J&K floods: Social worker chooses special children over personal safety

Caught in the devastating floods in the city, a social worker refuses to leave his autistic students behind and swim to safety.

Srinagar: Caught in the devastating floods in the city, a social worker refuses to leave his autistic students behind and swim to safety.

30-year-old George Johnson, project coordinator at Life Help Center (LHC), a school for children with special needs run by an NGO in Natipora area of Srinagar is waging his own battle with a bunch of nine children affected with autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome.

"I refused to leave this place without my students when the local volunteers came for rescue operations. It is difficult to evacuate these children via boats as the flood water can cause panic among them.

"Keeping them in rescue shelters is also not feasible as the people there would not know how to deal with them. I choose to be with these children in their hour of need," Johnson told a news agency over telephone.

He said the parents of the children have been informed about the situation but they are stuck in various parts of the state.

"We informed the parents about the whereabouts of the children. But most of them are caught up in the floods. An elder brother of one of the boys visited us but could not take the boy along as all the roads are flooded. He instead clicked a photograph of his brother to show it to his parents," Johnson says.

Water entered the ground floor of the three-storey building where the children are housed.

Recalling the experience, Johnson says his biggest fear was that the building would collapse.

"I was scared that the building might fall. The flood waters reached our doorsteps on the 7th. We had 3-4 feet water on the ground floor. Though we have tried to restore the garden, the backyard of the school is still flooded. We are getting only 2 hours of water supply," he said.

Johnson said the children are coping well with the situation, though they know that things are not normal.

"Such children are free birds. They are not affected by the irregularities of a normal life. They somehow enjoy the chaos, though they are aware that something is wrong. I and my colleagues try not to give them any negative signal, however bad the situation is," says the coordinator.Armed with a water purifier, stock of food that might
last for few more days, three caretakers and a cook, Johnson says that they might soon run out of supplies.

"We have stock to last for few more days. I hope the situation gets better. What we need most right now is baking powder. I have alerted my NGO. I do not know when the supplies will reach us but we are confident that we will face whatever comes our way together," he says.

Ask how he draws the strength to face the odds, Johnson said the situation is not new for him, as he had worked during the floods in Andhra Pradesh last year.
Johnson, who hails from Thodupuzha in Kerala, joined the school in 2007.

Asked if he misses his family back home, he said, "My wife and mother are with me. They came here to celebrate Onam with me. Though it is slightly difficult for my mother to stay, both the women have refused to leave the children and move to safer shores," says Johnson.

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