Published: 19th May 2021
Autos that save lives: How this Chennai-based trust is helping people during the pandemic
The trust was originally formed in 2014 to educate school dropouts of government schools in North Chennai, but from 2020, the members have been continuously indulged in COVID relief
A journalism professor once told me that a journalist should not be part of the story they report. However, not mentioning an anecdote while writing the story of T C Kumaraswamy and his friends, who run the Kadamai Education and Social Welfare Trust in North Chennai, would be unfair. The trust was originally formed by Vasanth Kumar, an engineer in 2014 to educate school dropouts of government schools in North Chennai (or Vada Chennai as Chennaiites fondly call it). A few people, including Kumaraswamy, joined him as volunteers. But since 2020, the members have been continuously indulged in COVID relief. Recently, when I heard about them through the journo grapevine starting two oxygen autorickshaws as an alternative to ambulance service for COVID patients, I decided to talk to them. On a whim, I called Kumaraswamy at 12:30 pm on a Wednesday. While he wasn't hesitant to speak, there was a COVID patient whom he had to attend to, so we spoke later that evening.
That night, a certain message landed in my WhatsApp chat. A colleague was looking for oxygen for a 12-year-old child who had contracted COVID. Without a second thought, I passed on Kumaraswamy's number to him, while I took to social media for more help. An hour later, I received another message from the same colleague, informing me that everything had been taken care of. The Kadamai team had given the child's family the oxygen cylinder that they needed, for free. "We started this initiative recently and currently, we only cater to areas close to North Chennai," says Kumaraswamy, who works as a Junior Engineer in BSNL. "We are planning to expand it to other areas, but we have to find autorickshaws for that first," he says.
Initially, they started the service to help patients who could not find an ambulance. But they never expected that there would be an oxygen shortage of this magnitude. "We get around 200 calls every day. Apart from ambulance service, we also provide people oxygen cylinders," says Kumaraswamy. The oxygen cylinders are bought with the trust's own money, which the members picth in every month. Prior to this, the team had also conducted relief activities during the lockdown in 2020. They had conducted blood donation drives and even set up a free clinic for people. So far, they have impacted over 700 people.
Kadamai's core team consists of a few young people from Tondiarpet. "We grew up and studied here. So once we were all employed, we felt that we had to do something for our society. That is how this initiative began," says Kumaraswamy and adds, "We began by educating 50 students in 2014, who were expelled from their school, thinking that they may fail the Board examinations. However, barring three, all others passed the exams, after we coached them." The Trust also works towards simplifying online learning for students by guiding them on how to use these gadgets.