‘We sleep well at night’
Siblings Krishnakiran, 19 and Surya, 16, spent up to 12 hours a day packing supplies for flood victims
Surya and Krishnakiran Kishan’s family hadn’t really planned on any of the events that took place during their trip to Kerala. They had gone on a pilgrimage to a temple in Mangalore and were planning to return to Kochi when they were told the airport was shut. The detour took them to Kannur, in northern Kerala. It was there that Krishnakiran saw what she describes as ‘one of the most horrid things’ on the news. The fury of the floodwaters that was destroying everything in its wake. ‘We felt helpless sitting there as everything around us was collapsing.’
It was their mother Jeeja who prompted them into action. ‘Mum has always been into charitable work, and said we needed to do something more than stay glued to the TV and pray,’ Krishnakiran, fondly called Kiran, says.
So Kiran, 19, a student of law, her brother Surya, 16, a student of Our Own Indian School, and Jeeja went to the Kannur Collectorate – the local government offices – and asked how they could help. The camp was at the time collecting supplies for Wayanad and Cochin as Kannur had escaped the brunt of the floods. So the family went out and bought clothes, bedsheets, even mattresses, and rice, and delivered the materials to the collection centres. Wanting to do more, they offered to volunteer at the centre. ‘We asked if we could do some physical work.’ Initially, the staff manning the centre politely declined their offer saying they had enough staff, but when the Kishans insisted they directed them to the main auditorium where they were given the task of sorting clothes.
That job grew in scope, and soon they were in the camp packing healthcare provisions, grains, food and clothes – often working 12-hour shifts from 10am to 10pm. They learned to work quickly – at one stage their group packed 1,000 food packets in 30 minutes.
Once they got going, even illness could not stop them. When Surya was down with stomach pains, he decided to work from home preparing oral hygiene kits for the victims. ‘I wasn’t fully on board initially as I didn’t know whether I’d be able to contribute anything, but soon I was intensely involved,’ he says.
Kiran asks if she can quote Spider-man ‘Where he says, ‘if I have the powers and I don’t help, that’s on me’. We quite felt the same.’
The experience brought them face to face with a calamity the scope of which they could barely fathom. Kiran recalls the story of a woman who was forced to sit on the terrace of her flooded house next to her husband’s body for three days until help arrived. ‘How do you even move on from that?’.
Jeeja has the answer. ‘We came out stronger. What the children saw there will henceforth add value to whatever they will do in life. Even the district collector who’d be busy all day would change into work clothes in the evening and join hands with volunteers at the centre. It was a valuable lesson for my kids: whatever position you are in, at times of distress it doesn’t matter. When there’s a need all you do is roll up your sleeves and be there.
‘For kids raised in the lap of luxury in Dubai, I think they wouldn’t have understood that lesson until they had seen it playing out on the ground.’
Kiran says that one of the valuable lessons she learnt was to be there for each other. Politics, religion, status everything else was secondary. Only humanity stood out. ‘The fact that supplies were flowing in – we had excess material at one point – was proof that compassion, commitment and dedication was still alive.’
Sleeping for barely two to three hours a day, the family also raised Rs1 lakh (Dh5,040) which was used to purchase medicines for victims.
Another valuable lesson they learnt was to learn to be part of a solution rather than a problem. ‘We are just happy to know that we put in even .0001 per cent to help victims,’ Kiran says. ‘That means we can sleep well at night.’