“Without the movement of vehicles or people, the homeless people stood out like a sore thumb. It was truly horrifying to see so many people around us were suffering without shelter, food, or water.”
When Naim Tabriz Khan embarked on a journey to Erode on 24 March, little did he know that in the next two months, he would end up helping hundreds of people.
In February 2020, the Chennai-based techie began studying for a certification exam due in June, and to let him focus, his wife, Mahathaj Parveen, and children decided to spend a few months in the city with their relatives. However, when rumours about an extended lockdown started surfacing, Naim decided to take a one-day trip to Erode and bring his family back to Chennai.
“I started from Chennai before noon. By the time I reached Erode, it was a few hours before midnight. I knew it was impossible to drive back,” recalls Naim, who had no choice but to stay on.
Lending a Helping Hand
A few days later, Naim and Parveen were on a grocery run, when they came across an appalling sight.
“There were hundreds of homeless people stranded on the streets. They were in clusters outside bus stops, temples, and the railway station, living without proper shelter, food or water,” says Naim.
At the grocery shop, the couple spent an extra Rs 3000 to purchase biscuits and other snacks for some of them.
“We went around the city and distributed these food items to about 100 people. But I knew that it wouldn’t be enough, and what they needed were hot meals. So, I approached friends, family members, and colleagues through social media groups and requested them to donate some money to help me out with this cause. Many of them came through, and I managed to gather enough money to make 100 food packets every day,” says Naim.
To prepare the food packets, the couple approached a local caterer — Shabir Ahmed — who graciously agreed to help. From making 100 packets a day, they gradually started to serve 200 and more. By day 30, they were serving 520 lunch packets, and 100 breakfast packets.
“The quality and quantity of food were always top-notch, and we ensured that those who ate it, enjoyed it,” says Naim.
While distributing food packets Naim, Parveen, and Shabir ensured that they maintained the rules of social distancing, wore gloves, and carried hand sanitisers along.
Erode Corporation Steps in to Help
“One day, while we were out distributing the food packets, we were stopped by police officers. They wanted us to stop this work as we were breaking safety norms. We assured them that we were taking all necessary precautions, but they were insistent,” recalls Naim.
So, Naim wrote to the Municipal Corporation of Erode and the Collector and requested them to provide a shelter for 100 homeless people. The officials agreed, and on 26 April, he and Parveen moved 80 people to a government school.
“Now, I needed more funds and help from volunteers to provide three meals, along with tea, coffee and snacks. We also started giving them a herbal drink, Kabasura Kudineer, to boost their immunity. This drink is served at quarantine centres across the state. For volunteers, I approached local NGOs. There were also some individuals from a political organisation who joined to help,” says Naim.
Since it was also the holy month of Ramadhan, some of the volunteers and Naim had to break their fast everyday, at the school. After a few days, they felt bad eating alone and began to offer an iftar meal to all the residents. Naim claims this was done every day until the end of Ramadan.
Apart from this, Naim and Parveen ensured that they created a positive environment for everyone. They conducted games on certain days and even screened movies.
Going Above and Beyond
Naim also created a website — humanitywins.co.in — where he would update the work he did, along with pictures and videos.
“The link to the website was shared among various groups. Within a few days, the donations started pouring in. Till date, we’ve received approximately Rs 29.5 lakh. On the website, there is also an option to support a family’s grocery needs, for Rs 1300. This will take care of provisions like rice, dal, oil, etc., for 20 days,” claims Naim.
With the donations, Naim was also able to set up small businesses for those who were struggling to find a means of livelihood.
“We helped set up businesses for about 15 people. A man who had physical disabilities had to stop working a few years ago, so we converted his manual-start auto-rickshaw into an auto-start. There was a watchmaker who needed work, so we invested in a small shop where he could restart his business. Apart from this, we also secured work for 50 individuals at construction sites, restaurants, grocery stores, and similar places,” says Naim, who along with his family is still living in Erode, and continues to provide constant support to those staying at the school.
“Once the lockdown restrictions eased, some of them managed to find work, while some left for other cities. But there are still 15 people taking shelter at the school, and the corporation has agreed to allow them to reside here until it officially resumes. Shabir continues to make three meals a day for them, and I am constantly looking out for employment opportunities for them. I am grateful for this experience; it has truly made me realise how we only need a few small actions to make a powerful impact,” he concludes.
All photographs courtesy: Naim Khan
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)