HEARTBROKEN and desperate victims of the Kerala flooding nightmare are being cared for and comforted by a caring Bahraini woman who headed to the disaster zone to offer help, comfort and solidarity.
Well-known yoga teacher and practitioner Fatima Al Mansoori was set to conduct a short course at Mangalore University and visit a Keralite friend’s family home as well as an eco-project in the region as part of her Indian trip itinerary.
Her plans suddenly changed when weeks of heavy monsoon rains triggered landslides and floods. Instead of fleeing the area she set off in the direction of the disaster. “When you find yourself in the middle of a humanitarian crisis in which a lot of people have been affected, you naturally want to offer support and show some solidarity,” said Fatima, 35, in a broken WhatsApp interview on Monday morning amid failing internet coverage.
“I just felt a pressing need to go to the flooded areas and help in any way I could, even if it meant simply providing emotional support, to listen to the victims’ stories or simply to be there to hold their hands.
“People have lost so much, in fact in many cases everything they possess, as houses and whole communities collapsed under the floods. Many people have lost loved ones too and they don’t have a home to go back to.
“I was anxious to highlight the reality of this harsh and painful disaster, so that the suffering could be felt and better understood and make people fully aware, in real time, the needs of the people.”
Fatima was able to achieve this through live feeds to her social media followers on Instagram and Twitter posts and her efforts were also broadcast by MediaOne, an Indian TV channel.
She has travelled 120km and visited rescue centres, temporary schools and safe buildings used for sleeping accommodation for the homeless and seen the devastation up close, including a collapsed house in which two people died and the scene of a landslide.
About 22,000 people were rescued from the flood-hit Indian state of Kerala on Sunday alone after monsoon rains finally eased.
Military teams as well as disaster response forces and local fishermen reached some of the worst hit areas. Helicopters also brought much-needed supplies to communities’ cut-off by two weeks of incessant rain.
More than 350 people have been killed, most of them in landslides, since the monsoon started in June. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the number of people taking refuge in the 5,645 relief camps now stood at 725,000. But he vowed ‘to save even the last person stranded’.
Fatima was able to visit some of the rescue centres which she described as a humbling experience and says even those traumatised by the experiences they had suffered were warm and welcoming and grateful that someone was visiting them and showing compassion. “There was even one lady who wanted to share the little food she had with me. She had nothing left but the clothes she was wearing,” she said.
Fatima has been made aware that the people of Bahrain have been quick to rally around to offer assistance, everyone from members of the Royal Family to the expat labourer, to help the people of Kerala and Fatima said: “I would like to thank you all for opening your hearts and please, please keep that support coming, it is so desperately needed.”
As reported in our sister title, the Gulf Daily News, donations continue to pour in following appeals for help in the kingdom.
Today, Indians number at an estimated 400,000 people out of the country’s total population of 1.3 million, making them the largest expatriate group in the country and the majority are from Kerala.
As a result, expatriate associations involved in the relief drive have been inundated with calls from Bahrainis and residents keen to donate essential items, or help in any way possible.
His Majesty King Hamad earlier assigned the Royal Charity Organisation to send relief material to the flood-hit.
Several expatriate associations in Bahrain, in solidarity with the flood victims, cancelled all celebrations of Onam and Eid and launched donation drives. The Indian Club has set up a committee to co-ordinate relief activities, collecting essential materials like blankets, clothes, dry food and medicines and The Asian School Bahrain Alumni has also launched an aid drive with donors asked to drop items at the school’s reception.
A special ‘Pray for Kerala’ gathering was held at the National Evangelical Church on Monday evening with priests and ministers from Kerala in attendance.
Incessant rains since August 8 have caused Kerala’s worst floods in a century with authorities releasing water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the state’s main rivers. The floods have caused damage estimated at $3 billion.
While it is normal for Kerala to get some of the country’s highest rainfall during monsoon season, the India Meteorological Department said it had been hit with 37 per cent more than usual because of a spell of low pressure over the region.
Meanwhile, the head of the state’s disaster management team, Anil Vasudevan, said he was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of waterborne and airborne diseases in temporary relief camps.
He said authorities had already isolated people with chickenpox in a camp in Aluva, about 250km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
Rescue officials said efforts on Sunday had been concentrated on the town of Chengannur, where about 5,000 people were reported to be trapped, and in the Alapuzha and Ernakulam districts.
Fatima, who family originates from Muharraq, will be in India for a couple more weeks and will continue to share her Kerala stories.
“I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to humanitarian work since my mother passed away earlier this year and I’ve been volunteering actively,” she explained. “Despite the obstacles that I’ve stumbled upon, which has slowed me down and led to the disruption of my efforts, I found myself on the path of humanitarian action again without any prior planning, it’s a God-guided mission and all I had to do was respond.
“I was originally preparing to deliver a five-day short course at the department of human consciousness and yogic sciences at Mangalore University which was supposed to start yesterday. I’m an adjunct professor at the department and come to India every semester to deliver special lectures.
“This time my friend Rajeev Kumar, an Indian businessman who lives in Bahrain, had invited me, not for the first time, to visit his family home in Kerala, and it happened that he was travelling there around the same time that I was planning the short course at the university, so I accepted.
“We had no idea think that the situation of heavy rains would escalate into such a heart-breaking humanitarian crisis.”
Another acquaintance, TV news reporter Sirajudheen who reports from Bahrain, connected her to his friend, Noufal, an active volunteer of a youth NGO in Kerala, who was able to guide her to flood-hit locations. “He was the man behind the camera helping me taking videos to shed light on the crisis,” explained Fatima, who will be travelling to Tellicherry to stay with another Kerala family and friend who lives in Bahrain, Bijesh Kumar.
She was also due to visit Jatayu, the largest bird sculpture in the world and the area’s first sustainable tourism destination, located at Kollam in Kerala. Its official inauguration was originally set for last Friday but, like most things in the region, it had to be cancelled due to more pressing concerns.
Fatima arrived in India on August 11 and is likely to stay for at least a couple more weeks.
“I don’t plan,” she admitted. “I just keep myself always prepared and I prioritise humanitarian action over anything else - like my life depends on it!”
“I have few more things to do in India, such as going back to Mangalore University to deliver the lectures. But I will continue sharing what I have witnessed as I have a lot of videos I haven’t released yet regarding the effect of the flooding on the clean water supply and many stories of the survivors.”
There appears to be no rush to return, despite being in demand, as highlighted in GulfWeekly in 2016, when this newspaper featured her coaching session and the benefits of using yoga for those who stress over travel.
Aside from specialising in yoga counselling and one-to-one coaching, at the time Fatima also ran ‘nostril cleanse breathing’ therapy courses and also worked as an Ayurvedic lifestyle coach. This technique is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems developed thousands of years ago in India and is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit.
“I used to give private yoga therapy sessions by appointments at several hospitals in Bahrain but since I have decided to devote my life to humanitarian work I have stopped taking appointments,” she said. “A lot of people ask how I can survive financially but if you surrender to God and take on a path of selfless service you don’t need money!
“Support comes in many ways, I get sponsored and I get invited as a paid guest speaker and I also offer corporate wellbeing services so I get requests every now and then which covers my pocket money.”
Her comforting arms may not bring her riches but the smiles and hugs she received from the people of Kerala were reward enough.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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