WEST ELERI (KASARGOD): Shinu Syamalan is a temporary doctor with the government. But what she is doing far exceeds her brief. She is pulling a colony of Malavettuva tribe -- partially forgotten and partially ignored -- back from the fringes. All with the help of her 'followers' on Facebook.
Kadayakara colony at Kadumeni in the remote West Eleri panchayat is home to 47 families of the Scheduled Tribe. Several of the houses do not have roofs, at least 12 families do not have a ration card.
Five months ago, the district police chief held an adalat in the colony. "We gave several applications for ration cards and toilets. But we haven't heard from the officials after that," said Ratheesh V R (29), the Ooru Moopan or colony headman.
But he is not feeling let down. He found a saviour in Syamalan. She has launched a campaign to crowdfund toilets for all the eight families. She has already built two toilets, and two more are under construction. "I have given priority to families with young daughters," says Syamalan, whose four-year-old daughter Devu joins her during the colony trips.
Her birthday gift
Syamalan, who works as a temporary assistant surgeon at Peringom Taluk Hospital in Kannur district, came to know of this colony through her husband, K K Rahul, the medical officer of Moukode primary health centre in West Eleri. "When I told my husband that I did not want to splurge on myself this birthday, but wanted to do something meaningful, he suggested this colony to me," she says.
Kadayakara colony is on the way to Moukode PHC. On March 2, she spent her 29th birthday with the residents of Kadayakara. After learning from the Ooru Moopan that several of the families did not have ration cards, she arranged for foodgrains and pulses for them.
What she learned from the residents shocked her even more. The colony lacked basic infrastructure. Most of the residents lived in shacks, wrapped on all sides with plastic sheets and covered with tarpaulin. Of the 223 persons in the colony, none of them has seen a college. "Class XII is the highest qualification here," says Ratheesh. When asked who has cleared plus 2, pat comes the proud reply: "Myself".
None of them has a regular job, says Sarojini (48), a resident. "We are all daily wage labourer," she says.
Back home, Syamalan blogged on Facebook about her experience the same night. The response she got to the post was staggering.
Syamalan, who describes herself as a dancer, writer and poet, on Facebook, is a social media influencer. Over the years, she has accumulated over 43,000 followers through her poems, and blogs and vlogs on social and health issues. She is scathing on quacks and those spreading rumours on social media.
"When I wrote on Kadayakara, many of my friends wanted to chip in to help the residents," she says. In a few days, she got around Rs 43,000. "People from around the world sent in money. I got contribution ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 10,000," she says. Syamalan used that money to buy fans and household items for the residents.
Then she and her husband, Rahul, started a group for Nizhal on Facebook, exclusively, for an outreach programme. "I mooted the idea of building toilets for the colony, and my friends immediately lapped it up," she says.
The fund swelled to Rs 53,000 and she began work on four toilets. Each toilet is being built at a cost of Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.
The doctor procures the building material and oversees the construction all by herself, says Ratheesh. She has tapped the masons in the colony to build the toilets. "If I had given it to a contractor, I will have to shell out an extra Rs 5,000 on each toilet. I did not want to waste people's money," says Shyamalan.
There are lots of people abroad and in the country who want to give back to society but don't know how, she says. "I am just a conduit for such people," she says.
Shyamalan says Nizhal would like to build houses for the poor. "But that is for a later date."