Super Cyclone Amphan, which hit West Bengal on May 20, 2020 claiming about 100 lives and affecting over 10 million people in the coastal districts (overall it impacted over 40 million people in the state, as per estimate) as it ripped through the Sundarbans and the two 24 Paraganas. Amphan had a landfall between Digha and Hatiya on the afternoon of May 20, as a very severe cyclonic storm with sustained wind speeds of 175 – 180 kilometers per hour spiraling up to 220 kilometers per hour
The super cyclone caused massive damages to the standing crops, several thousand trees got uprooted, power and water supply was interrupted. The capital Kolkata was also not spared. Several lacs homes were lost in the rural and urban areas.
This happened while we were already reeling with the COVID-19 pandemic, the misery just got compounded.
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A group of Professionals and Socially concerned citizens came together post Amphan in Kolkata with a view to help the victims of Amphan in the coastal belt. “We formed a group on Whatsapp and that’s how overnight we were a team of 100 plus people, joined by our desire to help the poor and provide relief materials. When you have a positive desire, the means are easy”, says Kaushik Sinha, a Communications professional who played a critical central role in the initiative. “The beauty of the exercise was that it was all on personal capacity of the individuals. It was PSR – Personal Social Responsibility”.
We quickly activated our contacts in the rural Bengal, in the villages and spoke to them on the ground conditions. Sourav Moni, a noted Folk musician of Bengal with roots in Hingalganj, Sundarbans, who was in his native place at the time of the cyclone was the first contact to respond and he did with alacrity. Hingalganj was the first relief mission we undertook. We travelled by road and saw the devastation on the way, says Joydeep Sen, one of the key members who participated in 3 such relief missions.
We reached the villages, met up with villagers and saw the scale of devastation, it was nerve wrecking. Says Nirmal Behera, a team members who participated in the Hingalganj mission. Local people had lost everything, there was no power, trees had fallen, crop was gone due to ingress of saline water into the paddy fields, part of the local school building had caved in. It was clear that they will take years to repair the damage, says Sen.
We were asked by the villagers to bring Dry food items, milk powder, bleaching powder and alum, tarpaulin, ORS, medicine, cotton washable mask, sanitary napkins etc. We had no idea, how we managed to accumulate the items over the next 3 weeks and managed to serve over 1000 families with ration sufficing for 15 days for a family of 4.
Many of our members wanted to contribute financially. We did not have any bank account and hence told all to contribute in kind. We published a list of items on our whatsapp group and pat came the supply. So much so, over the next 30 days, we went out personally visiting village after village and handed over relief materials to villagers in sandeshkhali, gosaba, basanti, chintamanipur, patharpratima, pailen. We also handed over materials to Bharat Sevashram Sangha for their community kitchen at Bally island, which is extremely remote and takes about 6 hours to reach from Kolkata using a combination of road and water transport. Members further contributed to the ISKCON kitchen at Sagar island, serving cooked food to the villagers.
Malay Ganguly and Jitendra Rampuria, members who participated in one of the relief missions are all excited to be part of such an initiative. “We lead a life full of comfort in the city. The BNY mission was an eye opener. We saw and experienced first-hand how the villagers managed to gradually pull things back despite their huge losses. We would love to do much more than merely providing relief materials, we would like to help them rebuild their lives”, Ganguly added.
For Manish Taparia, Anirban Ray and Debapratim Guha, the chance to personally visit and meet the villagers was emotional. “We carried small cup-cakes for the kids apart from rest of the items. The joy on the face when the cakes were distributed to the kids were priceless. This is exactly why we decided to take up the mission ourselves and not contribute financially to the local NGOs active in the areas. We did not want to do a Cheque-book charity.” Recounted Guha, some of whose friends living in other cities also came forward and contributed for the relief missions.
There is a strong desire among the members to formalize the activities and participate in the rebuilding process and help the villagers for long term sustainability. We wish to work with them on livelihood projects. We are in the process of finding a few good projects. Funding will not be a problem as we are confident we will be able to crowd source through family and friends. When the intent is positive, the means will follow,” Sinha added.