How a like-minded citizens’ group comes together to serve the needy in the summer
I was waiting at a bus stop on Poonamalle High Road in the first week of May. The temperature reading on my mobile read 35 degrees celsius. The scorching heat had tired out everyone at the bus stop.
Three young men came in a Bolero, that halted near the bus stop. One was carrying a 1 litre pack of butter milk (‘more’ in Tamil) , while the other had smaller packs of 200 ml. The third one had coloured cards that were the size of postcards.
I was keenly waiting for the service to get over, I could talk to the team about their service. Led by an advocate-activist called Balaji, the team has been distributing butter milk to citizens since 2015. It is their way of saying thank you to the people who work under the scorching heat.
They gladly accepted my offer to volunteer.
At the next stop, it was the turn of the khaki-clad men to receive the service. After a brief enquiry about the team, the traffic police were happy to be acknowledged and appreciated. Their tired faces expressed genuine joy for a moment. One cop went a step ahead and clicked a selfie, which he said he would share in the whatsapp groups of police personnel.
“If there is a group of 3 or 4 who can share it, we give them the bigger packs. The smaller packs are for individuals. We are planning to cover a wide range of people that render services to the common man. We don’t target any specific groups,” Balaji explained.
The Bolero stopped again, this time for a group of road workers who were constructing dividers on PH Road.
What was in the card, I wondered? It is a ‘Thank you card’. The team members make cards from chart paper with their own designs, and write lines from Thirukkural (mostly from the chapter on ‘Gratitude’ (Seynandri Arithal in Tamil)) and other Tamil sayings about being helpful- thanking them for the service. The buttermilk packs might be discarded, but this card will remain with them.
We distributed buttermilk to many sections of the society that are less spoken to — vegetable vendors on a tricycle, security guards standing outside a University, and fire rescue personnel stationed outside the Fire Safety Department. We finally reached an e-Seva Centre, and waited for some people. When I enquired who they were waiting for, they replied that I would see it for myself.
Shortly, a few tricycles with heaps of garbage entered the compound of the building, driven by conservancy workers, who had slogged since morning in garbage collection and disposal. The group distributed the bigger packs wherever they could get 4 people as a group, and covered around 100 garbage collectors, who were thrilled at this gesture. The officials from the next ward including an Assistant Engineer asked the team if this could be replicated in their locality. The team promised they would do so the next time.
From gathering volunteers to deciding on the locality, the service requires planning. When I asked about the background work, Balaji attributed it to the power of social media.
“I send out a message on the social networking sites and people respond to it. While some people give their time, some donate money. Both are equally important. Though we wish to expand it to all sections, funds has been a hindrance. We could do more with support from like-minded citizens,” Balaji said.
The service has been a learning experience for the team. They started giving out sachets, which was not easy for people to drink from. “After many experiments, we found the tetra pack to be most effective,” Balaji explained. When I further asked about his inspiration he replied, “Nothing in particular. At times where social media throws a lot of negativity on these workers, we want to do the opposite. They work under the blazing sun and do not complain. Our gesture is not about the buttermilk or gifts, but a small step towards thanking them.”
It was my turn to say thanks for an experience that I would cherish for life.