Hundred-year Flood: Indian-Americans, others, mobilize in North America to help recovery efforts in Kerala

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Arun Nellamattom (Photo courtesy Kerala Flood Relief Fund From USA)
Ajomon Poothirayil (Photo courtesy Kerala Flood Relief Fund From USA
Abin Kulathilkarottu, spokesperson for the Kerala Flood Relief Fund From USA, Facebook account. (Photo courtesy Kerala Flood Relief Fund From USA)

Even as politicians play a blame-game over who is responsible for the worst flood in almost one hundred years in Kerala, the people of that state and citizens in India have been joined by Indians living abroad, including Indian-Americans and Indo-Canadians, to mobilize and meet the short and long-term needs of the affected people. With relief and rebuilding being estimated at more than $4 billion and some one million people in relief camps, the urgent needs are apparent as the battle to prevent diseases and rebuild homes and rehabilitate the environment, are apparent.

People wait for aid on the roof of their house at a flooded area in Kerala, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Ethnic Indian-American organizations, of which there are many, have yet to mobilize their full force, but individual efforts as well as those by Americans from Kerala, have taken the leading role, and are appealing to others to join in a massive fundraising effort.

“The devastation is horrifying,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told News India Times. “We have to all pull together and make sure resources are directed where needed.” Some young people in his state have been on the forefront.

A Facebook site run by Arun Simon Nellamattom, Ajomon Poothurayil, and Abin Kulathilkarottu in Chicago — ‘Kerala Flood Relief Fund from USA’ — has within a matter of days, raised almost all of the targeted $1.5 million. An Aug. 21 update on the site, says the destination for 100 percent of collected dollars is State Chief Minister’s Fund (https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/).

“We will be working with an existing IRS approved charity, CareandShare.com in Chicago to donate the money so that we don’t lose money as taxes,” the site says. They have also brought in the Knanaya Catholic Yuvajanavedhi of Chicago (https://www.facebook.com/KnanayaCatholicYuvajanavedhiOfChicago/).
A National Level Relief Activities Planning Group (USA) is also in operation: https://www.facebook.com/groups/222522958428428/.

Other organizations have jumped into the race for time that flood victims are facing, a quick clean-up being critical to avoiding water-borne diseases breaking out.

The Federation of Kerala Associations of North America (FOKANA) has started a GoFundMe page which has set a target of $100,000. (https://www.gofundme.com/fokana-kerala-flood-relief-fund/donate). But it has been slow to take off, raising some $7,528 in the first seven days as of Aug. 22.

The Indian Orthodox Church based in Long Island, Queens, N.Y., is raising more than the $150,000 from its 50 U.S. churches, and coordinating with its Kerala diocese headquartered in Kottayam which is working on the ground, Philipose Philip, member of the Indian Orthodox Church in the U.S., told News India Times.

“My sister Susy in Thumpamon, near Chenganoor, in District Pathanamthipta, escaped from her home just in time before the flood hit. So did several other relatives,” Philip, former general secretary of FOKANA, now vice president on its board, said.

At the Aug. 19, India Day Parade in Manhattan, the Kerala group held up a banner with the map of the state with an appeal for help.

Members of the Kerala group at the India Day Parade in New York Aug. 19, with a banner appealing for help after the devastating floods in Kerala. (Photo courtesy Philipose Philip, FOKANA)

It is possible that most of the Keralites living in the U.S. have had a family member affected by the floods directly, community members believe.

“Definitely that is the case. My Mom’s side of the family had to get to a safe place, but they are okay now,” Kulathilkarottu told News India Times, fielding media calls for their Facebook site in the midst of his regular workday in Chicago. Facebook, which has already donated more than a million dollars toward Kerala relief (Rs. 1.75 crores), is helping the young Chicagoans deal with issues on their site, especially as they relate to donations, Kulathikarottu said.

“A great thing about this fundraising is the whole Indian community in the U.S. and the international community has been reaching out to us,” Kulathilkarottu said. “Not just Mallus,” he said using a colloquial word for Malayalam speakers. However, he said, “So far other Indian-American ethnic groups have yet to reach out to us.”

“The Indian government is doing what it can,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “However, individuals around the world need to help. As we have worked in the past in other natural catastrophes, where people really rallied to help locals, I am expecting the same will happen for Kerala. But it needs to happen as fast as possible, as the need is immediate,” Krishnamoorthi urged.

Volunteers of UNITED SIKHS, an international organization, are at Ground Zero in Kerala. (Photo courtesy Sukhwinder Singh, director Canadian Chapter of UNITED SIKHS)
Volunteers of UNITED SIKHS, an international organization, are at Ground Zero in Kerala. (Photo courtesy Sukhwinder Singh, director Canadian Chapter of UNITED SIKHS)

“The theme of my presidency in the FIA-Tristate is Vasudhaiva Kuttumbakam – and I appeal to all ethnicities and organizations to come forward and join the effort to help the devastated families in Kerala,” Srujal Parikh, president of the Federation of Indian Associations-NY/NJ/CT, told News India Times. Parikh is in the process of partnering  with the New York City Police Department’s Indian Officers Association to fundraise for the cause, he said. “Money is the best way to help because food and clothes are not only hard to get through U.S. and India customs, but also hard to deliver to the affected people because of damage to roads and bridges,” he added.

The international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organization, UNITED SIKHS, on its  website currently leads with a picture of the Kerala floods. Announcing that it urgently needs mosquito nets, sanitary pads, antibacterial soaps, slippers, tarpaulin, tooth brushes and toothpaste, washing soap and knives, it has set up the donate link for those in the U.S. who could donate for Kerala, at http://unitedsikhs.org/donate_usa.php.

“Social media is the best platform to make people aware of the catastrophe. We are using our various platforms and the television sites and radio programs requesting listeners to help organizations that are assisting Kerala. We are also depending on our previous donors through press releases, messages and phone calls,” Sukhwinder Singh, director of the Canadian chapter of UNITED SIKHS, told News India Times. “We would like all your readers to get involved.” He said UNITED SIKHS teams composed of a number of doctors as part of the action plan to make sure diseases do not surface.

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