“There was no way I could hold myself from attending this vigil,” Melbourne’s Benila Ambika said to Indian Link. “I was heartbroken when I saw the news of my homeland, Kerala, being ravaged by floods. I saw myself in the people who stood there helpless, watching their homes being taken by the flood waters,” she added, evidently moved after attending a public vigil that was organised in North Melbourne that saw around 300 people from various Indian communities in attendance. “Being part of this vigil is the least I could do to share their agony.”
As Kerala, the south Indian state, is getting back on its feet gradually shrugging off the bruises from the deluge that took the lives of nearly 400 people and displaced a million, people all across the world are lending their hands to rebuild the state and rehabilitate its people. Australia is joining in the league too and the vigil in Melbourne was one of those in many Australian cities to support and #StandWithKerala.
Canberra, the capital city of Australia, saw around 150 people attending a vigil in the Civic Square. Sanju George, one of the attendees had more of a first-hand experience to share. “I was in Kerala during the first stage of the flood, and was involved in relief operations with my friends. We purchased food kits and travelled in boats through what normally would be roads, to supply those to people stranded in their houses. I returned to Australia before the flood got worse, hence it was quite depressing for me to watch from here what happened afterwards. So here I am, doing whatever I can, from where I am at, attending this and contributing to the $37,000 that Canberra Malayalee Association raised.”
The Malayalee based organisations in Brisbane organised community walks, candlelight vigils and fund-raising events in support of the cause, which were attended by hundreds.
Sydney saw a whopping crowd of around 600 people attending the Kerala Flooding Vigil held at Martin Place, often called the heart of the city. The vigil was quite inclusive of the regions including the afflicted Coorg which is in close proximity to Kerala, and also of the drought-stricken Australia. Sydneysiders also took the ‘Oath of Solidarity’ to support both their homeland and the land that welcomed them with open arms, to the best of their capacity.
Roanna Gonsalves, the award-winning writer who attended the vigil said, “I could feel the outpouring of concern and love for the communities badly affected by the floods. I was surprised yet not surprised that the Sydney Malayalee Association had already raised close to $30,000. Living outside India, we feel acutely our privilege of being safe and well, yet there is also a sense of helplessness, and a desire to use our privilege, to be of service to those affected back home. A gathering such as this allowed us to collectively express these different emotions. It was cathartic. And hopefully the funds raised will make a difference to the lives of those suffering in Kerala.”
The best and biggest impact of all these activities was how it helped in bringing awareness amongst the crop of young second generation migrants, like Roshan John. Roshan, a kindergartener, has now decided to donate the money from his birthday presents to the flood relief fund. “Mum said there are children in Kerala who have even lost all their books and have nothing to learn from. I said to her that she can collect all the money for my presents and give it to those children,” said a beaming Roshan.
Support from Australian Parliamentarians
Australian Parliamentarians made their presence felt in all of these vigils. Joy Burch, the speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly attended the Canberra vigil and her recollections about the beautiful Kerala that she had visited last year moved many. Jodie Mackay, the MP for Strathfield (NSW), spoke about the importance of restoring tourist activities to Kerala, and thus supporting the economy of the state, during the Sydney vigil.
It has been widely appreciated that Michelle Rowland, the Federal MP for Greenway (NSW), and Anthony Byrne, Federal Member for Holt (Victoria) spoke about Kerala floods in the Federal Parliament of Australia.
Michelle said in her address, “Whilst it is crucial that disaster relief support is provided immediately, it is also imperative that ongoing support is given in the region to alleviate the damage to the local economy. It’s crucial that we elevate discussion within the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region about preparation efforts for extreme climate events, including flood mitigation. Australia can and should lead this conversation.”
Anthony mentioned, “This is about us working together, in whichever form of Govt we can, to provide assistance, so that we can raise money with all of the communities coming together; and to amplify the absolute scale of the destruction occurred consequent to the flooding and the landslides that occurred. Please also encourage the Australian Govt to make representations to the Indian Govt to provide any support we can.”
For sure, this is a small world, and we are all global citizens.
PICTURES: SURESH POKKATTU