Taking a Lead in Spreading Spirit of Compassion

Imagine that you have just reached a city that you are unfamiliar with. To add to your woes, you realise that you have lost your wallet in the train. It’s past lunch-time and you haven’t eaten anything since you left home in the morning. But still you can consider yourself lucky if the city happens to be Kozhikode. Just go to one of the counters set up as part of ‘Operation Sulaimani’ and request for a coupon. Then, you exchange the coupon for a free meal in any of the restaurants tied to the initiative.

Operation Sulaimani, and a host of other initiatives have been taking Kozhikode city by storm in the past few months. The basic philosophy behind all of these remains the same – Compassion.

Kozhikode District Collector Prashanth Nair IAS speaks excitedly about the project that he holds dear to his heart, ‘Compassionate Kozhikode.’

“Operation Sulaimani can never be misused. The only thing we consider while issuing a coupon is whether that person is hungry. There are no questions asked about his financial status or whereabouts. As long as he says he is hungry, we make sure he is fed.”

Almost 8,500 people have used the service in the past eight months. The funding for the project is completely crowd-sourced through boxes kept at the counters. All initiatives under the umbrella of ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’ are run on zero-budget with the help of a determined group of volunteers. “We turned down offers from large corporates to sponsor a couple of initiatives. This would have defeated the purpose of the project from a long-term sustainability point of view,” Prashanth asserts.

Compassionate Kozhikode is associated with various organisations, including old-age homes, children’s welfare homes, mental health institutions and hospitals. Requirements of these organisations are advertised on the website www.compassionatekozhikode.in and met directly with the help of compassionate persons who have the time and the money.

When asked about the logistics of these transactions, Prashanth said, “We don’t take money at all. We play the role of facilitators and merely act as a conduit between the needy and the providers. Materials worth about Rs. 2 crore have been crowd-sourced ever since we launched the project and hundreds of volunteers have signed up to devote their time for various initiatives.”

The Govt. Mental Health Centre at Kuthiravattom is a key beneficiary of the project. In the words of its Superintendent Dr. N Rajendran, “The Collector and the team actually held a meeting in the hospital kitchen to figure out ways to meet the daily nutritional needs of the 530-odd inmates. It was found that the cooks needed helpers to be able to work efficiently. In a matter of days, we were inundated with offers of help. And our kitchen has been functioning quite well since then, complete with a refreshed menu.”

This is a testimony to the success of Compassionate Kozhikode in reaching out to the grassroots level.

More than anything else, Prashanth believes in the power of the youth in bringing about visible positive changes in society. It is with this vision that he launched the ‘District Collector’s Internship Programme’ (DCIP) through which students and young professionals are given a chance to participate in an unpaid internship programme.

Arghya Chowdhury, a master’s student at IRMA, Anand, who won a cherished slot in the first batch of DCIP, believes it was the biggest accomplishment of his student life. “The three of us who were selected from IRMA for the programme worked closely with the Collector’s team and gained valuable insights into the district administration processes. We visited organisations and mapped their needs, and paved way for solutions,” he said.

‘Savari Giri Giri’, ‘Sampoorna’, ‘Hey, Auto’, ‘Project 4N’, ‘Kozhipedia’, ‘Yo Appooppa’ are a few other interestingly-named and ambitious projects that are in various stages of development. In a heart-rending story recounted by Dr. Rajendran, Compassionate Kozhikode was able to find scores of volunteers who are willing to spend time by the bedside of Balamani Amma (name changed), an inmate of the Mental Health Centre, after she underwent neurosurgery. When her own kith and kin disowned her, society opened up its arms to her. This reflects the spirit of Compassionate Kozhikode.