Despite my promotion to “Doctor” yesterday (yes, I was prescribing and handing out medicine – apparently I’m qualified in India) I decided to go to a different gig today in Nungambakkam. Residents have transformed a wedding hall into a kitchen, packing and distribution center that is the largest source of both cooked and uncooked foods serving those affected by the floods. Hundreds of volunteers are cooking, prepping and delivering 30,000 cooked meals each day, in addition to 30,000 sacks of uncooked staples (rice, dal, spices, oil, etc.) which are packaged and delivered to needy communities. It’s a pretty impressive (and surprisingly well-organized) operation.
The majority of the volunteers are high school students. Schools in Chennai have been closed for the past month due to the rain. The nicer schools will open up in the next few weeks, but schools in slum areas have been turned into temporary housing, so it is unlikely that the students in these districts will return to class until the next academic year (which means April in India). Students eagerly came out to lend a hand and socialize with friends – it was pretty cool to see. The organizers did a good job keeping the kids engaged in monotonous, assembly-line tasks with their spontaneous drumming and dance performances, chants, and motivating announcements.
I spent most of the day working with an 11th grader named Anjana and her group of friends. Anjana is a pretty impressive young lady. She loved to tell me all about Chennai and its beauty and made me promise to come back when the city isn’t under water. “Chennai is the best city in the world,” she told me more than once, “I’m from Bangalore, so I should think Bangalore is best, but I like Chennai more. You won’t find better people anywhere.” Not only did she get up to come volunteer this morning, but she made all of her friends come as well. “This morning they all wanted to sleep…but it’s not fair that some people don’t even have a bed to sleep on right now. My friends are lazy. I went to their houses and woke them up and made them come.” She sees the world pretty clearly for a 16 year old. “In Chennai, we don’t need government. The government just makes things more complicated. People take care of each other here. In some ways, you could say some good came out of the flood because everyone came together and is helping each other. We will be back to normal in just one month because everyone is helping. You’ll see. Come back in January.” She told me we could go to the mall together. Ah…to be 16…
I’ve witnessed what Anjana told me so many times throughout the week. I’ve seen people stop their motorcycle to ask elderly people if they would like a ride. I’ve seen people buying food and medicine when someone requests, no questions asked. I’ve seen thousands of donated supplies coming in from across the country. Mostly, I’ve seen the initiative taken by everyday people on social media to actively seek out needs and to fill them. People scour Facebook and Twitter constantly to see who is asking for clothes, shoes, food, etc. and then deliver the requested items which they’ve either purchased themselves or gotten as a donation. Everyone is doing it. I’ve never seen anything like it – hashtags have literally changed lives. Anjana was spot-on when she said that the people were taking care of themselves…and it is pretty cool to see.
Check out some of my assembly line pics below. Day 4 tomorrow – I’m planning to go back to Nungambakkam with my high school buddies. Stay tuned!
One of the delivery trucks responsible for shipping out 150,000 cooked meals to those affected by flooding.
In this room, half of the volunteers made stacks of newspaper and butter paper (like wax paper) while the other half put rice on top and wrapped it up. All of the food is cooked on site.
People of all ages came out to help.
In another room, volunteers measured and packed up uncooked dal, rice, oil, spices, etc. to send out to people so they could cook at home if they’re able.
The items were placed in these blue bags and tied closed with twine. These women were the “tires” – as was I 🙂 Tie a bag, slide it down the line.
Uncooked supply bags tied and ready to be shipped out. This team doesn’t mess around – like I mentioned above, 30,000 are going out each day!