When Mohammed Shoeb Qureshi heard of the fire in Garib Nagar, a slum colony in Bandra (East) late in the evening on March 4, he called up his friend Asif Qureshi who lived there. After hours of trying his mobile phone number, he finally got through the next morning and all Qureshi murmured was, “Bhai sab khatam ho gaya (Everything is over).”
Shoeb, a student of Bandra’s RD National College, and his batchmates felt that they had to do something to help the people of Garib Nagar.
The students have been visiting homes in the slum adjoining the Bandra railway station for the past few months as part of their project on water and energy conservation. They also know students from the locality who are part of the Yashwanrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU), which conducts classes on the college premises every Sunday.
“We couldn’t believe that four days ago we had gone to Garib Nagar to speak to residents about sanitation, saving water and energy and now they don’t have a roof over their heads,” said Shoeb, who is also the general secretary of the National Service Scheme (NSS) unit of the college.
Shoeb and his friends approached the college principal, Dinesh Panjwani, for support. A circular was sent out to students and faculty to help in any way they could.
“By afternoon, the students had gone there with food and water for about 70 people and within a day we had collected Rs 21,000 for those affected by the fire,” said Panjwani. “We all were touched by the students’ commitment towards the residents of Garib Nagar,” he added.
Now, the NSS unit has adopted the families of the 10 students who study on their campus as part of YCMOU.
“The entire college, staff and students, came together to donate money, clothes, utensils, toys and food, which we distributed among residents who lost everything. We used the money collected to help people build temporary tarpaulin tents. We bought utensils, buckets, tumblers and other essential items for them,” said Ovais Merchant, joint secretary of the NSS unit.
Students have spent a lot of time in the slum colony despite their exams being barely two weeks away. “They have lost everything, this is the least we could do. Helping them was a very fulfilling experience,” said Merchant.