Samanvaya team volunteered and coordinated disaster relief efforts during the immediate aftermath of several natural calamities. The disaster relief efforts were organized during the Gujarat Earthquake (Friends of Bhuj initiative), Tsunami in Tamil Nadu (Tamil Nadu Tsunami Relief Initiative) and Uttrakhand floods(Chennai Cares initiative).
After the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake, Samanvaya team managed to coordinate along with the Honeybee Network, operating out of IIM-Ahmedabad sending several tonnes of necessary relief material through coordinated attempts of several responsible citizens in Chennai. The team worked for over 6 weeks only using email and telephone and managed to set-up over 40 collection centres for the relief materials apart from a centre for the collected materials to be sorted out and packaged and forwarded. It was the first time that the relief material sent by Samanvaya was air lifted as priority by Air India and Jet Airways both operating at that time. A train full of volunteers that were going from Chennai to Ahmedabad were also coordinated by our colleague Mr. Sathyamurthy to ensure that the relief materials reached the right hands.
In 2005, post-tsunami, the network of friends and associates got together again to quickly organize and respond to the worst affected areas of Nagapattinam. Samanvaya team yet again coordinated the efforts and ensured that 2 relief camps in and around Sirgazhi were supported through the efforts for three weeks with rations and primary hygiene care and immediate relief materials. As the relief work by the state government in the post-tsunami period was impressive. Samanvaya team discouraged several philanthropists who wanted to donate / contribute for the relief and directed them to concentrate on the long term reconstruction efforts.
In 2013, after the Uttrakhand earthquake, Samanvaya team yet again organized a short term relief effort to reach relief materials to the state reeling under the severe effects. During this effort, Samanvaya team worked closely in supporting the on-site efforts of the larger network Goonj that had emerged during the 2005 post-tsunami efforts.
A national network which provides such relief work in consistent manner and whose work has grown alongside us is Goonj. Since they are far more organized in this space, in subsequent years, we have suggested all voluntary efforts to join and strengthen the work of Goonj.
Few convictions we have gained during the three campaigns that we were involved in relief work voluntarily are -
1. Natural disasters are here to stay. We need to have organized institutions that are good in facilitation and coordination and have a proven competence for managing relief and rehabilitation efforts
2. Volunteers are aplenty - Doctors who volunteered to go to Gujarat on their own expense to treat Bhuj based patients to IIT students who sneaked in the night to travel along with trucks to deliver relief material to tsuanmi relief camps to volunteers who turned up on bikes from far away towns - there are all kinds and each one is important. It is critical that these networks are nurtured and stay together.
3. Relief efforts need volunteers. We have volunteered to coordinate all relief work and it is important that the relief work be always inclusive of volunteers in a majority. Disaster relief is increasingly complicated work in urban settings and in rural areas, it is easier. Volunteerism needs to be nurtured in society, nothing binds people together than voluntary efforts for the benefit of the needy.
4. We don't need money to initiate voluntary work. We have not accepted any financial support during any of the three relief efforts. Almost all help has come as materials, vehicles, personnel, connections that people have used to secure the required permission, place to collect, store, sort and pack material for forwarding, etc., Whatever little funds are required have been often collected through friendly NGOs and agencies that have relief work as part of their mandate and are able to maintain transparency and stay accountable to the larger public.
5. Communication with clarity is the key for relief efforts. We have said 'no' to disaster tourists, we have refused helicopters and fancy gadgets being offered to us for relief work, we have asked people to hold back their money to more purposeful work, we have ensured that the right materials reach the right people at the right time by ensuring that we are able to articulate our purpose and ensure that it reaches the right people. We have time and again realized that communication with clarity, courage and conviction is the key missing element in times when everyone is running all over the place wanting to be good, but, not knowing what is to be done.