5000+ Widows & Helpless Women Who Lost Everything In Kerala Floods Got Help From Strangers To Restart Their Lives

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Kerala is still recuperating from the 2018 floods that devastated the beautiful state. I Am For Alleppey, a social media initiative launched by Alleppey sub-collector Krishna Teja Mylaparavu, is rebuilding Alleppey, one of the worst-affected areas.

The movement has rehabilitated over 40,000 people so far. Efforts For Good will be covering a series of stories to share the impact they created. In the second part, we will be detailing about their women rehabilitation programme. Keep reading this series for many heartwarming stories.

“They could not even cook a basic meal”

As the flood waters receded, people gradually started returning from the congested relief camps, only to find their homes in a dilapidated mess. Coping up was especially difficult for the women-headed households. Senior, widowed women who were somehow managing their days before the floods, found themselves caught up in a helpless scenario.

“Women returned home to find their kitchens in ruins. Vessels, utensils, stored food items – everything was gone. On top of it, there was muck and dirt silted everywhere in the house. They could not even cook a basic meal, let alone starting their lives afresh,” narrates Krishna Teja to Efforts For Good.

How social media brought Good Samaritans together

I Am For Alleppey stepped up to stand beside these women in their times of utmost need. Repeated appeals on social media for helping these women did not go unnoticed, as stakeholders from both non-profit and corporate sectors as well as individual donors came forward to offer rehabilitation benefits.

Hereafter, the willing donors joined hands with the administration in Kuttanad to identify the women who are in dire need of urgent help. From the local panchayat records, they collected the list of women enrolled under the widow pension scheme and the Kudumbashree network, which is a women empowerment programme by the Kerala government.

Taking care of their basic needs

“We identified a total of 5,654 households from Kuttanad area. All of them received rehabilitation kits comprising utensils, mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, buckets, water purifiers, mugs and almost everything essential that they had lost in floods and immediately needed to restore their daily lives,” informs Teja. Each kit of everyday essentials cost between Rs 3000 and Rs 5000. The distribution programmes were organised at different parts of Kuttanad, where shelter kits and hygiene kits were handed over to these women.  

“They were overwhelmed after getting these kits in hand. It was surprising to see how such simple items can sprout such happiness. They were elated to be able to start cooking again,” shares Teja.

Save The Children deserves special mention

Among the donors, non-profit organisation Save The Children deserves special mention as they provided rehabilitation to 2,714 women in six locations of Kuttanad.

Ipsita, Team Leader, Save The Children, shares, “These women had nowhere to go, no one to look after them. Many of them don’t have families, many have been abandoned by their dear ones.”

The team also found families with young women and adolescent girls, with no male guardian or head of the household. “They had lost their simple means of livelihood. It would take them a painstakingly long time to start anew. We tried our best to help them sustain themselves till then,” Ipsita reveals.

The donors also focussed on the sanitary hygiene of the younger women and included sanitary napkins in their list of essentials. For families with little children and single mothers, some of the donors also provided toddler feeding utensils.

“We guaranteed that each and every donated item is brand new. We refrained from donating any pre-owned clothes or usables. Just because they come from an economically weak background, does not mean we should not respect their dignity,” asserts Ipsita.

Contribution from the corporate sector

Efforts For Good reached out to ESAF, a corporate organisation who donated around 800 rehabilitation kits in Thakazhy and Mariyapuram villages of Alleppey, in collaboration with Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation.

“We are a small finances bank. Senior women from villages constitute a major portion of our customer base. Before the floods, most of them were the sole breadwinners of the family. It was our duty to help them. We donated rehabilitation essentials worth Rs 3000 which covered all their primary day-to-day needs,” Sandhya Suresh, Chief Manager of ESAF, narrates about her on-ground association with the campaign. Incidentally, ESAF has also donated more than 21,000 relief kits to families all over Alleppey.

Efforts For Good will continue to cover the excellent efforts by I Am For Alleppey in other domains like healthcare, senior and differently-abled care, fishermen rehabilitation and many more. Keep reading this series for more such heartwarming stories.

Also Read: A Cow, Goat Or Poultry: This Kerala IAS Officer’s FB Campaign Is A Boon For The Flood-Affected Poor

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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