16 women living in Baden, Switzerland, came together and managed to raise the amount in three days by selling Indian meals.

Selling lunch boxes in Switzerland these Indian women raised Rs 18 lakh for Kerala
news Kerala floods Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 14:26

For many Indians living overseas, watching what was happening in their home country during the Kerala floods was hard. For a group of women who lived in Switzerland, it was no different. When Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan appealed to people to donate to the CM’s Disaster Relief Fund, they too wanted to do their bit.

What happened next saw 16 women, all living in the Swiss city of Baden, come together and work for three days to raise Rs 1.8 lakh for Kerala flood relief. All this, by selling lunch boxes with Indian food to locals and other Indians living in the city.

On August 19, one of the women, Linija, sent a message to her neighbour Bandana Maheshwari (34), asking her if it would make sense for them to run a food stall to raise money for Kerala. “The idea was good, but we realised that it would require a larger investment than we could afford, and also formalities and permissions to set it up. We needed something that would allow us to help quicker,” Bandana tells TNM.

After checking with their networks, Linija and Bandana were able to find 14 other women who were interested in the initiative. Collectively, they decided it would be best to prepare and deliver meal boxes with Indian food for all three meals.

Everyone got on board quickly, and after planning and popularising the idea through social media and flyers for just two days, the women decided it was time to swing into action.

“It was challenging because everything was happening so quickly. Till the midnight of August 21 we were still getting orders,” Bandana narrates.

On August 22, the plan was set into motion. Two locations were decided where some women would cook the vegetarian and non-vegetarian food respectively. There were some women who were packing lunch boxes, and three women who had cars were responsible for delivery. The responsibilities would rotate over the three days, depending on who was free when.

“We used what we were going to donate individually as the capital for this project,” Bandana says. “While the first day was a bit chaotic, we had gotten into the groove by the second day and then things went smoothly.”

While the initiative was about these women getting together and doing something for their home even though they were away, for some, it was more an emotional response as well. Shinta Simon, co-founder of the Namaste Switzerland magazine, was also part of the initiative. Originally from Kerala and brought up in Goa, it was devastating for her to watch what was happening in Kerala.

“Participating in this drive was definitely an emotional response also, for me,” Shinta tells TNM. “It was really fulfilling.”

What also stood out for her was how everyone came together to raise money for Kerala despite professional and personal commitments.

“We sort of seized the moment, without thinking too much about how we were going to do it, or whether we would be able to raise enough funds. Most of us did not know each other very well. But this experience bound us all together,” Shinta adds. “We also found a lot of support from the locals and the Indian community here in Baden. Many people didn’t even take the change for the lunch boxes when we delivered them!” she shares.

While the women set out to raise a minimum of 500 Swiss francs, they far exceeded their goal – they were able to raise around 2500 Swiss francs. Bandana transferred Rs 1,80,000 to the CM’s relief fund, and intends to transfer the remaining few thousand soon, depending on the most favourable foreign exchange rate.

The women sold 150 lunch boxes in three days, and did not recover any of their initial costs from the sale. “We didn’t sleep, we didn’t talk to our families, we were just so invested in this for those three days,” Bandana says.

Apart from Bandana and Shinta, the other women who made this possible were Anjana Bonthala, Linija Kalloopparambil, Kirti Sharma, Lirin Francis, Manasa Mukka, Preeti Goyal, Preeti Khandelwal, Purnima Menon, Ramarathna BC, Ramya Vinoth, Sandhya John, Shikha Kedia, Swetha Pola and Sonika Jhalani.

While the worst seems to be in the past for Kerala now, Shinta wonders what she will see when she visits Kerala the next time.

“I have extended family there so I was aware about how they and other people there would be suffering. And I do visit every couple of years,” says the 35-year-old, who has been in Switzerland for four years now. “But I do worry about how things would have changed the next time I visit.”

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