle logistics, manage, and validate incoming requests from flood-hit victims, and allocate resources accordingly. Our main aim was to help people who lived in areas that were least accessible.
Some of our biggest milestones include:
- Touching approximately 200,000 families in Chennai and surrounding districts.
- Being the only organisation to reach out to and support marginalised communities such as transgender, Dalit, and gypsy with supplies.
- Helping more than 1,000 specially challenged people in Chennai alone.
Three young boys, Ashok, Arjun, and Arumugam, received the NDTV Indian of the Year 2015 award for their selfless and untiring support offered during the Chennai Rising campaign. Today, even though we have moved on from the devastation, families like theirs need our support. After the floods, they were invited as guests to speak at a school in the neighbouring district.
In appreciation of their grit and spirit, the school helped them with a seed fund. I opened a bank account for each of them, deposited the funds, added a little contribution, and created a fixed deposit. Having lost their homes, they continue to lean on us for support.
Thanks to the generous donors, we still have a lot of supplies and relief material, and we are currently distributing them to corporation school students, families of public servants, and others in need.
Through this unforgettable learning experience, people bound together in a cause, rose above all differences, and worked zealously, unmindful of their own discomfort. Humanity won during the calamity. Chennai Rising not only got the city back on track, but also built strong bonds between communities.