Shelin had tried to contact us during the comms outage. She had been following the news back home and knew that Chennai was suffering very badly.
She called yesterday and said she had got some food and clothing together after a collection near her home and was arranging to travel to Chennai to perform some relief work. Using her car or a taxi would work out too expensive so she would come by bus and would arrive this morning.
Dr Mei had arranged a taxi to pick her up from the bus stop but disruptions and delays due to the flooding meant it did not arrive and she got into an auto rickshaw with boxes piled on top of her and made her way to Saveetha Dental College.
After freshening up, I helped with organising and repackaging some of the items. Dr Mei had been helping to identify a cause that would benefit and I mentioned that we should try to find one location as moving around in Central Chennai would be very difficult.
The roads outside the city were quite clear of water although you could see and feel the damage the flooding had done to the surface. There were large potholes and in some places the road surface had completely disappeared leaving only the gravel sub surface. Our driver was frantically having to steer left and right to avoid the large ones that jarred your bones if you drove into them.
Shopkeepers by the roadside had used a variety of sandbags and other makeshift barriers to prevent the water from flooding their businesses and the wash caused by moving vehicles was making this worse.
All around you could see people on foot trying to clutch on to some sense of normality while tentatively feeling the water ahead with one foot before stepping forward.
A number of times, the water rose to such a level around us that I feared it would start to enter through the doors of our vehicle.
We eventually made it to the Solomon Orphanage which was tucked away at the end of a short road.
Upon entering the step from the roadside you could see that steps led down to a lower ground floor area that was completely flooded with jet black flood water. The stench from the water was pretty bad as it seemed the drains had also overflowed. To my right there were some stone steps leading to the first floor which consisted of one large room with three smaller rooms coming off from it. In the large room were all of the children.
During the rain, flood water and raw sewage had made the ground floor unusable. Unfortunately that is where the kitchen, dining hall, bathroom and some of the sleeping quarters were located. They managed to salvage what they could before it was completely inaccessible and now 30 orphan children and the manager were living in the first floor. In that same room they cooked and slept.
This was heartbreaking to hear and for a moment it seemed what we had brought would only do little to help their situation … but it would help and I told Shelin that we could do a lot more by arranging further help.
We spoke to the children and manager for a while and were happy to hear that all of the children who were old enough were attending school regularly even temporary ones which had been set-up when the main schools closed due to rain.
We opened up the boxes we had brought upstairs and began giving out some of the clothing and food.
It was surprising to see the resilience of the children in their smiling faces. They were enduring such hardship but did not let it show.
Soon it was time to leave and I was mindful of the fact that Bobby would be getting tired. The children recited some lovely prayers for us and we made our way carefully back downstairs to our waiting car.
Shelin had a meeting arranged at one of the largest department stores in Chennai with a representative from the Reddington Foundation. They wanted to work closely with Shelin’s Rene Foundation and had asked her to help organise the procurement, packaging and distribution of 300 family relief packs. They had given her 24hrs and when I heard, I told her they might be testing her abilities.
The meeting at the department store was taking a lot of time and Bobby was getting increasingly tired. I decided we should head back for the 2 hr drive to the guest house and Shelin would follow later.
This turned out to be a good idea as Shelin got stuck into organising volunteers and preparation of the relief pack not returning to the guest house until 12am.
Once she was back I went to sleep dreaming of the happy, smiling faces of the children at the orphanage.