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Being the change: Teena Kondody

There was an overbearing sense of angst, antagonism that Teena Kondody sensed the first time she stepped into the narrow lanesof Thoraipakkam slums.

It was like any other slum, noisy, dirty, and overcrowded. The slums near Thoraipakkam, Chennai, were sordid. There was an overbearing sense of angst, antagonism that Teena Kondody sensed the first time she stepped into the narrow lanes amongst the rows of chaotic shacks. Teena cannot forget the welcome she and her friends got when they stepped in there for the first time. “They threw stones at us and asked us to get out. There was so much anger,” says Teena, 24, who overcame this initial shock to work amongst them for the next few years.

“The people had a reason to react so violently. They had been relocated from their original homes, promised better living conditions but were fated to live in squalor, without sanitation, supply of clean water, electricity, timely law enforcement and other basic services,” says Teena who was doing her graduation in Stella Maris.

Things changed gradually. Soon Teena and her friends were ‘accepted’ by the slum dwellers. “Each day was difficult. We knew that they did not have basic faith in us. We tried to make them understand why we were there, tried to teach art, music and basic etiquette to the kids. Most of the children were doing odd jobs and supporting their families. The men did not want that to stop in any way. We then took stitching and basic embroidery classes for the women; taught them to make paper jewellery and such stuff. We also helped them sell their products by organising small exhibitions. . And the money we collected was given to the women.”

As member of the Youth Red Cross in college Teena was actively involved in spreading awareness about blood donation, getting youngsters to donate blood. As a friend, who did not want to be named, said, “Teena was involved in everything. If any one needed help we called Teena and she would see that help was at hand.”

Ask Teena how she was drawn into philanthropic pursuits, she laughs and says, “I don’t think I’m relevant at all. I know of a lot of young people willing to help, willing to serve but bogged down by so many factors. I don’t think or believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. There’s nothing we cannot achieve if people can come together for a noble cause. Moreover, this is an opportunity to respect and learn from others.”

This compassion for the downtrodden, for those in need of help, was instilled in Teena by her parents. “When we, my elder brother and I, were kids, Appa and Amma made it a point to take us to special schools. They used to go to the schools regularly, offering what little assistance they could. This perhaps rubbed on to both of us. I taught in a special school too,” says Teena, taking time out from her discussion with the authorities of a government run blind school at Olassa (Kottayam district). “This school was one of the best-run schools in the State. But now with funds running out there is dearth of facilities. With friends we are looking at what we can do.”

Teena, who now teaches Art at Choice School Thiruvalla, chucked her plans of higher studies abroad as she felt there’s so much she could do here. She was in the limelight, something that she abhors, recently in the case of Ambili Fathima, a young girl, who needed money for multiple organ transplantation. “This is one incident that I regret. She would have been with us today had it not been for our ignorance. That incident also made me realise how insensitive people could be. We had to raise Rs. 1.89 lakhs through friends and the social media to pay the hospital authorities to get her body released. I still go to Ambili’s house. Her mother is devastated. We are trying to help her come back to life.”

She was in the forefront when the people of Nepal begged for help after the terrible earthquake. “This was not planned. I simply posted a status on FB saying that I’m donating for the people of Nepal and asked if there were people to join me. In minutes by inbox was flooded with offers of help. We managed to send 46 tonnes of food, clothes, pulses, rice etc.”

A freelance artist Teena does not consider herself as a social worker nor does she want to be dubbed an NGO. “I’m just a facilitator who tries to sort out things for people in need, like getting them connected to sponsors and I also stand guarantee. By God’s grace I have been able to convince people why I’m there and what I do. The money I get from the sale of my paintings also helps,” says Teena whose work clearly underlines the fact that only through action do words take meaning.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 5:28:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Being-the-change-Teena-Kondody/article14569740.ece

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