Nothing could stop them from reaching out – neither the deluge, cyclones nor the pandemic. Nothing could stop the Nalla Ayalkkaran groups from going out of the way to help, heal, soothe and comfort.

… You received without payment; give without payment (Matthew 10:8).

Through the life of Jesus, his words and deeds, his disciples experienced unconditional mercy of God. Even though they were not the best, in their limitations and weakness they received this priceless gift, and became channels of the same gift, ‘give without payment’. It wasn’t breadcrumbs from his rich table that Jesus offered those who came to him, but painfully touched with compassion, he kept giving, even after his death: life in abundance, healing to be whole, and the Father’s home.

During the unprecedented Kerala floods in 2018, many youngsters of the Jesus Youth movement across the state volunteered for rescue and relocation, in extremely trying circumstances, under the banner, Nalla Ayalkkaran (good neighbour). They continued to help rebuild lives by distributing food kits, donating clothes for those in camps, cleaning and rebuilding houses, etc., irrespective of religion or caste of those in need. Some of them travelled miles into forests on foot, carrying food supplies for tribal folk who lived there and who were isolated from the outside world due to the heavy torrents.

It wasn’t an easy feat, rebuilding the community that was torn apart by the flood. Many organisations gave their all for this, from all strata of society; all religions, rich and poor, everyone did their part. In this remarkable work, one of the focal points by Nalla Ayalkkaran was that they were truly good neighbours. They didn’t need bureaucratic timelines to help those next door, because it was a family sharing from what little they had. A good chunk of the resources collected by Nalla Ayalkkaran were from locals for locals, and those who received it did not save the excess for tomorrow but sent it away to the neighbouring communities.

The next challenge, Covid pandemic in 2020, was a huge question for everyone as all were grappling for answers about an unknown virus. Despite the restrictions, these youngsters who called themselves Ayalkkaran still found ways to be of help to their neighbours, help that was locally coordinated and motivated. There were no offices or managers involved in each zone, but families sharing from what they had with one another. Even with a working social welfare system that Kerala has, there were still quite a few families and communities in isolation. These good neighbours were able to reach food kits and essential medicines to those in need. The pandemic didn’t have any financial discrimination, nor did these good Samaritans. Into their loving care were absorbed many from the middle class and rich who were suffering, craving for human presence.

This was unlike any other ‘charity’ work that they had undertaken. The pandemic was expected to end in a few weeks or months, but it still continues after twenty months. 99% of the young Jesus Youth who were involved in this, were not trained social workers or government officials. Few of them were in the medical field, but the majority were ordinary people from various walks of life. Once the lockdown was lifted, they had to get back to jobs and classes, continue with normal life. But everyday updates were made on requirements for food, medicine and emotional support from all corners of society. Even though Nalla Ayalkkaran was not their job or their official project, it became, for these youngsters, as natural as breathing. Many things evolved from the needs in each locality:

  • A lot of medical institutions faced scarcity in blood donation which affected normal to complicated surgeries. Along with many other organisations, many small Nalla Ayakkaran groups continued with awareness drives and blood donation. Through the campaign for blood donation, BLOOD CONNECT, campus youth connected 5500+ donors.
  • With the 2021 education year and the advent of online classes, there were thousands of students falling behind in studies for lack of smartphones or smart TVs. Nalla Ayalkkaran was able to reach out to a few of them with donated notebooks, textbooks, laptops or mobile phones.
  • Significant financial help is not an easy feat to achieve for the young men and women, who themselves are only in their 20s and 30s and at the start of their careers. Yet they still willingly supported some families regularly with rent, medicines, etc. With their support some daily wagers were able to continue with their small shops and labour, after the major lockdown in 2020.

During the second wave in April-May 2021, this ongoing structure turned out to be a springboard. The central office of Nalla Ayalkkaran also stepped in with more initiatives and support:

  • A central 24-hour helpline for Kerala, catering to all kinds of requests. (Shifting patients to hospital, arranging vehicles, food kit, medicines, locating hospital with ventilators, etc.)
  • A national helpline for doctors’ consultation, psychological support and counselling.
  • Daily intercession from 9.30 to 10.30pm through Zoom.
  • 150 JY volunteers have attended training to assist in funeral services in association with local dioceses and panchayats. For various other needs around 2000 volunteers were given training.
  • Farm-at-home was another initiative done throughout Kerala, training and helping many youngsters to start vegetable cultivation in small spaces at their homes.

Other than the coordinated efforts by groups, personal initiatives of many are worth mentioning. Quite a few have volunteered to be with Covid patients in hospitals as bystanders, literally to strangers. Some of the farmers placed their produce – crops and vegetables – in stalls in their community, free for anyone in need to take it anonymously. Some of the worse affected institutions during this pandemic were orphanages, old-age homes and retreat centers. Many youth volunteered to prepare and supply food where most of the inmates were Covid patients too.

In the month of May 2021, in the midst of the second Covid wave and lockdown in Kerala, our coastal regions were brutally hit by cyclones. Thousands of families had to leave behind everything of value and relocate to schools and other institutions. It was a scary time for them as normal helping hands were tied during the pandemic. Nalla Ayalkkaran teams from different districts did their best for months to bring them food, clean the debris from houses inundated by sea water. In their pothichoru (food packets) collected from ordinary houses of all religious backgrounds, some mothers also placed small amounts of money as their love offering. Not seeking any recognition or accolade, they were anonymously giving all they had, the widow’s mite.

After witnessing the food scarcity in June 2020, some youngsters took up cultivation of different food crops and vegetables in their small pieces of land. When their crops were ready in 2021, seeing those in coastal regions struggling for mere existence, these youngsters rallied ‘good neighbours’ from areas of higher ground, and collected vehicles full of tapioca, jackfruit, banana and other vegetables from their land. Of course, it was not just them; many other parishes and individuals were also driving in with their trucks full! These acts of generosity touched many hearts and more land owners came forward and offered their crops instead of selling it for profit. Love spreads like wildfire!

This is just an overview of what hundreds of young people did during one of the toughest challenges our generation had to face. One might ask why specific names and photos aren’t included. It would probably inspire people to do more. But the name says it all, ‘Nalla Ayalkkaran – good neighbour.’ Good neighbours don’t go around telling people they are helping. Noisy neighbours might. As a follower of Jesus, healing is not our only call but protecting the dignity and confidence of our neighbours as well. Using social media advertisements to self-congratulate the ‘good deeds’ done are not part of the call of Christ’s disciples.

If we do not give till it hurts, agape demands it! How else do we follow the Master? It is the love of Christ who became food for his people that urges us: to be food, comfort, hope and healing to those who have lost everything. Let this fire burn within each of us, so much so that photos and names won’t be needed to inspire anyone.

Let us not forget, love and joy will be multiplied, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

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