Ramavaram is an urban slum just off of the Nandambakkam highway. There are 110 houses with approximately 400 residents at Ramavaram, most of whom are daily wage earners supporting women, infants, young children and the aged. Starting March 2008, a group of students and young professionals under the name Sangam India had taken up the initiative of helping the community earn back their dignity and quality of life. However, tragedy struck us early Monday morning when news arrived that the entire slum had caught fire and had been razed to the ground in a matter of hours.
At 1:30am on Monday 15th June, one of the houses close to the highway bridge caught on fire from a short circuit. The fire quickly raged through, consuming one house after another, abetted by thatched roofs and trees. The inhabitants hurriedly escaped their homes and gathered onto the street nearby. Luckily no one suffered any injuries. According to the inhabitants, the fire engine arrived at 3 am, but by then the whole slum and all their savings and belongings had been destroyed.
We heard of the shocking news at 9am and made an emergency visit to Ramavaram at 4pm. A group of about 25 of us visited them and listened to their devastating experience. There was nothing left of the slum but the mud walls that supported the houses a feet above the ground. The people seemed to be in a state of utter hopelessness, completely unsure of what was to happen to them and where they were to move next. As we talked to them we were able to gather some information about the government response. The Ward Counsellor had arrived early and distributed breakfast packets and water tanks for the entire slum population. The Panchayat House had made arrangements for lunch and dinner. The government had handed over Rs. 2000/-, 5 kg of rice, a kerosene coupon, and a saree and a lungi to each family of the slum.
The families were to assume temporary shelter at an auditorium nearby. Meanwhile, the government has promised to rebuild them a slum at Perungalathur, near Tambaram, some 25kms from Ramavaram and that was understood to take 3 days for completion. The inhabitants are unsure if any arrangement for meals has been made for the next few days. They do not have any clothes but the ones in which they escaped the fire. They have lost their money and the children have lost their school uniforms and books. All medical records and other documents have also been destroyed.
After assessing the situation at Ramavaram, we decided to act immediately to help the families. Some of us stayed back to listen and talk to the people offering our support, while some went out to buy basic necessities. We decided to buy and distribute to each family, a packet of Marie Gold Biscuits, a sheet, a bucket, toothpowder and soap. By 7pm we were able to buy the biscuits, sheets and place the order for buckets but we had to postpone distribution as it got too dark to carry on.
An emergency meeting was convened at 7:30pm where we shared the stories of the people and discussed their situation and immediate needs. Below is a summary of the meeting.
No roofs above their heads, no clothes, no remaining savings.
Food and water for the day provided.
Food and water for next few days uncertain.
Slight drizzle early in the evening.
Low morale, vulnerable babies, poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
The government response:
Rs.2000/-, a veshti and a lungi distributed to each family.
Food and water arrangements made for Day 1.
Temporary shelter – unviable
Rehabilitation – will take 3-4days, is 25kms away and quality of life uncertain.
Police patrolling present.
Our immediate Plan of Action:
Distribute the following items, 1 per family.
Day 1: Only morale and emotional support
Day 2: Marie Gold Biscuits
Constitute a Disaster Management Team to plan and develop rehabilitation activities.
Constitute a Fund-raiser Team to undertake massive fund-raising over the next few days.
Boost the Public Relations Committee to help spread the word and garner help.
utensils and some other basic necessities like rice or oil. Needs will be assessed and decisions made.
Organize clothes drive – clothes for men, women and children.
Sponsor uniforms and books for the school-going children.
Provide moral support and be physically and emotionally present in their time of need.
How You Can Help
Sangam India boasts over 300 members worldwide, and right now is the time for those 300 members to come together to help our friends. Here are some ways you can immediately help:
- We need funds. If you are interested in sending money from outside India, please contact Sujan Pakala at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be handling all donations. Within India, please contact Navya at email@example.com. If you have any ideas for fundraising, please run those by Navya as well.
- We have clothing coming from the US on July 20, but in the meantime we need to run an emergency clothing drive so we can supply each family with at least one more set of clothes from what the government has given. They have not provided children’s clothes, leaving the children with only undergarments. If you are within India, please gather together usable clothes. You can contact Jaba at 91 9940661886.
- We need our legal team to be fully functional. For us to be able to help these families to the best of our ability, we need to increase our legal standing. We really need people to donate some time to this. If you are a lawyer, or know a lawyer, or are willing to help work through some paperwork, please contact Navyatha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We need you to spread the word. Please tell everyone. Use every modality you have – Facebook, email, instant messenger, SMS, phone calls – to inform your friends of our needs. If you have any PR questions, please contact Priyanka at email@example.com.