“Super cyclone Amphan wrecked havoc on Kolkata and four other districts of West Bengal. Most parts of Kolkata faced power cuts for days at a stretch but I have been fortunate enough to have a roof over my head…Most people from Sunderbans still do not have a roof over their head and two square meals a day,” Ankan Sarkar, 30, tries to summarise the devastation that claimed over 80 lives recently.
Sarkar is one of those who are trying to ease the pain of those who lost everything they had: Family members, livelihood, meagre savings and the most crucial of them all, a place they called home.
A research analyst by profession, Sarkar also runs a not-for-profit organisation —Aspire and Glee — with 22 other philanthropically-inclined fellow citizens. Founded in 2014, Aspire and Glee has been conducting initiatives to help the underprivileged in Kolkata and adjoining areas ever since. The current situation in the state is a double whammy with the number of Covid 19 cases also rising at an alarming rate.
This means that the past few months have been extremely busy for Sarkar and his fellow volunteers. “Kolkata reported its first case of Covid-19 on March 17 and we knew that the novel coronavirus will ravage our state. The subsequent lockdown meant we had to do our bit to help thousands of people living on the streets of Kolkata. Fundraising activities began taking place social media and donations started pouring in.” During the two-month-long nation-wide lockdown imposed by the government, Aspire and Glee served over 2,000 meals within South Kolkata. Nine hundred meals were distributed among the needy in the northern part of the city as well. It also distributed 40 ration kits among handicraft workers in Kalighat area. Aspire and Glee has arranged ration for Shantidham orphanage’s ration from April to this date.
Ankan Sarkar from Aspire and Glee distributing relief material in Kolkata during nation-wide lockdown
Prior to Amphan, another severe storm had ravaged parts of North Bengal including Alipurduar and Malda districts and yet again, Aspire and Glee had to step in. Sarkar says: “Over 1,500 cooked meals were distributed in storm-affected villages of Alipurduar. We also helped in rebuilding houses devastated by the storm. This initiative went on 20-25 days and then catastrophic Amphan hit West Bengal.”
Amphan relief drives
“Preliminary losses after Amphan were estimated at Rs 1 trillion. Certain areas of Sunderbans including Gosaba, Patharpratima are still inaccessible. While planning out relief drives, we have aimed at providing customised help — meaning reaching out to people with need-specific aid. There are areas where government has ensured enough supply of rice for the affected villagers, at such places we have provided ration kits and hygiene kits containing potatoes, onions, cooking oil, soyabean, antiseptic soap, a packet of detergent, sugar and salt,” says Sarkar. A typical hygiene kit contains a mask, sanitary napkins, soaps and detergent.
In areas which are still waterlogged, team Aspire and Glee has provided villagers with mosquito nets and mosquito repellents. “People have donated for our cause and trusted us with their money. Our motto is use the resources in such a way that a maximum number of people can be reached out to,” Sarkar says. Ration kits to over 180 families have been provided to Gosaba block’s Manmathanagar village in the Sunderbans. Ankan and his team have helped rebuild homes of 11 families and rehabilitate them in South 24 Pargana’s Ghasiara village. They also joined hands with other not-for-profit organisations — Setu from Sweden and Hoichoi from The Netherlands — to provide hygiene kits and ration kits to the needy.
On June 14, the team will be heading towards Mousuni Islands with tarpaulins and ration kits for over 100 families in Subhaspalli and Banipalli villages of Kusumtala block of Sunderbans. They also plan on surveying houses that have been destroyed by the super cyclone and provide need-based cash assistance to the families to rebuild these houses.
Aspire and Glee team members surveying villages for Amphan relief drive
Sarkar adds that the question of livelihood in a ravaged area is also at the back of his mind and he and his teams are planning to find a solution to this as well. “Sea water has seeped into most agricultural lands of Sunderbans rendering them unfit for any farm activities for up to two years. Amphan has caused immense loss of livelihood among villagers in Sunderbans. One of our long-term plans is to create an alternative income source for the villagers.” The team plans on up-skilling the villagers in animal husbandry, poultry rearing, carpentry, and sewing so that they can make their ends meet without having to depend on agriculture.
Sarkar adds: “Our efforts will continue till we can rehabilitate and help villagers from the remotest villages that are out of reach even now, after more than three weeks of Amphan. With support pouring in from every nook and corner of the world, Aspire and Glee will strive to ensure that no one is left behind.”
The latest initiative is another addition to the long list that Aspire and Glee have taken up. One of their ongoing projects, started in their early days, has been helping children suffering from cancer. Their second project was helping out meritorious students from economically weaker sections of the society with financial aid so that they could continue to study. They have also taken part in activities like distribution of blankets during the winter season and conducting classes for the children living on the streets of Kolkata. Few other activities included distribution of new clothes and blankets at Shantidham orphanage in East Bardhaman district’s Belmuri and organising clothes donation drives for people living on the streets of Kolkata during Durga Puja every year.