“The 2018 Kerala floods came as a blessing for me… The house we used to live in was made from boards and plastic sheets. We couldn’t even call it home. It couldn’t bear the slightest wind. It might just be impossible for you to imagine my four children, including my daughter living in that shed,” says Sujatha, a widowed daily wage worker, while talking about the team that built the sturdier home she now lives in and loves.
From the confines of a small ramshackle hut, Sujatha and her family now live in a pucca house complete with large windows and a roof that won’t rattle and chatter or worse, give in, under monsoon showers.
Meet Srishti Engineers and Builders, a firm bustling with energetic young builders and engineers with a passion to create structures that last for the neediest of our lot. Without charging labour cost, the team has completed 12 construction projects for the victims of floods that ravaged Kerala in 2018.
Sujatha was one of them.
The Better India (TBI) got in touch with Arun Narayanapanicker, who co-founded Srishti with his younger brother, Vishnu and friends, Gibin and Mobin Mohan. This firm, established in 2017, has been a ray of hope for many homeless families in Kerala.
In fact, when I called Arun, he was on his way to deliver emergency medicines as part of his service during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Building Homes for the underprivileged in Kerala:
Many stories of courage, compassion and heroism were reported during the massive Kerala floods of 2018. Arun, Vishnu, Gibin and Mobin too were part of the same narrative.
“We were involved in many volunteering activities like evacuation, supplying medicines, water, and food among others. As we travelled in the hinterland, we got acquainted with the plights of the residents there. Many people from the Kuttanad region (which covers the Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts) live in fragile temporary shelters that won’t hold ground if heavy rains or such other calamity strikes. We identified some of them and began thinking of ways to help them,” informs Arun.
As a team, their goal has always been to be the firm that helps the underprivileged build their dream homes.
“Building one’s own home is a dream that everyone cherishes. The whole point of starting Srishti instead of joining an established architecture firm was to be able to fulfil this dream of others. Even the underprivileged have some sort of shelter but is that really home? We want to build houses that provide space, privacy and security to the occupants,” Vishnu shares with TBI.
While only 1 per cent of the population in Kerala falls below the poverty line, life for them becomes unbearable during the frequent monsoon-wrought floods. It is well-nigh impossible for those living in temporary shelters or huts to face such unforgiving wrath of nature.
But, with their concerted efforts and vision to help the marginalised, the four friends have helped several such families shift into more secure, comfortable homes in a matter of just two years!
How the Kerala Team Manages to Pull This Off:
The main driving force behind Srishti is the 50+ daily wage labourers who work with the firm and who truly can empathise with the plight of those who live in Kuchha huts.
Arun shares with us that the construction workers dedicate extra time to build the homes pro-bono.
“Our labours are our strength. Some of them are residing in rental homes and so we are always thankful to them for their strong support,” Arun shares. He adds that they are also associated with voluntary groups and organisations like the Khalsa Aid and the Flood Volunteers Family for financial aid.
“With the Khalsa Aid, we have completed maintenance activities of two schools that were affected by the 2018 Kerala floods. Since the floor level of the classrooms was very low, they became waterlogged during the rainy season. So we raised the floor up to 1.5 ft height to prevent the problem,” the 28-year-old civil engineer adds.
These construction activities are done without charging any labour cost, substantially reducing the cost of each project. “Now all these people are like our own family members. So we no longer need to book hotels or eat in a restaurant in these areas. Our family is ready to welcome us. In a way, it is money saving!” he quips.
The team has completed 12 such projects so far, helping out families and schools in need. Sujatha is one such grateful “family” of theirs. Another is Ratheesh, a farmer who lost his home during the floods. Even then, he did not back out from carrying out rescue missions. He would go from house to house, in his boat and rescue those in need.
“The team got in touch with me after they found out about my rescue operations in Pulinkunnu. They approached me and asked if I needed anything. A lot of people had approached me before, offering help but when I got back to them, most did not respond to my calls. But the team from Srishti managed to complete the construction of my home in a matter of 3-4 months. The four engineers joined the construction labourers in the work. They carried the metal, bricks etc. It was so heartwarming for me to see that,” says Ratheesh.
Many among us pledge to lend a helping hand to the needy, only few actually have the strength and drive to carry it through. The Srishti men are some of those who cannot bear to be silent spectators of the misery of others. They revel in being in the thick of things, helping their brethren in their times of need. Living in these dire times, such strength of character is indeed the need of the hour.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)