News from home was even more upsetting then they imagined. Sitting thousands of miles away, in the US, they felt helpless as they heard about the floods in Kerala destroying homes and lives.
But then they quietly began a fundraising campaign on Facebook and in 8 days raised more than $1.5 million, which amounts to more than Rs 10.5 crore. This would be given to the Chief Ministerâ€™s Disaster Relief Fund.
Arun Nella, who co-founded a startup apart from running other businesses in Chicago, got the idea, speaking to a group of friends. â€śThe support given by five of them is what made the fundraiser happen,â€ť says Arun, over a call.
Joining him in the fundraiser was Ajomon, another businessman based in Chicago.
Receiving news of the amount donated by them, a letter came to them from M Sivasankar IAS, secretary to Kerala Chief Minister, inviting Arun and Ajomon to a meeting with the CM.
â€śIt is my pleasure to invite you to come down to Kerala and meet the Hon. Chief Minister and receive our Stateâ€™s gratitude in person,â€ť the letter says.
It adds: â€śDuring your visit to Kerala, we would like to arrange an interaction session with you for our start-up community to share your experience.â€ť
The letter further makes note of the fundraiser campaign being closed on Facebook, and prompts them to keep it open since 'the need of resources for rebuilding the state is very high'.
Arun reveals that the fundraiser had to be closed because it was started as a personal fundraiser and he had to check the taxes and other formalities. â€śFundraiser campaign on Facebook is fairly new. It is allowed in select countries and Facebook lets it happen through crowd-funding. It assigns a team to work with us. And many people reached out to contribute; I reckon at least 30,000 people. Mostly from the US â€“ the fundraiser itself is called Kerala Flood Relief Fund from USA,â€ť Arun says.
The contributions mostly came from US Malayalis, but there were also NRIs from other parts of the country and even a small number of foreigners donating for the cause.
Arun had personally invited 200 people but through the campaign more than 1 lakh invitations went out. When he closed the campaign on Monday, there were a lot of people reaching out to him, saying they too want to contribute and to reopen it.
â€śI have an advisor called Dr Narendrakumar, who called from New York and asked me if we could reopen the campaign. I said we would need a good reason for it like a letter from the CMâ€™s office. And the next morning there came this letter. By then the team from Facebook too said we could reopen it since it was going so well,â€ť Arun adds.
His own place in Kottayam too had been slightly affected by the floods, but luckily Arunâ€™s immediate family was not at home. â€śMy parents are with me on a holiday now. My wife and kids too are here. I should mention family support because I have been fully engaged in this work the past few days and they were very understanding.â€ť
But some relatives in Kumarakom and friends in Pathanamthitta were affected, Arun says.
Ajomon too hails from Kottayam. â€śInitially, when the fundraiser was started, we were not sure how people would view it. Would they think it is a scam? It seemed a better idea if it didnâ€™t go in one personâ€™s name,â€ť Arun says. Thatâ€™s when Ajomon joined.
Since it is now clear the funds are being raised to help a state recover from a disaster, the money wonâ€™t be taxed and even the fee FB takes to run such a campaign has been waived.
â€śWe hope to come to Kerala next week, as soon as everything is clear, and pass on the amount directly to the CM,â€ť Arun says.