Hope floats: Songs and stories for young survivors

Actor Manu Jose performs for children at the flood relief camp in SB College, Changanassery, on Wednesday. DH Photo/R Krishnakumar

“Mazha peyyunnathu kandittundo?” (Have you seen rain?) — Manu Jose asks in a sing-along; the question is to 20-odd children, all inmates of a relief camp at SB College, in Changanassery.

Behind the children are seated men and women from different parts of Kuttanad, displaced by last week’s devastating floods. Jose, actor and story-teller, faces a crowd on which the romance of rain appears lost. The children respond with enthusiasm though, with gestures indicating rainfall. A mild, barely-there drizzle.

Jose and his team are suitably animated. They start with games on the lawn, catching the children’s attention, and then switch to a musical bit. The children run around, laughing and dancing; the ice-breaker appears to have worked.

“The session was initially planned in a hall. We wanted to break that sort of formal air and brought them out,” says Jose, a graduate of the School of Drama, Calicut University.

His Me and You Foundation is conducting sessions in relief camps in Kottayam district, to help the displaced children overcome trauma the floods have caused. The district administration and DC Books have partnered in the initiative which was launched on Tuesday.

“They can’t completely move on from what has happened. Some of the older children could also be cynical toward these sessions but the idea is to get them back on their feet without making them feel that it’s all an effort. As artists, beyond the reach of a performance, we are exploring the true potential of applied arts,” says Jose.

The session on Wednesday is pepping up the adults as well. Women laugh as they watch the children laugh, some of the men sport half-smiles. They are amused at this new way of lending support – the camp has, so far, been playing movies as entertainment. John, a native of Era village in Alappuzha district, says the camp life has been good but he has already started thinking about life after the flood.

When the exodus from the affected villages of Kuttanad started, water had risen to his neck. “It’s going to be very, very difficult to rebuild those villages. Finding work will be next to impossible,” says John, a daily wage labourer. A relief worker at the camp says boats were “unloading hundreds” from Kuttanad in Changanassery after the floods hit.

“On August 17, we had started a relief collection centre at the college, providing materials for 10 relief camps in the area. The next day, a camp was opened for 250 people. Now, the camp has 490 people including 60 children,” says Anish K Joseph, the camp in-charge.

Jimmy, a houseboat employee from Kavalam, says four days in the camp have been a distraction but there’s no escape from the reality of life after the disaster.

The performing team is telling a story. It’s no mere story, a message is woven in, against the use of plastic and how nature gives, how it reciprocates.

John, meanwhile, has just got an update that water has started receding in his village. It’s difficult to see what he really thinks of it. “It was like a desert on water, son. I really don’t know,” he says as he watches the children cheer for another gag.

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Hope floats: Songs and stories for young survivors

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