All for one, one for all

Community kitchens become a runaway success in flood-hit places

August 23, 2018 05:05 pm | Updated 05:05 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 Women staying in the relief camp in Alappuzha cut vegetables to cook for community kitchen

Women staying in the relief camp in Alappuzha cut vegetables to cook for community kitchen

As relief camps start emptying and people begin re-making their homes, implementation of the second part of relief operations – that of resettlement of the affected people in houses —has become imminent.

When the capital city was buzzing with collection centres to garner food and essentials, members of Trivandrum Runners Club (TRaCs) were among volunteers collecting relief materials, reaching out to places hit by floods and preparing food to be air dropped.

“Then we understood that food distribution would have to be sustained for a longer period than what was presumed earlier. One of the reasons is that many places in Pathanamthitta and Chengannur are still waterlogged and there is an acute drinking water scarcity and shortage of food. So, we decided to change our strategy,” explains architect N.S. Abhayakumar, president of TRaCs.

While volunteers wholeheartedly participated in making the aval nanachathu to be air dropped and in collecting food and essentials for relief camps, later, they decided to open community kitchens in certain areas badly affected by the rising waters or support community kitchens that were being run by residents living in elevated places near Chengannur and Pandalam.

 Aval packets given to flood-hit people by Trivandrum Runners’ Club

Aval packets given to flood-hit people by Trivandrum Runners’ Club

All hands on board

Rajeev T.V., for instance, a jawan with the Border Security who rushed home to Pathanamthitta from Mumbai to help in relief and rescue operations, has opened a community kitchen that is supporting about 25 to 30 people. Poovathoor, near Thiruvalla, is a place that is between two rivers – Pamba and Manimalayar. With both the rivers in spate, almost all houses have been badly affected by the flood. Recognising that the residents would need time to get their lives together, volunteers of TRaCs procure rice, green gram, oil and so on to help Rajeev keep the fire burning in his community kitchen. It is usually kanji and payar at most kitchens. “But I am discovering that there are many different and delicious ways to have kanji too,” chips in Abhay.

Operating such community kitchens in schools have an advantage. The noon meal scheme of the government has ensured that there are reasonable well-run kitchens and utensils in many government schools.

In the meantime, a group of volunteers went to the camps and houses in the flooded areas to distribute food and drinking water. “Drinking water is going to be a precious commodity in the coming days. Most of the wells have overflowed and septic tanks too, which means all the wells have been contaminated and will need to be pumped out, cleaned and chlorinated. So all these areas are going to need clean water for drinking and cooking. We managed to get a tanker. But then we discovered there were no cans to distribute the water. So we had to make arrangements to buy cans and reach that to the places,” explains Abhay.

It has been a process of backward integration for the group that also included alumni members of the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

Once, they went about buying provisions for the community kitchens run in houses and schools, there was a need for huge cooking vessels, which also had to be sourced or bought.

The volunteers also found that several people had lost their savings and would have to start from scratch to rebuild their lives. “Obviously, we would not be able to help large populations and we hope to focus on small communities and extend all our assistance to get them back on track,” asserts Abhay.

In addition, an appeal to his alumni group has resulted in them procuring five portable generators and high pressure jets to help the residents clean their houses of the silt and dirt left behind by the river. The plan is to entrust the cleaning to a group of local residents and, eventually, donate the equipment to a local school or self-government institution.

“We will continue to support such places like Poovathoor, Idayaranmula and so on and directly supply them with food and materials in whatever way we can. It is going to be a long run but we are in it for the long haul,” he adds.

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