Chicago Salutes the Spirit of Chennai
By Priti Sehrawat
Chicago Dec 10 2015.
The entire Chicago community coming together as one in a desire to help those affected by floods in and around Chennai!
This all started with a heart touching story of a maid in Bangalore who offered her salary to Seema Bhatnagar a volunteer for Desi Junction. Being a volunteer run radio station, Desi Junction and its founder and CEO, Jassi Parmar, have always been in the forefront whenever an opportunity came up to help others. Few weeks before the flooding happened in Chennai, under Jassi Parmar’s guidance, “Happiness Junction” or “Khushiyon ka Junction” was created by Desi Junction Radio, and a team was brought together. This team helped with sending donations and supplies for homeless children, either for Diwali or to help ward off the cold etc. Due to these ongoing efforts, Desi Junction volunteers already had some provisions to help in Chennai relief from the first day of flooding itself!
Though there has been media coverage for Chennai, but some details can still be known only from those on the ground. The Chennai flooding started with rains on night of Dec 1st. On the night of 1st Dec, Chennai resident went to sleep with some rain but with no information of calamity headed their way, they were not too worried. The flooding started in the middle of the night as they slept. Water came to 3-4 ft above ground level and the car sensors went off, with cars beeping down the roads. Early morning of Dec 2nd brought heavy rain and compounds started getting flooded as cars started drifting in the waters. Those who could, started anchoring the cars in some way by tying them to trees, poles etc. With first floor levels getting flooded, residents started moving their belongings to the second floor and as flooding increased, they went higher. Neighbors started communicating across terraces by afternoon. That is also when the army choppers arrived. The choppers monitored the levels of the Adayar river, and kept flying in Chennai skies till noon of Dec 4th. From Dec 2nd, the army choppers started dropping meals. By late afternoon of Dec 2nd, the flooding reached its peak. By morning of Dec 3rd, the water started receding. The currents remained strong and things floated around. Cars had climbed atop each other in some places. Garbage that that not been cleared also mingled with everything else. While flooding was the immediate concern, sanitation and hygiene was becoming increasingly important. As the waters receded, people spotted their cars, motor bikes etc. or tried to search for them. Rescue teams started arriving mainly from Dec 3rd. The things that hindered their progress were the cars in the water and other vehicles atop each other, the garbage, vegetation etc. By Dec 4th morning, in some places, water had receded enough that people could start walking. By Dec 5th, the lower levels of many buildings were visible, and garbage which has been strewn around with the currents of the flood waters are increasing the concern of possible health epidemics. Whether still submerged or in areas where water had receded a lot, residents checked on each other, helped as they could and the relief supplies from various sources, including NGOs started getting distributed more efficiently.
(Some pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/vineeth.vijayaraghavan/media_set?set=a.10208647128282165.1073741827.1429088307&type=3&pnref=story )
In all these efforts, Desi Junction joined in with the team of H.U.G. (Humane Universal Good Deed Network), spearheaded by Mahita Fernandez (who was recently recognized for her work on Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi), with efforts directly being coordinated with Seema Mishra Bhatnagar Of the Desi Junction and H.U.G team in Bangalore. Jassi Parmar brought the Desi Junction team members in India together, including Suhana Bhatia, Abhilasha Yadav, Menka etc., so that efforts could be more efficient. From Mumbai, Priti Sehrawat, who was on vacation from US, sent several relief supplies to Bangalore, which Seema Bhatnagar forwarded to Chennai. The Amazon delivery person became a regular visitor during those days at Seema’s place! Donations were sent from several members of the Desi Junction team, including, but not limited to, Jassi Parmar, Surender Mathur, Ashita Mathir, Aslam bhai, Vinita Gulabani, Ankit Mahajan, Neela Patel, Ruby Saraf, Shikha Pandey, Ritika Mathur, Gargi Pathak, Ruchi Vijayvargia, Suman, Jeen Vargheese and several others. Desi Junction’s programs including Jassi di Lassi, Sunday ke Funday and others, brought these relief efforts to attention of listeners in order to start mobilizing more efforts and make people aware of what was going on in Chennai and how people were helping. The pages on website of Desi Junction were being updated regularly with help from Neela Patel, Ritika Mathur and other team members. Using social media such as facebook, the Desi Junction team spread the word and soon a new fundraising event in Chicago was decided, “Ek Shaam Chennai ke Naam” on 20th Dec, 2015.
Stories of amazing generosity and kindness emerged during these efforts, including that of house maids who asked Seema to forward their contribution for relief efforts in Chennai. Across India, the common man, those who were in positions of power and influence, and even those who were going through several hardships of their own, contributed in different ways to help residents in and around Chennai to recover from the huge disaster that they had been through.
While several stories have circulated in the media, here is a little bit of life inside Desi Junction radio team, and those in Happiness Junction, as the efforts were being coordinated:
• Dec 1st: We become aware of developing situation in Chennai as flooding had started in some areas. The contributions from DJ team was used to send bed sheets, clothes, umbrellas, medicines, bread and biscuits as a volunteer was leaving for Chennai from Bangalore, where Seema Bhatnagar had put these supplies together.
• Dec 2nd: Supplies continued to be brought together as Seema and other volunteers put the packets together for sending to Chennai. Food was one of the primary requirements at that time, So bread and biscuits suitable for all ages, besides other provisions were being sent.
• Dec 3rd: As provisions continued to reach Bangalore at Seema’s place, and she along with other volunteers helped prepare the packets needed for loading onto lorries which were involved in the relief efforts. Desi Junction kept mobilizing efforts and as people became more aware and found way to help, via Desi Junction, the donations reaching Bangalore helped more efforts reach Chennai. Suhana Bhatia in Mumbai reached out to organizations, such as Connect Ticket, to spread the word about relief supplies and help needed.
• Dec 4th: Besides food, including canned foods and milk in tetra packs, what became more necessary now were items of personal hygiene such as diapers, sanitary napkins, inner wear, etc. Priti Sehrawat, DJ team member since 2013, sent a lot of supplies to Seema’s house in Bangalore from Mumbai, and the items were received over Dec 4th-6th. During the Amazon deliveries, the delivery guys in Bangalore also became aware of all the efforts. We hope that this helped inspire them to do a little bit on their own.
• Dec 5th: Items being sent to Chennai had to be put in water proof packets and while a lot of items were being received in Bangalore, a lot of volunteers were needed to package these items properly. Seema’s son also became involved in the efforts. In Chicago and around the world, listeners’ started dedicating songs for these efforts, on Desi Junction radio. This helped the word of relief supplies needed for Chennai, spread even further.
• Dec 6th: The thought of fundraiser for Chennai took seed and Jassi Parmar started reaching out to Indian organizations in Chicago for this. We became aware of villages on the outskirts of Chennai, where provisions such as lungis, sarees, innerwear, and sanitation requirements were needed. The responsibility of the volunteers in Bangalore was now to ensure that supplies reached different areas in Tamil Nadu efficiently so that supplies were not only spread evenly between locations but the type of supplies were also suitable.
• Dec 7th: With garbage strewn in and around Chennai, sanitation had become the most important priority besides food. Now, relief supplies needed were disinfectants, cleaning material, medicines such as odomos, fungal relief creams etc. The NGOs in India, including H.U.G., Goonj etc. were coordinating well, while transportation companies donated their lorries and drivers’ time to send the supplies to affected areas. Desi Junction, on a daily basis was broadcasting messages for Chennai relief efforts and sending donations.
The donations now being sent to Chennai, will, besides relief supplies, help in organizing a kitchen to prepare and serve food for the Chennai residents who will be struggling for a long time to return to normal life. Homes have been destroyed, people have lost everything in their homes and we will keep hearing of how these floods have changed life of many.
Where there is a will, there is a way to help! You can contribute to these efforts by connecting with #ChicagoForChennai . If you are in Chicago, you can attend the fundraising event on 20th Dec., “Ek Shaam Chennai ke Naam”!
Community volunteers and leaders like Jassi Parmar, Jeen Verghese , Ravi Rawat, Neil Khot, RaviSubramanyam, Murugesh Kasilingam agreed to come together under one umbrella to organise a fundraiser for Chennai flood relief .
EK SHAAM CHENNAI KE NAAM – SALUTING THE SPIRIT OF CHENNAI
DEC 20th at Waterford banquets in Chicago .
Please spread the word so we can come together on a humanitarian basis and do whatever little we can to help the people so badly affected by this calamity.
To know more, you can like page of “Happiness Junction” or “Desi Junction” on Facebook. You can also become a regular listener and come to know more as Desi Junction continues working for humanitarian causes.