Life & Style

Showcasing humanity on social media

Social media page Humans of Kerala features extraordinary stories of people. It is now diversifying into mental health campaigns, with a workshop on Saturday

Meet Thomas Chettan. He distributes food to the inmates of the cancer centre at Kottayam Medical College and in his free time sits down for a chat with the bedridden, he’s God to the patients; Ajay Raj who entered the world of books, in class 5, when his village near Kozhikode first got a library. He studied in a Malayalam medium school and today as a student of St Stephens, New Delhi, Ajay has been short-listed for the Rhodes Scholarship. If he makes it he will be one in five Indians to do so this year. And meet RagRanjini, a transwoman who successfully fought identity crisis, underwent a sex change surgery and has now adopted a child.

They are among the people featured in the social media pages of Humans of Kerala (HOK). Founded in June by Rahul Roy (22), Sanjna Elizabeth George (20), Ron J Davis (19) and Stanley James (22), the site garnered 5,000 followers in the first month itself and now has over 10,000. The founders never imagined that the platform would become a space for people to share stories. Their network of volunteers or story gatherers has increased and spread to cities across Kerala and places like Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai.

Rahul, who works for a Singapore-based company, says that they based HOK on Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) and the Humans of Mumbai page. “We saw gay couples come out and many other social issues addressed head on. Then we thought of giving voice to women entrepreneurs, and the socially marginalised. This idea received immediate response with almost 50 entries. People from outside Kerala too began contacting us,” he recalls. Rahul, who also graduated from New Delhi’s St Stephens College, got this idea from his days as a volunteer for Humans of Stephens, the college’s Instagram handle that featured journeys of students. Sanjna, from Kochi and currently a student at the same college, shared his sentiments of a shared space for Malayalis.

The turning point was the 2018 floods. It brought about a re-emergence of a Malayali identity, says Rahul, adding, “People were connecting and communicating with each other during the floods more than before. It felt like the right time to start.” He reached out to Ron and Stanley, his childhood friends from Changanassery, and with Sanjna began sourcing human interest stories. When they had 25 inspirational tales, they launched the site though they were doubtful about its success. A few celeb endorsements and enthusiastic response from activist Lakshmi Menon pushed them to do more.

Podcasts were introduced and received well. People began to connect for causes like financial aid for medical purposes. An emotional speech by a Kashmiri in Kerala on the abrogation of Article 370 created a stir. Environmentalists, members of the LGBTQ community, social workers, victims of sexual abuse, flood survivors... many people found a voice through HOK.

“Once the flow began, we noticed that majority were youngsters and women talking of facing mental health issues, of overcoming or tackling and the societal stigma they faced,” says Sajna. The response to this was the Instagram handle @soundmindofficial . Having realised that mental health issues need to be addressed head on, the four have stepped out of the virtual world and are holding a reach-out programme on October 12 (two days after World Mental Health Day on October 10).

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 8:35:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/humans-of-kerala-founders-diversify-into-a-community-outreach-with-mental-health-awareness-camapign/article29640749.ece

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