They almost drowned, but Bangalore youths head for Bihar again

January 2nd, 2009 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Jan 2 (IANS) It was a near-death experience for five youths from Bangalore when they first went to Bihar to rescue flood victims last year - they almost drowned. But that hasn’t stopped these college students from going right back.Leaving the incident behind, Karthik Singraju, Abdul Mobeen, Naveen R, Shah Faisal and Sonali Kusum, all in their early 20s, are once again set to go to the Muraliganj block, one of the severely flood-affected areas of Bihar, for “Phase Three” of their operation, beginning Jan 14.

Faisal, a final year student of the M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bangalore, told IANS: “It was on the night of Aug 28, after rescuing 20 village men in Muraliganj, when we all got inside a boat and started heading for a safe haven.

“But we lost control of our boat and it turned turtle as the Kosi river was flowing at a speed as high as 50 km per hour. Within minutes all of us were struggling for life. But as five of us were trained in disaster management, immediately we swung into action and managed to save all the 20 men.”

Faisal and his friends are members of the Jan Sahyog Foundation, where youngsters, mostly students, have been involved in various social activities since its formation in 2001. Today the foundation boasts of 10,000 members across India.

Asked what made them take such a risk to save others’ lives, Faisal - who is also the all India coordinator of the foundation - said: “Saving those lives were our responsibility. And we did it.”

Sonali Kusum, a student of the National Law School of India University here, said: “After knowing about the Bihar floods, five of us from Bangalore immediately rushed to the Muraliganj block.”

“We stayed there for almost a month. Again we went to Muraliganj to distribute food, clothes and other essential items, worth Rs.12 lakh (Rs.1.2 million or about $25,000) in November.

“Now we’re again collecting donations and are set to revisit Muraliganj for the third time with necessary materials for the flood victims.”

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam met the five at his residence in Delhi on Dec 24 and praised them for their commitment to helping the people in need.

Faisal said: “The very motto of the foundation is to involve young people of the country in bringing social and economic changes in our society. In a crisis situation like the Bihar floods, it was our responsibility to provide a helping hand to the victims. We’re determined to fully rehabilitate the victims of Muraliganj in the coming year.”

Bihar experienced one of its worst floods last year due to a breach in the Kosi embankment near the India-Nepal border. In the process, the Kosi river changed its course and inundated huge chunks of land in northern Bihar. An estimated 2.3 million people were affected by the floods.

The foundation is the brainchild of Aley Rasool, a retired professor from Katihar, Bihar.

“He is our guiding principle. He has inspired 10,000 young Indians to take up social work,” said Naveen R, a student of the Bangalore Institute of Technology.

Members of the foundation from across India had done a commendable job in rescue and rehabilitation work in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 Jammu and Kashmir earthquake.

Faisal said: “We have a special disaster management cell which is solely involved in working for victims of natural calamities. All members of the cell are given special training to work in areas affected by disasters.

“Along with helping victims of natural disasters we also help the needy in providing food, clothes and shelter. Recently we have also organised an AIDS awareness campaign in colleges of Bangalore.”

For money, the foundation depends on public and corporate donations.

“Sometimes we also spend from our own pockets. As we are all students, members are also helped by the college authorities whenever we are in need of money. We are lucky to get clearance from our institutions to spend sizeable amounts of time in visiting and rescuing people during crises,” Faisal said.

Asked if their social work hinders their academic life or other activities, Abdul Mobeen said: “We’re clear about our priorities and know what we want from life.

“We study and do everything like any other youngsters. It is just that we don’t waste time and instead indulge in work involving the needy people of India. We are all committed and hope the foundation, a dream of Rasool sir, one day will turn into a pan-Indian movement and all youngsters of India will take part in it fully.”

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