Carriers of hope

A young volunteer recounts efforts at a recent flood relief campaign
By Anisha Niyas

It is said that that “the purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all. That is what Stitch set out to be and still is. As one of the newer members of the Stitch family, the flood relief campaign gave me a first-hand insight on what volunteer work truly entails and the special significance it begins to take on each of our hectic lives.

On a personal level, it started out for me as means of making a change, in whatever way that I could by raising awareness on what Stitch was doing for those affected by the floods, via an appeal for donations made on Face Book with a very comprehensive needs assessment list. With the help of friends and good Samaritans, who gave without a moment’s hesitation, we collected enough items to send across.

Two consecutive days of sorting out the items and making family packs as well as Back to School packs, which also entailed having to weigh and pack a last minute donation of bulk rations, we were ready to dispatch the goods to Batticaloa and to other parts of the island that were deeply affected.

After us volunteers had finished packing all items by 1 am, a team of seven was dispatched immediately afterwards. The team arrived at the DS Division at 2pm, where after a short welcome and much needed break, we started to discuss what lay ahead in terms of distribution.

Our relief material consisted of dry rations for 150 families, which consisted of 800 kg of rice, 150 kg of sugar, 150 kg of dhal, 75 kg of Soya, mosquito mats, soap, bottled water, Panadol, Maggi, biscuits, tin fish, etc. In addition to this, we had 75 hygiene and health packs, 350 school packs, 11 boxes of clothes, utensils and one water purification plant.

Our partners FRIDSRO donated 500 packs, which included 5000 kg of rice, 500 kg of sugar, etc and joined us at the DS division for distribution.

One of our immediate goals was to be able to reach people who had been affected but had not received aid because of the difficulty of getting to them. Nasiyanthivu, which is an island of Valaichennai was one such place. Although we had concerns about how we were going to take our vehicles across, we managed to reach the island and start our distribution in accordance to the GS list.

This was physically strenuous as there were a lot of relief packs and boxes to carry and then distribute but all that hard work was worth it in the end. We could visibly see the looks of despair changing into brilliant smiles of hope and it was at that moment one realizes that we truly are a part of something bigger.

It was mostly children who came to collect the relief packs as either the parents were sick or had gone fishing as means of earning a livelihood. Our volunteers took it upon themselves to help them carry the packs and take it back to their homes. First-hand accounts from the children revealed to us that they were living in their schools as the water had risen to up to 4 feet in their homes and that it was so cold it was difficult to walk barefoot on the floor.

There wasn’t enough money to buy food to eat, their parents were unable to go fishing to provide sustenance and that the roads as well as the connecting bridges were also flooded. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to help these children, as they were in dire need and we were the first to reach them with aid.

After completing distribution, we returned to the DS office to hand over the remaining relief packs such as the 350 Back to School packs, which consisted of 10 exercise books, one pack of biscuits and a toothbrush each, to the DS office.

The following day, we started our journey to Trincomalee by 8.30am, via the Vakarai route as most of the roads had gotten affected by the floods and heavy current. After having witnessed first-hand how the floods had devastated the crops, the army camps, the bridges and people, we were unable to go any further.

The supporting beams of the bridge leading to the DS division had been knocked over and it was impossible to proceed. We also received news that if we did manage to cross the bridge, the next one was under 5 feet of water. After failing to get a tractor to transport the packs across, as the only 2 tractors in the vicinity were being used, we were forced to make a decision. The 120 families that were the worst affected had to come to where we were. This was a journey of roughly 1.5km from where they had gathered. Children to grand parents came to us with weary looks on their faces as the distribution area was very hot, being an elevated area with no shade.

After completing the last leg of distributions here, we left to Batticaloa and then homeward bound to Colombo. Our team of volunteers, exhausted as it was, realized that we had done everything humanely possible to help. What we learnt from our campaign was that as individuals who have been blessed with a lot in life, we have the responsibility to give back in whatever way we can. More than anything in the world, what is valued is your time and to know that you care, because even the smallest of acts has the potential to turn a life around.

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