24 March 2020.
Just like the rest of India, a town named Kanhangad, located in Kerala’s Kasaragod, went under lockdown.
This was a shock and a major impediment to the many street dwellers, migrant workers, and daily wage earners, who were dependent on outside food for daily survival. Suddenly, they had nowhere to go.
Observing their plight through it all was Salam Kerala, who soon began cooking and serving food for about ten people in the area daily. As word spread, more people started knocking at his door.
As the number increased to 50, Salam sought help from his friends and fellow social workers. They formed a WhatsApp group and started contributing money for this food.
Around 981 days have passed since, and Salam’s endeavour continues.
He has officially registered his work as an official trust, naming it Nanma Maram, or ‘the tree of goodness’. With this, the good samaritans have been providing food to almost 60 people every day, come rain, hail, or sunshine.
Everyday, at 1 PM, Kottachery Circle in Kanhangad is abuzz with activity. Out of seemingly nowhere, 50 to 60 people queue in front of a designated desk in front of the Kerala store, which is run by Salam. These people are then given food packets.
Where a community thrives
“This was started during COVID times. As the response was good, and we realised that this was something that needed to continue, we registered the NGO on August 15, 2020. Initially, we would go across town distributing the food. That was proving to be difficult, Therefore, we zeroed in on this spot, and everyone now comes here,” says Hari North Kottachery, vice president of Nanma Maram.
The food costs Rs 1200 daily to buy, as the restaurant provides a special rate of Rs 20 per packet. Once a week, chicken biryani is provided, which costs Rs 3,500 to procure. The trust runs on voluntary donations and there hasn’t been a single day when they have not been able to provide food, Salam says.
“Initially, it was started as a WhatsApp group. We all would just contribute the amount. Slowly, more people joined, and today we have four WhatsApp groups, and more than 1,000 active supporters. We just input the requirement in the groups and receive the amount within a short time. People in our town contribute Rs 1,000, or food itself during special events like their birthdays or wedding anniversaries,” says Unnikrishnan Kinnanoor, secretary, Nanma Maram.
While food packets are distributed usually, on festivals like Onam, Vishu, Ramzan and Christmas, a full feast is prepared and served on the road to the beneficiaries. “During these festivals, we put up tables and chairs on the footpath. We provide new clothes as well as a full sadhya (feast). On these days, we serve a lot of people,” says Hari.
Making people self-reliant
As the NGO continued to serve people, they started branching out into more avenues. They have started helping people set up small businesses, providing medicines, equipment for palliative care, and even mobile phones to students.
“During the lockdown, students were dependent on online classes. But many didn’t have mobile phones or televisions at their houses. We gave ten televisions and hundred mobile phones to students to help them continue their education during the lockdown,” says Unnikrishnan.
They also helped migrant workers and street dwellers get vaccinated.
“As many of them did not have Aadhar cards or mobile numbers, they couldn’t get vaccinated. We arranged a special camp with the help of IMA Kanhangad and got 60 people vaccinated. We also sanitised about 500 schools and other public areas,” adds Unnikrishnan.
Whenever they have extra donations, they think of how else they can help people. That’s how the idea of setting up small shops called petti kadas came up. “We have set up five shops so far. One of the owners is a cancer patient, while one is in a wheelchair. This way, they can have a steady income. Each shop costs about Rs 50,000,” says Hari.
For people who can’t afford to go to the hospital for treatment, they have beds, oxygen concentrators and water beds to make their last days comfortable.
“We spent about Rs 2.5 lakh to buy 15 beds and oxygen concentrators. Whoever is in need takes it, and after using it, returns it. This is for workers who can’t go to hospitals for their treatment,” adds Unnikrishnan.
They also plant trees in their town, and have a target of planting 200 saplings now.
“Nanma means doing good. We want to continue helping people in whatever way possible. We also hope more people start doing good, in whichever part of the world they might be, in whatever small way,” says Unnikrishnan.
You can do your bit to help Nanma Maram expand its ambit:
Account Name: Nanmamaram Kanhangad Charitable Society
Account number: 0632073000000326
Bank Name: South Indian Bank
IFSC Code: SIBL0000632
You can also send money through UPI: nanmamaram@sib