With Jnana Prabodhini, Pune and Maithri, Kochi
Kerala was severely affected by floods which it hadn’t experienced in the past century. There was a major loss of materials, resources, and generations long livelihood. The recovery from this devastation was
mostly seen through material and infrastructural redevelopment. The effect on the mental and emotional
health of the people was widely neglected as the sight of devastation was very overwhelming. But in the midst of this, there were people dying of suicides, heart attacks, diseases and going into depression due to the shock of the devastation.
HiCuP initiated by Ms. Seeba Bhojani was for providing psychosocial support to people affected by floods in Kerala. Jnana Prabodhini generously came forward to provide logistical support and created an account to collect funds for the smooth implementation of the project. This was the start of generosity poured by different people. With this many people generously contributed in different ways which led to the successful implementation of this project.
A group of 17 trained volunteers in 3 batches spent 10 days on the field over a period of one month. The volunteers were trained for this initiative, by two professionals — social worker — Mr. Bobby Zachariah and psychologist and trauma therapist — Mrs. Adithy over a period of 3 days. As we reflected on our learning’s, volunteers were also given short training in Kerala to build on their skills and knowledge base.
They were mentored by the senior trained volunteers — Mrs. Adithy, Mr. Bobby Zachariah, and Ms. Seeba Bhojani, through debriefing sessions. There was systematic documentation of each home visited.
There were debriefing sessions in which we reflected on emerging issues of the community, their hopes and strengths, and how they’re recovering or coping with their situations. We also reflected on what we’re doing well, the challenges we’re facing, and how we can improve in our delivery of services. As the place was completely new to us in terms of physical infrastructure, culture, language, people, weather, etc. there were constant challenges emerging. We were able to adapt to them by supporting each other as a team, discerning every new thing that was emerging, applying the learning’s from the training, and discussing challenges with our team leader and mentors — Ms. Seeba Bhojani, Mrs. Adithy, and Mr. Bobby Zachariah.
Since it was a disaster-affected area, there were many organizations and people willing to contribute in their own capacities, this willingness turned into a partnership with the common intention of facilitating healing amongst the community. The partners that emerged In this process were: Ms. Gayatri and Mr. Samir (who helped with local accommodation for volunteers), Maithri NGO, Chaithram NGO, Friends forum, etc (who helped with visits to the community), FEBA radio, The New Indian Express, etc.(who helped with articulating the idea of psychosocial support to the wider public via their respective mass media outreach).
Summary of what emerged during the home visits and community meetings:
Total number of homes visited — 300
Approximate time spent in houses — Approximately 45 minutes per house (minimum was 20 minutes and the maximum time spent was 2 hours and 30 minutes)
● Physical and infrastructural losses
● Health issues: Jaundice, rat fever, fits, chickenpox, nausea, headaches, etc.
● Children felt neglected after the floods as elders of the house were busy in rebuilding stuff
● Most of the people were affected by the loss of their pets — rabbits, cats, dogs, parrots, etc.
● Some people died due to heart attacks after seeing the devastation due to floods.
● People are not able to sleep due to the constant fear of floods coming again. During
the ladies community meetings, they shared that they have changed their sleep timings to 6 am to 11 am as they do not get sleep between 11 pm to 6 am.
● People now are more irritable and angry.
● They have intrusive thoughts of floods like dreams of the situation of floods.
● Some of the men have resorted to drinking alcohol and among them, some have become violent as a coping mechanism.
● Children initially enjoyed the floods — playing in the water, seeing fishes in their veranda but
as the water level increased they were terrified and felt very scared. Even now they find it difficult to sleep and get dreams of the events during floods.
● People are more anxious now and lost interest in the activities which they enjoyed before the floods.
● They are now facing memory loss and finding it difficult to remember things.
● They have suicidal tendencies; in one of the women’s meetings they unanimously
shared — “We don’t want to live if other floods come, we’re so tired and fed up with this.”
Hopes and Strengths:
● They are thankful to God that he at least saved their lives.
● Some people felt hopeful that they will recover economically.
● Many people mentioned that it was the spirit of people of Kerala that they bounce back and do not give up. People are helping others despite community barriers including faith and class and despite not knowing their neighbors well.
● People are now expressing their vulnerability and have become receptive to help.
● People have hope in the students / civil service aspirants and hoped that they will come and help them, once they become the officers.
● Many people were happy in the camp as all religions came together and now have more trust in youth.
How the community is recovering:
● The community received government aid of Rs. 10,000 which helped them in their recovery, though it is not a sufficient amount.
● The community feels happy that neighbors, friends, religious community, NGO community, relatives, volunteers, private organizations came together for physical help including cleaning the community.
● Relief material that was distributed helped them. Some people who got multiple kits gave it to other members of the community.
● Spiritual guidance, motivation, lectures by religious organizations gave them motivation and peace of mind.
● Education institutions provided books, stationery, and uniforms.
● The community is willing to take help from HiCuP, Maithri, and Chithram teams. We put some systems in place for sustaining the work. We trained the volunteers of Chaithram organization, we facilitated women’s support group formation, Kudumbshree support group, children’s group, and old people’s support group. These systems will help to carry forward the psychosocial support for the Eloor community, Kochi.
Team level outcomes
The team who participated in the visits came back with an increased understanding of the need for psychosocial support after disasters, increased confidence to work in multicultural environments, desire to offer listening support to their loved ones, and a desire to serve the nation in a compassionate manner.
Institutional level outcomes:
There is an increased understanding of the nature of support the communities need in order to
offer psychosocial support to disaster-affected communities.