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— New Straits Times (@NST_Online) December 8, 2015
“I was up late on Dec 1st, when I saw a tweet from the South Indian Actor Siddharth saying, “I am an affluent actor but my house is flooded”. This was the beginning of a grassroots movement of local volunteers galvanized by Siddharth and his friend, Video Jockey RJ Balaji.
Chennai had a record 272 mm of rainfall in 12 hours with heavy rains for four days. It breached 23 lakes, flooding all parts of the city stranding commuters as highways flooded. Trains and buses stopped. Chennai Airport was flooded and stray snakes took refuge in the plane tires.
I lost contact with my sister, aunt and several friends in Chennai. I watched from the Bay Area as tweets from the duo called upon ordinary people to help others. Droves of people tweeted offering food and supplies and many ventured into neck deep waters to rescue strangers. Chennai became an island that got cut off from the rest of India, but the tweets kept the city connected to the world. Mosques, churches, colleges and some offices opened up space to host displaced people and to donate supplies. People who were safe from the floods cooked meals and local volunteers delivered it to the people affected.
This group of volunteers fed 5,000 people on Day 1, 20K people on Day2, 40K people on Day 3 and the number ballooned to 1 lakh people as many smaller volunteer groups formed to help their local areas tweeting each other using the keyword #chennaimicro which soon become their brand.
Chennaimicro did not stop at distributing food. As I sat up watching the tweets connect I could see a moving sea of humans connecting to each other offering transportation for pregnant women to connect to doctors, uniting lost families, saving people trapped on rooftops of flooded buildings, finding blood donors to save lives, getting iceboxes for the dead and supporting the army in relief efforts.
Image: Tweet by RJ Balaji one of the two leaders of Chennaimicro movement.
As a Bay Area resident, at first I felt helpless, then slowly I began to be inspired. I stayed up and shared the tweets sending them out to the universe for others to do their part. I tracked tweets about 89 people stuck in a flat that collapsed to connect to someone who rescued them. I connected a parent’s tweet looking for a lost child with a similar Facebook message of someone looking for parents of the child. I huddled with fellow American desis to find out what we could do to help Chennai.
The echo of Chennaimicro built up in the United States. Everyone wanted to hear that their loved ones in Chennai were safe. A group of Bay Are residents joined their friends in Chennai to help track relatives in India using Twitter, a central calling center and foot volunteers who went to the local addresses to confirm people were ok.
Subashni Ramesh Iyer was overwhelmed with gratitude when the team of Ramakrishna Jayaraman, Ram Kumar, Prasad Ravichandran, Balaji Pattabiraman and Vishnu Varthan located her brothers and sisters.
Preethy Padmanabhan said, “Overseasvbi.org group volunteers went in personwading in the flooded streets and checked on my mother and mother-in-law and even brought water with them and charged their phones. I am simply amazed.”
TT Balaji started the group “Help Chennai Get back on its feet.” It brought 4,000 people together to share fundraiser events across the United States, request company matching donations and drive the #DineforChennai nationwide movement of charity fundraisers and United States restaurants contributing to help Chennai. Below is the list of restaurants offering proceeds to donate for Chennai Relief in the coming days.
Dec 11: Nirvannah! in Fremont, CA
Dec 12: Charity Breakfast and Lunch at The Barrington Library , Chicago, Aroma Indian Cuisine, Chutneys in Farmington Hills,MI and Dakshin Restaurants Chicago, IL
Dec 13: Mumbai Spices, New York and The Curry House (part proceeds), Humble, TX,
Dec 12-14: Viceroy of India, Lombard, IL
Dec 14- 15: Anjappar Chettinad Santa Clara, CA,
Dec 15: Spice Route in Bellevue, Aachi Aaapkadi and Rajinikanth movie ‘Sivaji’ at Moviemax, Niles, IL
Dec 16: Madras Café, Sunnyvale, CA
Dec 1- 31: KariKudi, Naperville, IL
Dec 14-17: Bay Area Hot breads
Dec 19: Chennai Grill, Dublin, CA
Dec 19 10am: Zumba for Chennai relief at India Community Center, Milpitas, CA
TT Balaji and Ram Subramanian quickly built a Google Map App called“Chennai Blankets.” This itself warms my heart to see the limitless effect of a grassroots movement.
A verified list of Fundraising organizations to donate for Chennai relief are Diya – (Vijay Ramachandran / Raghavan Raghunathan, Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) ( Arun Krishnamurthy / Aarti Ramachandran), Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) (Peter Van Geit / Ponnuraj), AID India ( Thothadri Srinivasan / Sudhakar), Maatram Foundation (Sujith Kumar) and AIMS India (Karthik Rangarajan).
A group called TN Flood Cleanup focuses on cleanup the aftermaths of the Chennai floods and decides on where to send recyclable material, with support from United States recycling experts. On Dec 9th they organized a cleanup drive with local volunteer groups similar to ChennaiMicro. Muslim Youth groups cleaned up Indian temples reinforcing the humanity of Chennai.
“I am Chennai” is a heartwarming group where Chennai flood survivors share stories of humanity. As city streets became flooded with 10ft water, one man rushed to rent 20 boats merely to rescue people trapped.
The Chennaimicro team has now shifted their energy to rehabilitation efforts partnering with NGOs. They will organize medical camps to help people stay safe, rebuild homes, schools and orphanages to get displaced people back on their feet and safe in their homes.
Finally when my family and friends called back I realized how Chennai has taught us the value of empathy, resilience and humanity and has established itself as a connected city.