Its time to show our gratitude to the real heroes of God’s Own Country!
It’s almost been a year since the massive floods hit God’s own country. While most of Kerala has bounced back, there are still those who are struggling for their day to day survival. Many have lost their homes or source of livelihood or even worse, their loved ones. Kerala has a large community of fisher folk, who were the real heroes during the floods for they launched their fishing boats on a united rescue mission that saved 65,000 lives. But not much has been done for these real life heroes who selflessly risked their lives and only source of livelihood. Chekutty dolls, also a result of the floods, rose from the destruction of the handloom weaves of Chendamangalam and continue to be a symbol of hope, resilience and survival. It is an initiative that garnered worldwide support for the ethnic group handloom weavers. As we approach the first anniversary of the floods, one of the masterminds behind Chekutty dolls, Lakshmi Menon is back, but this time, she is here to help our true heroes! Read on to know more about this wonderful initiative of Friendship.
Text: Riya Sonny Datson
How much has been achieved through Chekutty dolls?
Approximately 40 lakhs was raised in cash for the handloom societies in Chendamagalam and is a continuing process. We had the World Bank gifting Chekutty dolls to its delegates at their Geneva conference, there was another humanitarian conference at Sydney which also chose to give Chekutty dolls to their delegates. We are currently working with the 4th society. The volunteer model has been dismantled and an enterprise model has been setup. We are still using the soiled products from the floods to make these dolls. As we celebrate Chekutty’s birthday on September 9th, we will be launching a campaign to sell the remaining 10,000 dolls. Plans are on to sustain the brand ‘Chekutty’ as it is a brand created by the masses. The biggest take away has been the fact we were successful in garnering a lot of monetary and non-monetary support for the handloom societies.
How does it feel to see Chekutty being accepted across the globe?
It is extremely satisfying as this kind of response was never expected. It reassures us that goodness and humanitarian values still exist in the society and it is this very thought that has given us the confidence to move to the next project. There are a lot of people who are waiting for avenues to help others.
Tell us about ‘Friendship’ and Ship of Gratitude.
I have always felt that the fisher folk community has been one that was vastly neglected post the floods; though they played a major role in saving 65,000 lives. Without them, Kerala would not have smiled again and we owe a lot to them. There is a need to establish a sustainable connection with this community, who need our help in many ways. I have access to a database of 2,30,000 fishermen and I am willing to share it with anyone who wants to help them. One of the schemes under this initiative is a tie up with New India Insurance company. We have the option of taking an insurance of Rs.24/year/ fisherman, wherein they get covered for one lakh against death or total disability. 10,000 policies are already under processing. There is the option of funding, sponsoring or associating with projects for the welfare of the fishermen which would be identified by experts at CMFRI, CIFT, SAF (minimum donation of INR 1000).
But it is not always monetary support that they need. You can help them as a mentor, as a friend or just help by getting them a doctor’s appointment, sponsor books for their children or guide them with educational programs. Various institutions have already extended their support to us. The K.Chittilappilly Foundation has expressed their interest to support 50 families by providing insurance coverage under this scheme, granting educational sponsorships for children and medical assistance for families. St. Teresas College has offered to start an incubation program for the fisher women community to help them with entrepreneurial programs. Sportopoliz is a sports coaching center who will be providing sports gear and train boys from Chellanam, who have been selected to the Homeless World Cup football competition to be held at UK. ICICI training academy would be providing job oriented training for young girls, providing them certification and 100% placements post the course.
Another vertical is the ‘Ship of Gratitude’, an art installation that we are planning to launch so as to involve the whole society in this act of gratitude. We had planned to make 65,000 paper boats to represent the 65,000 lives they saved, but we have already received commitment for 1 lakh paper boats from students of higher secondary National Service Scheme. We realised that we can channelize this enthusiasm and participation into CSR initiatives that would help raise funds for this community. Most companies don’t have any CSR schemes to support coastal regions but they have programs for rural areas. So we are trying to high light the needs of this fisher folk community and garner support from various quarters.
Institutions or individuals have the option of sponsoring boats for the art installation. While it offers visibility for the brand as a CSR initiative; for the person who is making a paper boat – be it a child, an inmate of an oldage home or a prisoner in jail, it is a symbol of their gratitude and there are no costs involved. Each boat is equivalent to a currency. We are requesting schools who are participating in the campaign to encourage children to make these paper boats along with the elders in the family, especially grand parents to make it an activity where the elders get to share their nostalgia. The art installation is to be launched at the National Institute of Oceanography on August 15th 2019.
How is this project different or challenging when compared to Chekutty?
Chekutty was planned in a state of emergency as we had to find a way to salvage the spoilt stock from the floods. It took off instantly without too much planning and help came from various quarters but Friend’Ship’ is an initiative that is still evolving. Our role here is that of a facilitator, to bridge the gap between the fisher-folk and the organisations that can help their community. It is aimed at a long term sustainable relationship building. As far as ‘Friendship’ is concerned, there is no previous model or formula to fall back on but so far it has been good!
Have you ever felt let down during your campaigns?
Yes, there have been times when I have had to face disappointments but I have always tried to take it as a learning experience and changed my approach. When I think positive and persist with my goals, eventually, things fall into place and I am able to reach out to so many people. When you realise that you have made a difference in one person’s life, then all your hardwork and efforts are worth it. From an early age, I have been brought up with an attitude of gratitude. We have so much to be thankful for and so I strongly feel that we should make our blessings count.
What keeps you ticking?
It is the underlying thought of gratitude. I have been blessed in so many ways that I feel it is my duty to help those in need, who don’t enjoy the privileges that I do. The joy and satisfaction that I get when I see a smile on their face is almost like an addiction, making me want to do more.