Inspired to connect with more like-minded people with the heart to help people in need, Karunanithi Letchumanan embarked on his volunteering journey with SRC and has been on several humanitarian missions overseas. He shares his motivations for volunteering and his experience in Hungary, Poland, Lithuania and Romania as part of SRC's aid amid the conflict in Ukraine.
“It has always been my desire to help people who are vulnerable."
Inspired by church friends who helped the vulnerable, Karunanithi Letchumanan (commonly known as Karun), the eldest son of his family, founded a humanitarian organisation in aid of communities affected by disasters overseas.
Leaving Footprints Globally
Karun was invited to conduct disaster relief training for the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) in 2011. At the training, Karun interacted with SRC Secretary General, Benjamin William (formerly SRC's Director of Special Projects, International Services) and other employees and learnt more about SRC's humanitarian work. Karun felt that he could connect with more like-minded people with the heart to help people in need by joining SRC. Karun then embarked on his humanitarian journey with SRC and has not looked back since.
He left his footprints in many countries as a dedicated humanitarian volunteer. Volunteering with SRC, he organised a physiotherapy mission in Aceh in 2017, assisted in the rebuilding projects in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, provided aid in the aftermath of the Sri Lanka floods in 2017, floods in Kerala in 2018, the Palu earthquake in 2018, Mozambique cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, and at refugee camps in response to the conflict in Ukraine in 2022. He was recently deployed to Pakistan from 1 to 6 November 2022.
Karun in Mozambique during Cyclones Idai & Kenneth Mission, 2019
During his deployment to Pakistan in November 2022, Karun assisted SRC's ground partner in distributing relief to flood-affected communities.
Besides conducting assessments on the needs of the survivors in the affected communities, Karun distributed relief items, identified partners on the ground, and oversaw a project from its relief aid to the early recovery phase and subsequently to the rebuilding phase (e.g. building of homes, schools, hospitals).
Going on humanitarian missions overseas is not a walk in the park. Volunteers must be prepared to step out of their comfort zones into disaster-stricken areas for weeks to render assistance to the affected survivors. They must be mentally and emotionally prepared to witness the devastation of buildings, homes, and schools, loss of lives, and casualties. If infrastructures such as roads, electricity, and water are disrupted, providing humanitarian aid can be more challenging. Water-borne diseases and psychological trauma issues may occur among survivors and volunteers alike. Besides these, volunteers face the challenge of being away from their families for long periods.
Karun in Sri Lanka, 2017
But these challenges have not deterred Karun from volunteering time and again.
“It has always been my desire to help the people who are vulnerable, to stand in solidarity with them and provide a lending hand in their most difficult times," he said.
When travel was brought to a standstill amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Karun provided support to local residents affected by COVID-19 through grassroots organisations like community clubs.
Coming in Aid of Ukrainian Refugees
Through SRC, he has met like-minded people motivated to uplift the lives of the vulnerable overseas.
Together with the SRC team, Karun distributed relief items such as trolley bags and toiletries to the Ukrainian refugees affected by the war in Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania for a period of six weeks.
Karun in Hungary, 2022
In Romania, the SRC supported a food distribution programme, where vehicles were modified into mobile kitchens that prepared food and served people in places where food and water were scarce. The vehicles also transported refugees and supplies to those affected in Ukraine.
Yet, all his overseas humanitarian missions would not have been possible had it not been for an understanding employer who is supportive of his humanitarian deployments locally and overseas. Karun, a Director in a business consultancy firm, is immensely grateful to his employer for his support over the years.
His philosophy on volunteerism is to “start small with whatever we have in terms of time, money and resources. As we progress, we can do more things when we have the capacity.”
Karun's wealth of experience in overseas humanitarian missions stands him in good stead to take on leadership roles in deployments overseas. He inspires people to follow in his footsteps to bring hope to people affected by natural and man-made disasters overseas.
By Naseemsulthana Shaik, Volunteer
Copyedited by Jolyn Lee, Volunteer
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