KOCHI: It was 2018. The whole of Kerala was dealing with somewhat a deluge. And youngsters all over the state, and outside, came together on social media to organise help, track people and provide necessary support to those affected. And now in 2022, some of them are still working together, doing all they can to help the vulnerable sections of society. Formed by two youngsters, The Rise Up Forum is active across the state thanks to the volunteers who come from all walks of life.
Soon after the flood situation eased, what started as a youth initiative turned into an NGO. The Rise Up Forum founded by Heshikesh and Jinsil P K is engaged in spreading awareness on climate change, supporting the LGBTQ community, fostering children from orphanages and many more.
According to Heshikesh, eversince they started flood-related activities, they couldn’t ignore the way some sections of society were struggling to survive. “Once you start helping people and understand their real struggle, it’s impossible to leave it all behind and move on,” the 30-year-old says.
Initially, the duo was just planning to continue their social work as during the flood time. “However, when the number of volunteers increased, our projects started taking off. That’s when we realised the forum should be set up as an NGO,” he says.
The majority of the volunteers, Heshikesh says, are in the 20-24 age group.“All of them, including us founders have decided to dedicate our lives for the cause,” he adds. Currently, the NGO has around 800 volunteers and 30 state committee members.
RUH: Home for children
Punya, a 23-year-old volunteer, who is also part of the NGO’s state committee is currently helming a project for abandoned children.“We are building a first-of-its-kind foster home for orphan children in Malappuram, near the University of Calicut. The construction is almost finished,” she says. Punya says she joined the NGO in 2019, a year after the flood.
“I saw a social media post about the forum organising a climate strike in Kozhikode. I joined the strike and soon joined their second-level committee,” she says.The home for the children, titled RUH or Rise Up Home, will house eight children till they become independent. “The concept is fairly new in Kerala. It will be like a family living together. An adult will stay with them like a mother or a father would. The children can grow up together as siblings. The home will belong to them,” she says.
The NGO has received government support for the project. There will be regular inspections from authorities to assure the safety of the children and that their needs are met.This is Punya’s dream project and she is planning to stay at home with the children to take care of them, along with a personal caretaker.Heshikesh adds that the NGO will construct many such homes in the state. “Each one will house eight children. People can help out the children, and donate to us. But they will stay at this home throughout,” he says.
So far, the NGO has spent `30 lakh on the construction and they are raising funds for the remaining `20 lakh.“Many people ask us why we are building such a big house for just eight children. But shouldn’t they also get at least some privilege a child growing up with a family gets,” he adds.
The NGO is also planning to construct hostels in major cities for the transgender community.
“It was during the Covid period we came across news reports of how many transgender people were struggling even to have food. That’s when we started delivering food for them,” says Heshikesh.
Soon, the team realised that many volunteers and state committee members in the NGO also identified as queer.
“Till then, our bylaws stated at least 60 per cent of members in the core committee should be women. As soon as some members came out, we made it mandatory that the core committee should have queer people too,” says Punya.First, the NGO organised seminars and workshops,both for the public and
members of the organisation. And then started collaborating with other LGBTQ organisations in Kerala. In June this year, pride month, the NGO also conducted its first Pride March.
Pride of the rainbow
Heshikesh says, one thing that struck him while watching Pride marches from various cities in India is the way the onlookers behaved. “Many straight people of society make fun of Pride marches, the celebration of queer people, their dance, fashion and everything. So we wanted to make them at least think a bit and realise, queer people are part of same society as them,” says Heshikesh.
It was Sanal Suhas, an original member of the NGO, who helmed the first Pride March and he made sure to include schoolchildren and youngsters (both queer and allies).“The first parade was in Kozhikode. Students who are part of the National Service Society (NSS), LGBTQ members from our NGO, and other NGOs such as Punarjani, Sahodari etc walked together through the streets of Kozhikode. The reluctance of youngsters to join Pride marches allows homophobic people to marginalise the community. Show them we are all together, it’s not a ‘them’ issue but it affects all of ‘us’,” says Sanal.
The team is now scouting for a location in Kochi to construct a hostel for working transgender people.
“We have to make sure that along with the hostel, the people also get jobs in the fields they want. Like any hostel, they can come and go at any time for work. There will be a mess, a recreational area etc. Some companies have also showed interest in helping us with the project using their CSR fund,” adds Sanal.
A/C name: Rise Up Forum
Bank: SBI, Chelari
Account no: 38144445071
Google Pay: 7510445071
UPI Id: riseupforum@sbi