Indian High school teacher Sunita Paul talking to students as she reports to duty after returning from flood hit Kerala. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai/Abu Dhabi: As Indian schools in the UAE celebrated Teachers’ Day on September 5, stories of determination and resolve from the recent floods that hit Kerala state have surfaced.

Keralite teachers who had gone home for the summer break were stranded by the floods in mid-August, facing hardships they had never experienced before. The deluge, caused by heavy monsoon rains, killed hundreds of people and displaced more than a million people.

After the floods, these teachers could have stayed back to rest and start the process of rebuilding their homes. However, they returned to the UAE in order to resume their duties for the beginning of the school term. “When I was stuck in the floods, I could only think of my students. I wanted to be back in time to teach them. As a teacher, your natural instinct is to think about your students, even more than your own children,” said Indu Issac, an English teacher at Delhi Private School (DPS) Sharjah.

Issac resumed duty on August 28, just a day after she landed in the UAE. “I had the full support of my principal and senior staff. They told me to take time, but I wanted to start work right away. When I was in stuck in the floods, DPS students from all over the world were messaging me to stay safe, to know if I was OK. I was touched by that.”

Issac’s home in Aluva town, one of the worst hit areas, was flooded and she had to wade through gushing waters with her elderly mother and children to get to safety. She took refuge in her cousin’s apartment, where they had limited food supplies.

“I saw the worst of nature but the best of humanity. Around 20 to 30 people were sharing small spaces peacefully; churches, temples and mosques opened up to receive everyone,” Issac said.

Another teacher who got stranded, Sunita Paul from Indian High School (IHS) in Dubai, said she decided to return as soon as possible to clear her backlog of work ahead of the term-start.

“I started work on August 30. Even if I had joined later, it would have been OK, but I wanted everything to be ready for the students who came back on September 2,” said Paul, head of the English department for her section.

Paul is from Chengannur town, another badly hit area, and she was stranded on the upper floor of her house. They were marooned with only rainwater to drink for days; food was also in short supply. Finally, they were rescued by some youth who had a boat and taken to a relief camp.

“My colleague Lila Koshy, a biology teacher, was looking for me. She was following the messages on a school WhatsApp group and found me at the relief camp. We went to her relatives’ home after that. I can’t thank my school community enough,” Paul added.

Lija Shihab, 32, a Hindi teacher at Model School Abu Dhabi, underwent a three-day ordeal. She was trapped along with her husband, two children and other family members, in their Aluva home, with no electricity or mobile network.

Food packets dropped by army helicopters helped them survive, until two men rescued them on a dinghy on August 17. “It is still scary to think of that experience,” Shihab said.

Before the floods, Sheena Jyothi Mohanan, 49, head of the school’s Hindi department, was eagerly waiting for the housewarming of her renovated home near Kottappuram in Thrissur district on August 17. She and her husband had spent Rs3 million (Dh153,634) on refurbishing and around Rs400,000 on brand new furniture. “But we had to leave the house on August 15 [after receiving a warning] and there was no way to get back until August 20; the house was under water all those five days,” Mohanan said.

“There was no structural damage to the house, but all furniture and home appliances, and our car [worth Rs1.6 million] were totally damaged,” she said.

Her extended family — around 15 people — worked hard for the next five days to pump water out of the house, remove the slush and clean up the place.