The countrywide lockdown in India, as a mechanism to curtail the Covid 19 pandemic, was initiated on 25th March 2020 and as of now is to continue till 3rd May 2020.
As the contingency created by the lockdown cast its shadows on the country and its future, residents of a community in South Kolkata worried about their jobs and food. Most of these residents are daily wage labourers, working minimal paying jobs like mechanics at garages, house painters and rickshaw peddlers. They don’t make enough money to save up or stock up food that would last through the lockdown. They can’t afford to stay at home jobless and wageless! This situation of drastic uncertainty is something they have never faced before even though they live hand to mouth.
Just a couple of days after the lockdown, news of the community’s problems began to make rounds. People worried about their next meal and panic naturally gripped the residents. This was a time when NGOs had limited access and mobility because of the stipulations of the lockdown.
A little known local NGO called Anughrah Peace Foundation (APF) was the first responder in the community and has become an unlikely saviour for many in these tough times. APF was started in 2016 with the aim to empower children. Founders Ibtasan, Arshi and Farzana, were 11 years old when they became part of World Vision India’s (WV India) children club. Today, more than a decade later, they have completed graduation and have gone on to pursue professional courses.
“We decided to study social work because we saw World Vision’s work and were inspired by it. We wanted to make a positive contribution in the community,” said Ibtasan.
At the children club, they were sensitised on various issues like child rights, education and hygiene, and learned essential life skills through programmes like Life Skill Education for Transformation (LSET) and Life School for Transformational Development (LSTD). As young adults, they are now national-level trainers for World Vision India’s Play for Peace Programme – a programme that empowers children to be agents of change, healing, and peace among their peers and in their communities. They have visited and trained 30 World Vision India’s Area Development Programmes (ADPs) in more than 10 states.
“We have always been ready to help the neediest in our community. As soon as we heard of the lockdown, we started preparing for it”, said Ibtasan.
On 28th March, Anughrah Peace Foundation assessed the immediate needs of the aggrieved community and made a list of things to do. In the following two days, the team met and began their preparation for relief response. The APF team also sanitized the community and surrounding roads with bleaching powder and phenyl from 31st March to 2nd April 2020.
While planning to provide cooked food for the most vulnerable – the homeless, widows and daily wage-earners – they found that the numbers were much higher than they had anticipated. Nevertheless, under the Campaign ‘Feed the Need,’ APF provided cooked food for 200-250 people in 5-6 locations for around 15 days.
Under lockdown, they faced enormous challenges every step of the way, from acquiring rations to maintaining social distancing during cooked-food distribution. They were able to get their necessary items during spells when shopping restrictions were lifted. The bigger challenge was keeping social distancing while providing food to 250 people. This challenge gave birth to a new mechanism and it was quite successful. Smaller portions of food were prepared at different locations and then distributed in 5-6 areas. This way they were able to feed many without spending huge amounts and without creating large gathering for cooking or eating. Anughrah Peace Foundation had drawn around Rs.38, 000 (USD 500) from their savings and has also pulled in their personal resources for this Covid-19 response. APF has also provided dry rations and daily essential items (Rice, Dal, Atta, Potato, Maggi, flattened rice, Biscuit and Soap) to 50 families in the community.
“We have been contributing a small amount of money and saving it since we started the organisation, so that we can help the community at such times”, said Ibtasan. In other times, they had used those resources for school admissions of a few students who couldn’t afford it.
“When we went to distribute food, there was a poor man of about 80 years, who was unable to return home after he had come to the hospital for a medical check-up, just a day before lockdown. He had no cell phone to get in touch with his family and had no money to go home, besides public transport was shut. Members of Anughrah Peace Foundation arranged and paid for a vehicle to take him home safely”, said Farzana, one of the core members of APF.
World Vision India gave APF’s members awareness and basic information on Covid-19, and they then went on to sensitize the community. World Vision India’s Children’s Club members in the community are also part of APF team and have been instrumental in the Covid-19 response.
“Our inspiration has always been WV India and they have a hand in our progress. We wouldn’t be helping others if it was not for WV India. We like helping our community. If we do not help others we will not be able to progress. Nothing equals the satisfaction we get from serving others”, said Ibtasan.
Ibtasan, Arshi and Farzana grew up in a very conservative community, where girls don’t get equal rights. They are some of the first girls to attend college from their community, and they believe it wouldn’t have been possible without WV India’s presence in the community.
“To have an organisation run by girls was unimaginable in my community when we were growing up. Today so much has changed. Everyone is very supportive of what we are doing”, said Ibtasan, talking about APF and the drastic change in the mindset of the community due to the many years of World Vision India’s work in their community.
Anughrah Peace Foundation is constantly consulting the local authorities and police as they continue to serve the community. The onset of Ramadan from 23rd April 2020 poses a new challenge for the team, but they have laid out plans to continue their work while maintaining safety guidelines.
In the second lockdown phase, the community was sealed off for days due to the possibility of being a hotspot for Covid-19. During this difficult time, APF went house to house to deliver cooked food for 30 vulnerable families.
“During the lockdown, my family is stuck at home. My husband lost his job. Everyone told us to stay at home but we can’t earn staying at home and how will we survive then. During these difficult times members of Anughrah Peace Foundation came to us door daily to deliver food for the family. We are so grateful to them,” said Mariam, 45, who works as a housemaid like most of the women folks in her community.
APF was also the task force for World Vision India in providing cooked food to 150 people for seven days in their community. This in itself is a testament of the effectiveness of local NGOs in times of emergencies, when it can be challenging for major NGOs to reach and respond.