From feeding the hungry, to building houses for the homeless, and painting the walls of Government schools, voluntary groups in Thiruvananthapuram show how a little bit of kindness goes a long way
“Can you provide food for two people?” The plea from a woman staying at Konchiravila with her bed-ridden 85-year-old father still rings in Abhiraj Unni’s ears. Today, whenever the team collects food, a portion is set aside for them. She is among the many people Abhiraj and his team of volunteers at Signature of Nishagandhi feed almost every day. This voluntary group collects excess food from functions, weddings, parties and events and distributes it among patients and bystanders at SAT Hospital.
“Every day, we get 10 to 15 calls. In addition, students of Government Women’s Polytechnic give us around 100 food packets every Tuesday,” says Abhiraj, a nurse. Members of this registered group came together at relief collection centres, mainly the Nishagandhi auditorium, during the floods of August 2018. “When it was time to disperse, we felt that we should keep this going and that’s how Signature of Nishagandhi was formed,” Abhiraj says.
Among the 150-odd members are students, techies, doctors, nurses and retired hands. Besides distributing food, the group has an active blood donors’ forum and also carries out cleaning drives, the recent one being during the Attukal Pongala. “We also provided relief material for those hit by cyclone Gaja in Tamil Nadu. We have some amazing members who are ready to do anything,” Abhiraj says. Contact: 9567047705
When HOPE (Hold On Pain Ends) decided to adopt the Attinkara colony near Beemapally, they had their task cut out. Life wasn’t easy for the residents with drainage leaks, dilapidated houses, unpaved roads and no water supply. “There were some anti-social activities and substance abuse cases too. Things are better now. We now teach children in the area on weekends, have renovated houses and helped a few women start small-scale business ventures,” says Mahesh Parameswaran Nair, the founder. “I wanted to do my bit for society and it started with a blood donation camp I arranged at a school. My posts on social media brought in more volunteers and in the last five years, HOPE has spread across Kerala,” says Mahesh, an IT professional.
HOPE’s list of activities is exhaustive — from constructing houses for the homeless, rehabilitating those living on the streets, giving medical assistance or financial aid, providing monthly provisions for families, cleaning drives, blood donation camps and more. “When we build houses, we make beneficiaries aware of the existing Government schemes, help them with official formalities and step in if manpower is needed. We have built five houses for widows and a sixth will be completed soon,” says Mahesh. The volunteers were on their toes during the floods. For the last five months, they have been carrying out cleaning drives at Vellayani Lake every weekend.
“We have 20-25 dedicated volunteers; others step in when needed. Social media has brought us together and the volunteers are my strength. Besides students and professionals, our group has youngsters who do part-time jobs such as food delivery, who go that extra mile to lend a helping hand, be it in kind or cash. We will be happy to have more volunteers,” he adds. Contact: 9207321026
Lessons in learning
Why would a child make a paper plane at a session on overcoming exam fear? Hema Gopalakrishnan uses this as a tool to drive home the importance of time management and the science behind objects that fly. She has many such activities up her sleeve to make learning interesting. Hema, with a group of like-minded individuals, has been running SOL (Self Organised Learning), “a charity to improve the quality of education” for five years now. The mainstay of SOL is Insight, its wing comprising college students, primarily those from LBS Institute of Technology for Women, Government Engineering College Barton Hill, MG College and Government Dental College.
“APJ Abdul Kalam pointed out in a speech about how corporates can adopt schools and make a difference. I wanted to be part of such an initiative and that was possible when I joined an MNC in Technopark. Although I left that job, the urge to do something for students remained with me,” she says. A session on life skills at LBS set the ball rolling and soon students from the college came forward to teach students of Government LP School, Kalady. Now, Insight volunteers, some 80 of them, take classes in English, Mathematics and personality development on Saturdays at four Government schools, besides holding workshops and training sessions at other schools.
They have also done up the walls of the Government school at Poojappura with art work. The society has a group, Laasya, to encourage artistically-inclined students and recently launched a programme to raise funds to help talented youngsters, the first one being a musical night at Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan. “Insight is a learning platform for the volunteers. Some take classes to improve their time management, organisation skills and communication, some give wings to their creativity and several students use it as a platform to get motivated,” says Ajith Kumar, a volunteer of Insight. Contact: 9895644616
Feeding the hungry
If you pass by Government Fort Hospital on a Sunday afternoon, you can’t miss a motley group of people distributing hot kanji with pumpkin erissery and pickle. Volunteers of Hunger Free Ananthapuri have been doing this for two years now. They are members of a popular online food group. “There were 10 of us initially. Now we have 30 members; some of them are donors who live abroad. There are student-volunteers, and people like me who are donors as well as volunteers,” says 59-year-old S Manjula. Kanji is prepared at the residence of one of the members, Gokul Subramanyam.
“While the expenses are met by the members themselves, on certain occasions, we do get sponsors,” says Gokul, who runs a home-based food business. Every month, the team visits old age homes and orphanages. Details on the Facebook page, Hunger Free Ananthapuri.