Norwich curry lunch will aid Kerala flood victims
The Norwich Catholic Malayalee community has been rallying around to raise money and supplies to help rebuild their home region of Kerala in southern India which was devastated by once-in-a-lifetime floods in August. Keith Morris reports.
A Curry for Kerala lunch at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich on Sunday (October 14) saw over 250 people enjoy an Indian feast cooked by families from across the city, raising over £1740.
It was the latest in a series of efforts to raise funds to help flood-stricken villages in Kerala, which have included sending emergency supplies by air, an Indian takeaway and church collections.
There are around 100 people from Kerala in Norwich, most of them Catholic, many working as doctors and nurses. They worship at St John’s, St George’s and Holy Apostles in West Earlham.
Antony James, who organised the curry lunch at the Cathedral, is a nurse practitioner at the N&N Hospital and has lived in Norwich since 2005 with his wife and children. He also has a family home in the village of Kuttanad, where his parents live.
“My parents have never seen floods like it, said Tony. “At first they thought it was the normal rain, but within 24 hours most houses were under water. My father was stuck on the first floor of his house for a day, which was terrifying for us as a family and 97% of the people in my village were evacuated to a camp. This then was flooded too, so they had to move to another camp for two weeks. Most of my neighbours lost their houses completely.
“The thing that really touched my heart was that three people were reported to have committed suicide when they returned from the camp to see their homes and everything in them destroyed. The majority of the people in Kerala do not have home insurance, so people have lost everything, including livestock.
“I knew then that I had to do something about it. I thought I am from Kerala, I know a bit of cooking. With a couple of friends I cooked some biriyani and sold it to colleagues at the N&N hospital and raised £1500 and we were able to help five families. I thought this would be of some help for rebuilding their homes.
“Then I spoke to Fr Seelan at St John’s and we got together around 25 people who have all cooked food for around 250 people today. We will be distributing the money directly to affected families in our home village.
“Help will come from the government maybe later, but for now they need some hope and this will help them to get hope,” said Tony.
Many people from Norwich travel back to Kerala over the summer and a number were stuck in the floods when the local Cochin airport was closed by the flooding.
George Mathew, who has run a shop and Post Office in New Lakenham with his family since 2007, was in Kerala just days before the floods.
“Three of my cousins were running small shops which were all washed away by the water,” he said. “Some people nearby had their houses flooded up to roof level. The water stayed in the houses for up to five days so you can imaging all the rubbish that went through the houses.
“The dams across the region were all overflowing so they had to be opened to stop them being destroyed,” said George, “which caused a lot of the flooding. Six or seven people from Norwich suffered severe damage to homes where their relatives lived.
“We did a collection through the Syro Malabar Catholic community across the UK which raised around £85,000 including £3,500 from Norwich. It will be distributed through the Catholic priests and Caritas organisation in Kerala.
“In four provinces roads, water supplies, sanitation, homes, everything will have to be built again from top to bottom,” he said.
Across Kerala 400 people died and one million have lost their homes. An estimated £2.7billion of damage has been done which will take years to replace.
Long Stratton GP, Dr Mini Nelson, with her husband Nelson David, a consultant in sexual health, are also from Kerala.
Mini said: “We were on holiday in Kerala at the end of July and the rain was incessant then and the area was on an orange alert. It went onto red alert at 1am in the morning on August 16.
“My sister-in-law had her 90-year-old bed-bound mother-in-law with her. We kept ringing her and she was saying it was rising and now up to window level. Fortunately she was rescued by some family members with a boat from the first floor.
“The community spirit really came to the fore and no-one was asking are you a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu and the church is now playing a big part in helping people.
“The first thing we were able to do, within a couple of days, was send shoeboxes filled with supplies, clothes, toothbrushes and torches via Air India which took 10,000kgs in just one day,” she said. “The Kerala community at Holy Apostles cooked for the local community and raised over £400.
The Syro Malabar community raised money through contributions and selling snacks after their mass in September, raising over £1200.
India as a whole has just a 3% Christian population, but Kerala is 25% Christian, mostly Catholic, explained Mini.
“We are going to go on organising events as it is going to take years to get Kerala back to where it was as one of the most advanced regions in India and we want to do what we can to help rebuilt the region,” she said.
Pictured above is the Curry for Kerala lunch at St John’s, including Nelson David (left), Mini Nelson and Tony James, centre.