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Jul 9, 2020

Lock down at Snehalaya

Rehab Center still in full swing during Corona
Rehab Center still in full swing during Corona

I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy as COVID 19 continues to spread across the world. As you may have heard, India is now the third most affected country and the virus is now literally on our doorstep. The good news is that the children in our care remain happy and healthy, largely thanks to champions for our cause like you.

As the headlines filled with the devastating impact of Corona virus, we were particularly worried for all of our shelter home children whose immune systems are compromised by living in an institution, but especially for those living with HIV who are extremely vulnerable during pandemics such as this. Fortunately, we were able to take immediate action to protect and educate all of our beneficiaries about the virus and the prevention its spread. As we watched the world lock down and self-isolate we also firmly shut our doors to prevent the virus reaching our children’s shelter. With no-one going out or coming in since the end of March, we are pleased to report there have been no cases of the virus so far. We have also been able to maintain some semblance of normality reducing the stress of on our children and their caregivers by maintaining as much of our regular routine as possible. 

With the early closure of schools we initially asked our own school teachers to provide a few hours of classes each day in collaboration with our staff. With the enforced isolation this was no longer possible and the task of entertaining the children has been placed on our caregivers shoulders. This includes morning exercise and cleaning routines. We have broken children into age-wise groups and scheduled activities twice a day, including creative, educational and physical activities and life skills, bearing in mind social distancing. We are also extremely grateful to volunteers who are conducting online classes for our older children and our school is now preparing to take over and deliver the state curriculum online.

We have actually been able to have some fun and introduce new activities thanks to more downtime! We are currently planning for a full day of activities to celebrate and promote girls education this Sunday, Malala Day. The day will kick off with a cricket game with boys hopefully knocking us for six while wearing saris! We have also introduced new activities such as Lego and table tennis (three of our former beneficiaries are professional coaches who have returned home for lock down) and have been organising fashion shows, dance competitions and so much more...

Meanwhile our sex workers, transgender and MSM communities also went into lock down leaving them with no income for over three months now. We have been providing food parcels, hygiene kits and other support. The plight of other daily wage workers and migrant workers moved us and we set up daily deliveries of food and essentials to residents and set up roadside help centers to offer relief to those making the long journeys home from our nearby cities. Our child and women's helplines have remained open throughout and were also at our roadside centers ensuring the women and children walking home were safe and healthy.

To date we have distributed over 10,000 food and hygiene kits, helped 4,600 migrant workers get home and provided food, water, health and hygiene kits, road maps and other support to over another 40,000 migrant workers.

Times and lock down are tough and the future remains uncertain but we are grateful for the resilience of our staff, beneficiaries and Snehalaya family whose support of each other is invaluable at this time. I look forward to end of this deadly virus when we can all safely be together again. Until then please do take care of yourself and others.

The long walk home
The long walk home
We literally helped truck loads of people
We literally helped truck loads of people
Staying safe
Staying safe
We have a whole new team of cooks
We have a whole new team of cooks

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Jun 23, 2020

Virtual classrooms

Home schooling
Home schooling

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. As a valued supporter of our projects we want to reassure you that work on our existing projects continues, despite the challenges the current pandemic and lock down is presenting on a daily basis.

Maharashtra, where we are based, currently has registered the largest number of confirmed cases in India and as a result we have been on lock down since 24 March. Before the national and state governments intervened, we had already taken action by stopping visitors to our 23 projects, reducing our field work and providing our staff and beneficiaries with health and sanitation support. As a direct result of our early interventions, we are happy to report that so far we have no suspected cases of the virus.

Our Rehab Centre (childcare institution) and women's shelter have been closed to visitors since March. Our skeleton staff includes our caregivers who are working hard to keep our women and children busy with educational and recreational activities. We are doing our best to have fun to quell their concerns and have been using technology to continue online classes, while also enjoying treasure hunts, fashion shows, Zumba classes, art exhibitions, Lego building sessions, dance competitions, film making and much, much more.

People living in slums have been hit extra hard as many rely on daily wages to feed their families, as the lock down forced most businesses to close, people who live from day to day have seen their meager incomes and food supplies rapidly disappear. Living in cramped and basic quarters they are also at a higher risk from COVID 19 and our teams have been responding by providing food and hygiene kits and emergency financial relief to help them fight off both the virus and starvation.

Usually we would be reporting on the start of the school year on 15 June but the Indian government has suggested that schools will not reopen until at least October. With India’s extreme lock down closing our own school and after school classes and limited technology available to our pupils, it has been a challenge to continue to support our children’s educations. Our staff, children and their parents have been amazing in rising to the challenge. When strict lock down measures prevented anyone from being outside our slum teachers used Whatsapp to contact students via their parents’ mobile phones. They set tasks and assignments and asked those who could to send photos and videos of their progress. Now lockdown has eased a little our teachers are now able to hold small classes in their own homes and conduct home visits to our 700 pupils, one child at a time, to check in on their work and set more homework.

As our Snehalaya English Medium School for the 200+ children living in our shelter home was also forced to close, our shelter home caregiving staff, some of whom have teaching degrees, have been conducting classes for 1-8 standard, while our older children have been attending daily online classes with volunteer teachers. Not only are our children continuing their education but the routine of school hours is helping them cope with the stress of lock down.

We are relieved that our strong foundations and networks meant we were able to keep our children learning, however UNESCO estimates that there are 700 million girls worldwide affected by school closures. With women and girls making up the majority of caregivers, healthcare providers, and essential workers, we are concerned that many girls will never return to the classroom. With so many families facing extreme poverty and loss of livelihoods, they may feel more pressure to force their daughters into early marriage or child or domestic labour. Our projects such as our slum centers, IT center, vocational training centers, hospital, Childline and other outreach services will continue to promote the importance of education and offer support to enable every girl in our district the opportunity to complete 12 full years of schooling.

Now more than ever, your support is vital. We only exist because of wonderful people like you. While we completely understand your own situation may prevent you from donating, you can still help by spreading the word about our work and raise awareness of the situation for vulnerable women and children in India.

Never before has it been so important to know that we are all in this together. Please take good care to stay safe and healthy.

Keeping girls learning
Keeping girls learning

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May 26, 2020

Keeping babies safe during Corona

Blissfully unaware of COVID 19
Blissfully unaware of COVID 19

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. As a valued supporter of our Adoption Center we want to reassure you that the love and care of the babies in our care continues despite the challenges the current pandemic and lock down is presenting on a daily basis.

Maharashtra, where we are based, currently has registered the largest number of confirmed cases in India and as a result we have been on lock down since 24 March. Before the national and state governments intervened, we had already taken action by stopping visitors to our 23 projects, reducing our field work and providing our staff and beneficiaries with health and sanitation support. As a direct result of our early interventions, we are happy to report that so far we have no suspected cases of the virus.

Despite a reduction in our services, many of our staff remain at work to provide support to our beneficiaries who do not have homes or families they can safely return back to. The same applies at our Snehankur Adoption Centre, which has been closed to visitors since March. A skeleton staff includes our caregivers and we are conducting regular disinfecting of the premises, floors, toys, and so on, as well as monitoring children for signs of flu and crisis management planning.

Unfortunately the lock down means that pregnant women and girls are unable to access maternity hospitals and are being forced to give birth at home. Normally we rely on maternity hospitals and professionals to refer underage pregnant girls to us so we can support them through their pregnancy and take over responsibility for their unwanted babies if that is what they chose. With a lack of access to maternity services we are already seeing an increase in abandoned babies. In the past week alone, two newborns have been left on the street and found by our supporters who fortunately heard their cries in time. We were able to find one mother, a 16 year old girl forced to give birth at home after which her parents threw her baby away! Despite our search we have been unable to find the mother of the second baby. We are glad to report that both babies are now healthy and safe in our center.

We remain worried about all of the other pregnancies being conducted at home without adequate support both for delivery and those unable to care for their newborn. Our Snehankur team continues to support those who approach us for help while our volunteers, Childline team, women's shelter and other staff continue to remain vigilant in searching for others through our regular nightly patrols and socially distanced outreach work.

With all adoptions currently on hold, our center is already over capacity with 36 babies awaiting adoption. Our team is dedicated and is managing but, as we are unable to employ additional staff, our already limited resources are becoming overstretched. With no end to lockdown in sight we are doing everything we can, but are also deeply concerned on the lasting impact in our communities and how we will manage the anticipated increase in demand for our support post-lockdown.

While Snehalaya is responding to the immediate crisis and the well-publicised plights of daily wage and migrant workers through a range of aid packages and practical support, we also continue to work for and with our existing beneficiaries, including the babies, and other communities most affected by the lock down. Your support has never been so vital. We understand your own situation may prevent you from donating at this time but you can still help by spreading the word about our work and raising awareness of the situation for unmarried others, pregnant women and abandoned babies in India.

Never before has it been so important to know that we are all in this together. Please take good care to stay safe and healthy.

Still locating & rescuing newborn infants
Still locating & rescuing newborn infants
Keeping our center Corona-free
Keeping our center Corona-free

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