When the COVID-19 pandemic started creating confusion in the country, NGOs took it upon themselves to help the underprivileged. Team Culturama spoke to some of them about their untiring efforts
If the COVID-19 spread has taught something to the world, then it is that humanity will ascend when the times are hard. In his speech, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, encouraged citizens to help people in their communities during these trying times. And, needless to say, NGOs across the country have sprung into action. From helping daily wage workers and raising funds for the unprivileged, to feeding roadside animals, NGOs all over India are volunteering to take care of those who cannot support themselves during this pandemic.
One such group is the Chennai Task Force, which commenced operations a month ago. A brainchild of Ishani Vellodi Reddy, a well-known wellness coach and lifestyle expert, the group, in association with the Kindness Foundation, an NGO dedicated to encouraging acts of kindness, has been reaching out to old age homes and daily wage workers with weekly provisions. “We knew before the lockdown that this is going to be a difficult path. The nature of the situation demands action from those who are in a position to extend support.”
The Chennai Task Force has helped over 60 old age homes and shelters for battered women, the homeless, and the HIV positive; served more than 50,000 meals in corporation shelters; 37,000 meals to those on the streets with the help of the police; and distributed over 7 lakh meals with the Chennai Police and meals in Greater Chennai Corporation shelters. She says that ever since they started this programme, they have got tremendous response for fundraising, for which she is grateful. “The attitude and response I have seen so far is a collaborative one. Our first need is to take care of the vulnerable, and as we move forward, we are also taking more initiatives to continue our work with the government’s blessings.”
Goonj, a well-known NGO, is up and running in 18 states and has activated a network of 92 organisations till date to reach out to the farthest places. Apart from supporting a number of community kitchens in the cities and reaching dry ration and hygiene products kits to people, it has also channelised over 70,000 cooked meals and over 15,000 ration kits so far. Goonj’s centres have also been able to churn out about 40,000 masks and 25,000 cloth sanitary pads in the past few days and are now increasing their work depending on the permissions during the lockdown.
“The COVID-19 pandemic in India has also translated into a displacement disaster for a big population of migrant workers. Many are stuck in cities, some are walking back to their villages, and a large population in the villages are struggling to sustain themselves in this lockdown phase. Goonj’s pan-India network of teams and partner grassroots organisations across urban and rural India, built up over the past two decades, has helped us learn from the ground, reach material quickly, and review and adapt our strategies periodically. Our priority is to reach out to the most neglected communities such as migrant workers, the tribal population, tea garden workers, the physically challenged, sex workers, transgenders, and so on,” says Anshu Gupta, Ramon Magsaysay Award Winner and Founder of Goonj.
Formed after the Bhuj earthquake in 2001, the Bhoomika Trust has been in the forefront of relief and rehabilitation, to the rescue and help of people affected by national disasters, across the country ever since. Rinku Mecheri, a Trustee, says that they started their work for COVID-19 even before the lockdown, by way of planning and sourcing from suppliers and warehouses. “Starting with NGOs that needed help, we soon got our operations going with a balance of online and on-field operatives. Structured, streamlined processes and in-depth research have been the cornerstone of all our initiatives. We have maintained a strict safety protocol and social distancing in all our efforts.”
One of their initiatives has been to start a helpline for senior citizens in Chennai; this was later extended to one that would source and supply medicines in Tiruvallur district. “We have distributed dry ration kits to over 32,000 migrants and daily wage earners, with supplies for another 20,000 in process. The need at present is around 1,00,000 kits and we are furiously working towards that. Cooked meals for over 30,000 needy people have been made out of rations provided by the government and we have a fully functional kitchen that starts work at 3 a.m. everyday,” she says. N95 masks, gowns, visors, sanitisation kits and protective gear are also being given to hospitals that are in need.
The response, Rinku Mercheri says, has been overwhelming. “The need is ever-increasing as the virus spreads and the lockdown gets extended. The innumerable stories of hunger, desperation and helplessness are the main reason behind our frenetic pace of work and their smile of fulfillment when they thank us for the help is what makes the entire effort worthwhile. We have helped over 50,000 migrant workers and daily wage earners by providing them dry ration kits and cooked meals. This is apart from the help to the frontline workers, be it the police personnel with masks or health workers with PPEs.”
It is the efforts of such amazing people that give the rest of the country hope to keep up their positivity and remain standing even when things seem bleak. Team Culturama salutes the volunteers who are working towards helping the country fight this pandemic day and night. Thank you.