It's not yet 9 am, but with almost all the trees gone, one can feel the pinch of the scorching sun. What makes it more painful is the humidity. However, a bunch of young boys, all in the 16 to 18 age group are not complaining. They are all in smiles and excited about the long, hard day's work ahead. "Does this road lead to Salia Sahi?" asked one. Once the direction in confirmed, the boys carrying blue tool boxes, gloves and safety helmets, started marching into Bhubaneswar's largest slum.
The 34 students " split in four groups " from different industrial training institutes (ITIs) are repairing and rebuilding homes affected by Cyclone Fani. "These students are from different trades: electrical, technical, fitter and plumbing. They are offering their expertise for free," said assistant technical officer, directorate, technical education and training, Satyabrata Jena.
Prakash Pradhan, 17, is an electrician. Prakash has used his knowledge to good effect in many homes. "It's good exposure for me, I am sure all the students get a lot of experience," he said. All of them are happy that the government has roped in the ITIs, which they believe will help them learn a lot of new things to aid in their future.
Sixteen-year-old Trilochan Behera is excited. "This is a learning trip for me, it's very helpful," he smiled. 'The government takes care of our food, accommodation and transport." Prakash, Trilochan and their friends are from the Nayagarh ITI. They said there are approximately over 500 such students working in different parts of Bhubaneswar.
However, those who have received skill development training or are undergoing courses are not a part of such jobs. "They have done short-term courses," said Himanshu Sekhar Lenka, assistant director, Odisha skill development authority. "Such students lack expertise."
Elsewhere in Puri, several international humanitarian agencies run by the Sikh community have been feeding the affected since two days after the cyclone hit. They have been running Langars (community kitches). Many of them are providing water bottles along with khichri and dalma (made of dal and vegetables).
According to Gurpreet Singh of Akaal Channel Aid, a UK-based humanitarian agency, they have provided food in localities within a five-kilometre radius. "Our MD Amrik Singh Kooner flew down from London, set up the facility and oversaw the operations for three days," Gurpreet said. "They have been distributing food for the past nine days," said Santilata Behera and the other women residents of the Baliapanda slum in Puri.
Pointing to the devastated houses, having lost both home and livelihood, they can't think of a future now. "All our hopes ended in smoke. We don't know what lies ahead," said one woman, her eyes fixed on the ground. Other international organisations run by the Sikh community, such as Khalsa Aid and United Sikhs are operating out of the Gurdwara Aarti Sahib, which faces Puri beach.
Khalsa Aid, which has stood by people affected by both natural and man-made disasters in different counties across the globe " India, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Syria " has showcased exemplary commitment to the victims of Fani. It ran a community kitchen in association with the gurdwara in Bhubaneswar while at Puri it served food to 5,000 people regularly. "Even satisfaction on one face gives us a huge motivation," said a volunteer.
Apart from feeding those residing in slums, United Sikhs is also distributing torches. "We procured small but effective solar torch lights from Delhi," said Harjiwan Singh of Sikh Aid. Baba Samsher Singh, 75, is the head of the gurdwara. He is looking after the food being cooked by volunteers in large containers on the first floor of the building. Heaps of food materials in bags are lying along with potatoes, onions and ghee packets.
"No one should stay hungry. It's our motto to ensure that food is provided to all without compromising with quality," Samsher said. "We are in touch with the administration and are ready to serve as and where required." According to him, volunteers of different organisations from the UK, USA and India (Delhi, Srinagar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar) have been working around the clock for victims.
But there are limitations. "All of us depend on the same kitchen," said one volunteer. Jagdeep Singh of Puri gurdwara said they can't contact the donors due to the poor telecom network. "We've been cut off from the world for days."
But nothing has stopped them from working for the distressed.