Tiruvarur: When Pragathees Pandiyan, Anbarasan and Parthiban, three friends who reside in the hamlet of Alathambadi, near Tiruthuraipoondi, in Tiruvarur district, woke up on the morning of 16 November, they had nothing left. Not their house, their coconut farm or livelihood. Not just their houses, but the entire neighbourhood was devastated by Cyclone Gaja that made its landfall the previous night.
Something, from within, made the three friends rise up from this loss and put their village back on its feet. But, at the point of time, they did not know where to start as the situation was calamitous.
Meanwhile, the people of Alathambadi were moved to a relief camp, a marriage hall in the locality. It was there that they had a spark. The thought was, “If every affected village has a relief camp, why don’t we reach out to all of them and feed them until they get relieved from the pain?”
Initially, the trio, who are fresh engineering graduates, started off with their village. As soon as they started to raise funds from their college friends, their beneficiary base, too, began to expand.
“A relief camp of 200 to 500 people would require just Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 for a whole week. We started to get funds more than that and so we could extend our support to more villages,” says Pragathees, when this News Today correspondent met the team on ground zero.
As of now, the team has covered around 32 villages in and around Tiruthuraipoondi and Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district. “There were a lot of issues for us in reaching out to the villages. But, we had to do this, as there was no one else to do it,” Pragathees added.
Anbu elaborated about the kind of issues Pragathees mentioned: “The main problem in the area is caste. No one here is ready to help the oppressed section of people. So, we decided to reach out to them alone in all the 32 villages and we will cover more of them. All these villages are far away from the main roads and highways where every other volunteering group carries out relief measures.”
He said, “Even our parents keep reproaching us, ‘Yenda namma veetuku onnum pannama oorukku pannitu irukiya‘ as our houses, too, have been wrecked in the disaster.”
But Pragathees interjected, “I have a brother who earns and can rebuild our house. Who do they have?”
In the last 20 days, the trio has raised more than Rs 1 lakh. “There are a lot of people out there who trust us and help us restore our area. But, it is also our responsibility to show them what we have done,’ says Parthiban who takes pictures of the relief measures they undertake and send the pictures back to the donors. ‘It is simple documentation. Even if they do not expect it, we have to do it,” explains Parthiban.
Even in this, the team has been following a principle. “We do not take pictures for promoting ourselves. Also, the pictures will not be snapped when we are giving relief materials but only as group photos with the materials kept before them. It is because, at the end of the day, they are all farmers. Their extending their hands seeking help itself is a bad gesture for society. When you document and publicise the pictures, it is even more of a shame for the one who does that,” Anbu explained.
As they started to document and post pictures of relief work in their college and school WhatsApp groups, support for them doubled. “So, we are planning the next step of development. We will be stopping relief work soon and focus on rehabilitation,” says Pragathees, who showed pictures of a lot of damaged houses, schools and public utility buildings during Gaja’s landfall.
“Our next progress would be restoring the infrastructure of the area and also providing basic livelihood to our people,” he said.
In the first phase of their rehabilitation efforts, the team has been buying schoolbags and stationery for students in the downtrodden areas. “Though the government has promised to buy them books, we are not sure when that would reach them. So, we have been buying all other stationery materials and school bags expect textbooks,” said Anbu, whose maternal uncle is a schoolteacher who guides the team.
The team has decided to create an identity for themselves. “Though we are not required to brand ourselves, the next step of our work like building schools and houses will need more funds, which means more donors. At such a time, they expect us to be an organisation. So, we have named our team, ‘Tamil Aram’ where aram refers to fertility, richness and charity. And, we promise Tamil Aram will continue to work for the oppressed section even after this, as Gaja has taught us to be responsible. This is just the beginning,” said Pragathees earnestly.
The team can be reached at 9080690947 or 9962711320.