Everyday heroes of 2023: Tales of resilience from Tamil Nadu

From animal rescues to feeding the hungry, these stories showcase the resilience and compassion of individuals and groups in the face of adversity.

ByRoshne Balasubramanian

Published Dec 30, 2023 | 2:06 PMUpdatedDec 30, 2023 | 2:06 PM

a multitude of everyday heroes stepped forward, offering assistance to those in dire straits. (Surendranath Kannan)

In the closing days of December 2023, Tamil Nadu was confronted with an unexpected natural calamity — a cyclone accompanied by heavy rains and floods. However, amid the challenges, a multitude of everyday heroes stepped forward, offering assistance to those in dire straits.

As we take a retrospective look at 2023, South First explores community-driven initiatives that sparked positive change in the face of adversity. On-the-ground volunteers also reflect on events close to their hearts.

Also Read: 2023, a year of heritage and cultural wins for South India

Hope for Critters

Amid heavy rains and flooding, Hope for Critters, a three-year-old NGO led by Kirthana Raamsukaesh, swiftly took action, answering over 50 distress calls and rescuing over 30 animals. The dedicated rescue team, consisting of four members, didn’t hesitate to extend their assistance to human rescue during the crisis.

“While our initial focus was on animal rescue, we ended up helping people who were also stranded, including a senior couple,” recalls Raamsukaesh.

After facing the challenge of a malfunctioning ambulance within minutes of commencing their operation, the group hired a vehicle and proceeded with the rescues. Throughout the crisis, they continued their operations, and the NGO’s Food Bank sustained essential services by providing food to animals in need.

Hope for Critters is a three-year-old NGO. (Supplied)

Hope for Critters is a three-year-old NGO. (Supplied)

“We responded to numerous requests from locations like RA Puram, Thaiyur, Kelambakkam, Taramani, Thoraipakkam, and Perumbakkam,” shares Raamsukaesh, emphasising the importance of giving back to the community and helping each other, especially during crucial times.

“This effort wasn’t just ours. Our patrons and the local community played a crucial role in sustaining our operations,” she adds.

With the state experiencing unprecedented rains and flooding, Kirthana shares a personal learning that she plans to implement soon. “While we have a rescue ambulance, I plan to invest in a boat for more effective responses in the coming year(s),” she adds.

Follow them on Instagram @hopeforcritters.

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Besant Nagar Anna Dhaanam Kattalai 

For Aravind TR Srinivasan and his friend Malarkodi, serving food to the less fortunate isn’t new. For a year now, the duo has been distributing lunch food packets daily in the Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur areas under the banner, Besant Nagar Anna Dhaanam Kattalai initiative.

The group managed to distribute over 5,000 food packets. (Supplied)

“When the cyclone hit, many people approached us, sharing stories of displacement and a lack of access to groceries. Recognising the urgent need for food and essentials, especially in slums affected by the rains, we decided to ramp up our distribution efforts,” shares Srinivasan. 

Responding to requests, kanji and food packets were supplied to the Government Hospital in Royapetta. (Supplied)

Responding to requests, kanji and food packets were supplied to the Government Hospital in Royapetta. (Supplied)

Between 4 December and 8 December, right after the cyclone, the group distributed over 5,000 food packets. “We put out a special request for running support, and fortunately, we received a good response from our friends’ network. However, distribution posed a challenge due to many areas being inaccessible for vehicles,” he shares. 

They collaborated with municipal corporation workers who, after their regular duties, helped distribute food in slums and other areas across Chennai.

“Our usual focus areas, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmayur, expanded to include Adambakkam, Velachery, and places where requests were received. Responding to specific requests, we supplied kanji and food packets to the Government Hospital in Royapetta for attendants and others as well,” he says. 

Now, while things have gone back to normal, the group still accepts specific requests.  

Also Read: Anakaputhur’s resilient weavers and weaving heritage in peril; urgent aid needed

Mohiyeddin Allama

Mohiyeddin Allama, a businessman dedicated to social activities for the past 15 years, emerged as a saviour by providing milk to many. “During the recent cyclone, my focus shifted unexpectedly to distributing milk,” he says.

It all began when people in Allama’s apartment complex started requesting milk, and soon, the demand escalated. 

“We concentrated our efforts on delivering milk to children, considering it a top priority,” he shares.

Despite facing challenges in communication due to network issues, Allama with the help of some volunteers managed to supply approximately 900 milk packets, equivalent to 400 litres, to various locations, including Mogappair, North Chennai, Chennai West, and Chennai North. 

“Collaborating with locals in different areas, we ensured that the distribution reached those in need,” he shares.

When procurement and milk supply became challenging due to issues with agencies and distributors, Allama began looking for alternative solutions, reaching out to institutions for assistance. “By 6-7 December, we organised area-wise assessments, posting updates and requirements. We received a contact from Aavin, who directly supplied us with 100 litres, supplementing our efforts,” he recalls.

A significant issue arose with government-supplied free milk, leading to shortages in affected areas. “Despite challenges, we collaborated with local communities to address the shortage. Collaborations extended to areas like Perumbakkam and Vyasarpadi, where direct supplies were made. While limitations existed, we leveraged collaborations to address requirements in various areas such as Vadapalani, Perumbakkam, Korattur, Kolathur, Vyasarpadi, and Perambur,” he added.

Also Read: Milk remains a dear commodity even as vegetable prices inch northward

Fishermen from Marina

In the aftermath of the cyclone, a group of nine fishermen, dispatched from Marina Beach to Pallikaranai, exhibited extraordinary bravery as they manoeuvred through neck-deep waters to provide crucial aid to the distressed community.

Vishnupriya Rathinam, a recipient of their assistance, expresses deep appreciation for their heroic efforts.

A group of nine fishermen were dispatched from Marina Beach to aid relief works in Pallikaranai. (Instagram - Vishnupriya.Rathinam)

A group of nine fishermen were dispatched from Marina Beach to aid relief works in Pallikaranai. (Instagram – Vishnupriya.Rathinam)

“I also had the privilege of joining them in using their boat to feed stray dogs,” she shares. “We exchanged conversation, gave each other company, and they shared fascinating stories about their day-to-day work,” she recalls. 

When Rathinam offered them some money for dinner while going back home, they graciously refused. 

“They also mentioned that a neighbour from our street provided each fisherman with rice, oil, and provisions, but they chose to donate it to another stranded family in my area. They said, ‘Every day, our families send us off with this message: help as many people as you can and don’t do it for money.’ They are the heroes who made our survival possible during this cyclone,” she adds.

Vyasai Thozhargal

When the cyclone struck North Chennai, plunging the area into darkness without power or network, the residents faced a harrowing ordeal. No government workers were on-site, leaving the community in distress. Amid this crisis, a group of dedicated youngsters from Vyasai Thozhargal stepped up, braving rising waters to provide relief and shelter to their neighbours.

Advocate Sarath Kumar, part of the collective, recounts their immediate response on the first day of the rains. With a small window of opportunity, they distributed rationed bedsheets to those in thatched houses, urging them to seek shelter at their tuition centre, Dr Ambedkar Pagutharivu Padasalai.

The tuition centre transformed into a home and rehabilitation centre for the affected residents. “Alongside the residents, we prepared our own food and served it to the community,” shares Kumar.

The collective managed to provide relief materials to 3,500 families in affected areas, each worth ₹1,500, made possible through their humble earnings, and donations from strangers. 

“People reached out – some even giving their pension money to us, for relief measures,” he shares. 

The group also assisted in securing the bodies of two deceased women for a proper farewell. Among their continued efforts, the group reached out to Kodungaiyur dump yard, providing essential relief materials such as beds and quilts to the workers, each worth ₹3,000.

Also Read: Health risks loom as Chennai floodwaters recede. Here are some precautions to take

Moments of positivity

As North Chennai continues its journey to recovery, Kumar recalls heartwarming moments of positivity.

“In the rescue centre, we learned that a child could not celebrate his first birthday due to the circumstances. Moved by this, we organised a spontaneous celebration in the camp, complete with a makeshift cake and playing ‘Happy Birthday’ through Bluetooth speakers. Furthermore, a couple of children from our Silambam classes, part of our tuition centre, generously donated their piggy bank savings for relief work,” recounts Sarath.

While one might assume that the worst is over, the road to normalcy remains a prolonged journey, especially for the daily wage labourers in North Chennai.

If you’d like to offer support, you can contact Vyasai Thozhargal at +919043332257. Instagram @VyasaiThozhargal

Aazhi Foundation

Ezhil Arasan of Aazhi Foundation found himself in a personal emergency when his father was admitted to a hospital in Tambaram during the cyclone. Despite the challenges, his journey from Kundrathur to Tambaram revealed the impact of the rains, motivating him to begin volunteering in Tambaram itself. As the hospital was one of the few places with power, Ezhil engaged in online volunteering, utilising the network and resources available.

Arasan’s initial assistance focused on a government home for rescued girls in Tambaram Sanatorium, addressing their immediate needs and aiding in distribution. 


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A post shared by Aazhi_Foundation (@aazhi_arts)

When the Manimangalam Lake overflowed, affecting approximately 60 families in thatched homes, Arasan’s Aazhi Foundation raised ₹45,000 in funds. “This enabled the provision of tarpaulin sheets and about 100 food packets to those affected,” he shares.

As more volunteers joined the efforts, Arasan extended support to five families living in Ennore on the way to Pulicat Lake. “These families, residing in palm leaf huts, require clothes, dry rations, and tarpaulins. Fundraising initiatives are underway, with plans to distribute aid on Sunday,” he adds. 

For those willing to donate or offer assistance, contact: 9566223625, Gpay/Phone pay 9159192523. Instagram

Also Read: No power, no drinking water — Varadharajapuram residents share tales of desperation

From social media to the streets

From the first day of the cyclone, online-connected volunteers have played a crucial role in amplifying requirements and ensuring timely aid reaches those in need. South First spoke with three young individuals actively involved in these relief efforts.

Online-connected volunteers have played a crucial role in amplifying requirements and ensuring timely aid reaches those in need. (Surendranath Kannan)

Online-connected volunteers have played a crucial role in amplifying requirements and ensuring timely aid reaches those in need. (Surendranath Kannan)

Muthu, an engineering student, responded to social media requests and entered the field on the second day of the rains, coordinating resources citywide.

Surendranath Kannan, another volunteer, sprang into action on the second day of floods, navigating neck-deep waters to deliver provisions promptly to places like Pallikaranai.

“It was a collaborative effort of multiple people who initially connected through Social media platform X (formerly Twitter) and later met in person to ensure resources reached everyone,” shares Muthu.

Initially focusing on Velachery due to reports of insufficient government attention and flooding, the engagement later shifted to North Chennai, encompassing Vysarpadi, Otteri, Pulianthope, and Perambur.

Bonds & acts of kindness

Ansar, another volunteer, is presently in Thoothukudi, assisting in the rain-affected regions of South Tamil Nadu. “The moment we heard about the South Tamil Nadu floods, we made our way here,” shares Ansar.

While the scenes in South Tamil Nadu are disheartening, with animal carcasses floating in water, and volunteers dealing not only with disasters but also communal politics, ensuring safe delivery of rations, Ansar notes that there are both positive and negative aspects to the situation. “Some people still talk about community in this situation, while some bless us for just helping them out. Human nature is complicated,” he shares.

Many of these young individuals have now formed strong bonds, evolving into friendships. (Surendranath Kannan)

Many of these young individuals have now formed strong bonds, evolving into friendships. (Surendranath Kannan)

Many of these young individuals who initially connected on X have now formed strong bonds, evolving into friendships.

“Many volunteers have become like family now, and we stay in touch. I realised that people-driven initiatives can bring about swift action. While government involvement is crucial, bureaucracy and red tape can hinder rapid responses. This should be corrected. Creating a network of volunteer groups and improving coordination can enhance disaster management on a larger scale,” shares Muthu. 

Recounting a moment involving one of the volunteers, Kannan shares, “One of the volunteers, who was alongside the NDRF personnel during a rescue operation, shared a touching experience. As they entered a location, they found people already stuck in the water, earnestly preparing food and offering it to the NDRF team. This ensured that the food parcels could be delivered to those in need. Witnessing such acts of compassion, where individuals went beyond their own challenges to help others in distress, was truly heartening,” he reflects.

Also Read: Aamir Khan, Vishnu Vishal, and Jwala Gutta rescued from Chennai floods