It was the 21st of March 2020 when a sudden nationwide lockdown put the brakes on to save the country from the spread of COVID-19. This led to a series of complex questions we had never encountered. Almost all economic activities came to an abrupt halt. Educational institutions and offices were to close until further notice. What followed was catastrophic, that changed the course of many lives. The domino effect saw a disruption of the food supply chain, loss of income generation machinery for the daily wage earners and migrant labourers of the community. It fuelled a large-scale migration from cities to villages, with many stranded at bus and train stations with their families.
Fear spread like wildfire in the slums of Tikiapara and Bankra in Howrah. Access to food supply and essential medicines became a big question for the residents of the slums.
Mamoon Akhtar, founder of Samaritan Help Mission, sensed the anxiety among his fellow community members and resolved to try his best to provide some relief. He reached out to the youth from these slums and asked them to take a simple pledge.
The Pledge: By the community, for the community
The focus group included neighbours, daily wage earners, senior citizens, single or abandoned woman and the goal was simple, not to let them sleep without food and medicines. Each of the volunteers had to ensure that a month’s supply of ration in addition to financial support was available for those in need.[SK-E1]
This informal arrangement of volunteers solidified into a Youth Pressure Group. They were entrusted with the task of ensuring that the administrative bodies are informed about the proper functioning of the ration shops around the slum areas. The team also assisted in opening 2651+ new bank accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) to ensure that slum dwellers get easy access to cash in their accounts, to buy food and other essentials.
Soon, the SHM team reached out to Howrah City Police and District Administration to extend their support. The Police department helped in disseminating the contact of volunteers across the city so that anybody in need of food and medicines could directly reach out to them. Meanwhile, the team, in collaboration with City Police started a community kitchen for the migrants stuck outside Howrah Railway Station.
At Howrah, the medical infrastructure collapsed with almost no availability of doctors. This proved to be a setback for people suffering from different ailments. To ensure that no lives were lost due to lack of immediate medical help, SHM set up their medical unit to keep basic healthcare services continuously running across the communities. Today, it is also serving as a dispensary for patients.
In this challenging environment wherein people have lost their jobs and career opportunities are minimal, SHM explored Vocational Training for creating livelihood opportunities for the youth with a futuristic approach. The SHM team has also initiated short-term vocational training on 19 trades for youth, to create livelihood opportunities.
Super cyclone Amphan wrecked the state of West Bengal, which was already battling COVID-19 pandemic. 700 families of Tikiapara in the Howrah district of West Bengal were severely affected with infrastructural, crop and livestock losses. All the resources mobilised by the SHM team perished during the night of the storm. With no electricity or drinking water supply, the situation took an ugly turn for most residents. A rapid response team of 100 volunteers was able to evacuate approximately 400 families and shift them inside a safe government school building. The team constantly worked to stabilize the situation, arrange dry food items, and facemasks for those affected.
To keep a check on the steadily rising number of cases, SHM wrote to the Chief Minister’s office and offered their Rebecca Day Care Hospital for setting up of the Quarantine Unit and Rapid Antibody Test Centre in the hotspot zone of Howrah.
SHM youth leaders and the community together, have displayed the strength in the indomitable nature of human spirit. The enthusiasm and hard work of the volunteers has made their venture in the uncharted territory of crisis and disaster management successful.
About Samaritan Help Mission
SHM, a secular non-profit organization, is working in the slums of Tikiapara and Bankra under Howrah Municipal Corporation since 2001 against all the negative social aspects with the objective to build awareness and empower the underprivileged, especially children, girls and women, while generating employment opportunities through quality formal education, skill development trainings and proper healthcare services.
To know more about SHM, visit: https://samaritanhelpmission.org
About EdelGive Foundation
EdelGive Foundation has been supporting Samaritan Help Mission for its educational initiative for underprivileged children since 2013. EdelGive Foundation is a grant-making organisation, helping build and expand philanthropy in India by funding and supporting the growth of high-calibre small to mid-sized NGOs. EdelGive makes, receives, and manages grants, to empower vulnerable children, women, and communities via a zero-cost platform.
To know more about EdelGive Foundation, visit: www.edelgive.org