Nov 13, 2020

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali from our family to yours
Happy Diwali from our family to yours

Diwali is celebrated of the victory of good over evil and the transition from darkness into light. The past eight months have been challenging for us as an organisation responsible for thousands of beneficiaries and over 300 staff. The lockdown in India highlighted even more vulnerable women and children in need and we have provided emergency support in extreme circumstances and seen an increase in demand for our existing services.

I am incredibly grateful to our Snehalaya family, including staff, beneficiaries, volunteers and supporters like yourself, for rising to the challenges COVID 19 has brought. As we celebrate our festival of light with the end of the pandemic hopefully in sight, we would like to share some of our positive news and highlights from the past few months to show the impact that we have made together.

With very few of the poorest families highly dependent on their daily wage and no savings for situations like this, this funding has literally kept starvation at bay. Thanks to many of our staff and volunteers living in the communities we serve, we have been able to identify and help families of daily wage workers facing starvation. Working in partnership with them, NGO partners and allied systems we are able to distributed cooked meals and essential supplies to those in need.so far, we have provided over 10,000 food and hygiene parcels to those with the greatest need to keep starvation at bay.

We were also able to provide emergency financial aid to 1,909 daily wage workers, including families living in our slums, sex workers, transgender, MSM, farmers, pensioners, people living with HIV and others struggling during lockdown. Used to existing on less than US$2 a day, the US$40-65 we were able to give them helped them to stock up on essential such as rice and flour and in some cases, the families, realising that such financial aid is not reliable or sustainable, chose to buy extra provisions to start their own food stalls. This will not only see them through the current crisis but will provides a foundation to build on once life returns to ‘normal’.

Due to the risks and restrictions of Corona virus many of our sex workers were unable to work to earn their living in their usual way. As we already have a program to retrain and support them into alternative careers we are really pleased to report that since the start of lockdown a total of 38 of our female sex workers have started new jobs and businesses, hopefully leaving the world of prostitution behind them for good! 

While our emergency work continues we also have nearly 15,000 beneficiaries who still need our regular support. This includes women and children living in our shelter homes, slum dwellers, sex workers and women experiencing domestic and other violence. It is anticipated that there has been a huge increase in domestic violence but we are also worried for the girls being married off in child marriages or forced in domestic servitude and at risk of not returning to school once lock down ends.

Fortunately, all of our projects remain active, including our Childline and women’s helplines which offer lifelines and emergency rescue and support to vulnerable women and children. Country-wide restrictions on a maximum of 50 people who can attend a wedding has reduced the average price of a marriage ceremony, which over 500 guests normally attend, from around US$1000 to US$200. While this is good news for lower income families who are taking advantage of the opportunity to maximise their small savings, it has also unfortunately significantly increased the number of child marriages taking place. Fortunately, our Childline team has leaped into action, locating and rescuing 67 child brides so far and our other projects are supporting the rescued girls in a range of other ways.

With our children locked in, we have focused on developing their skills and have recently opened a new school library, beauty training parlour and skills development workshop where our beneficiaries can enhance their education and learn vocational skills.

On top of this, it has been a year of significant milestone for our Snehalaya English Medium School with 100% pass rate for our first ever students to sit for 10 Std exams. This included our incredible Heena who was top girl despite being diagnosed with cancer just weeks before her exams. We have also recently refurbished our school library and are looking forward to this year's 10th Std repeating this year's batch's success.

Times may be extra tough for us all at the moment but, since day one, Snehalya has always tackled the challenges facing our beneficiaries head on, and we are managing the pandemic in the same way rising to the challenges and continuing our mission to work for the most vulnerable in our society. It’s thanks to your support that we can continue to evolve our services to provide practical support to those who need it most. We will beat this together and I am as always truly grateful that we are in this together, thank you.

Let Diwali continue to light up our lives as we hopefully move towards brighter days. On behalf of our whole Snehalaya family, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Diwali.

Our new school library is a hit
Our new school library is a hit
Fingers crossed
Fingers crossed
COVID 19 won't stop our celebrations
COVID 19 won't stop our celebrations

Links:

Nov 6, 2020

Staying positive

Getting ready for Diwali
Getting ready for Diwali

I hope this email finds you and your loved ones well, safe and healthy.

We are now entering our eighth month of lockdown in Snehalaya. While the restrictions in India are easing, the numbers of cases of COVID 19 continue to rise and we are remaining cautious, keeping our doors locked to visitors and restricting the movements of our staff and beneficiaries. Everyone has been amazing taking care and precautions and working without a break in all that time to keep our beneficiaries safe. Despite our efforts we did still have a minor outbreak with eight staff and older boys testing positive for Corona. By immediately isolating and treating them they were able to recover and we were able to contain the virus. If we all know anything from Corona, it is we cannot let our guard down, especially when protecting those who are immune-compromised, including our HIV+ beneficiaries, young and old!

With the mental health of many being impacted by the pandemic, our other main concerns are reassuring, supporting and keeping our beneficiaries and staff active and entertained. With the festive season of Diwali starting next week it is a particularly hard time for them to be separated from their families. Usually we would be planning family get-togethers, parties and celebrations with staff and supporters. Instead we are planning special lockdown activities that will safely entertain our whole Snehalaya family and help them to feel loved and valued, including online family meet ups and socially distanced activities.

It may seem like the world is a very grim place at the moment but every cloud has a silver lining and, in the spirit of the season, we would like to share some of our positive news.

Due to the restrictions of Corona virus many of our sex workers were unable to work to earn their living in their usual way. As we already have a program to retrain and support them into alternative careers we are really pleased to report that since the start of lockdown a total of 38 of our female sex workers have started new jobs and businesses, hopefully leaving the world of prostitution behind them for good!

As well as being able to provide daily workers with our usual range of support services and food and ration kits, we have also been able to provide them with emergency financial aid. With very few of the poorest families highly dependent on their daily wage and no savings for situations like this, this funding has literally kept starvation at bay. In many cases, the families, realising that such financial aid is not reliable or sustainable, chose to buy extra provisions to start their own food stalls. This will not only see them through the current crisis but will provides a foundation to build on once life returns to ‘normal’.

Country-wide restrictions on a maximum of 50 people who can attend a wedding has reduced the average price of a marriage ceremony, which over 500 guests normally attend, from around US$1000 to US$200. While this is good news for lower income families who are taking advantage of the opportunity to save their savings, it has also unfortunately significantly increased the number of child marriages taking place. Fortunately, our Childline team has leaped into action, locating and preventing 67 child marriages so far and ot other projects are supporting the rescued girls in a range of other ways.

With our children locked in, we have focused on developing their skills and have recently opened a new school library, beauty training parlour and skills development workshop where our beneficiaries can enhance their education and learn vocational skills.

Times may be extra tough for us all at the moment but, since day one, Snehalya has always tackled the challenges facing our beneficiaries head on, and we are managing the pandemic in the same way. It’s thanks to your support that we can continue to evolve our services to provide practical support to those who need it most. We will beat this together and I am as always truly grateful that we are in this together, thank you.

A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
A much needed break for caregivers who work 24/7
Our new school library
Our new school library

Links:

Oct 13, 2020

Top girl

100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls
100% pass rate for Harshal & our 10 Std girls

As lock down continues here in India with school remaining closed, unfortunately despite our precautions we had a small outbreak of COVID 19 in our Rehab Center where half of our 200+ children are HIV+. Fortunately, this was predominantly among staff and older children who were immediately isolated and all of whom have recovered. It was a great reminder to continue to keep our guards raised to prevent a more serious outbreak. We hope you are also weathering the pandemic and continue to stay safe and strong.

It is at times like these that your support means so much. You are helping some incredible girls, half of whose mothers are sex workers and half who are HIV+. Despite the hardships they endured before they came to our shelter home they are confident and ambitious and take their studies very seriously. We are incredibly proud of their resilience and dreams to live the successful lives you are helping create through your belief in them.

We want to share the story of one of these amazing girls. Harshal is a 16 year old orphan who came to live at Snehalaya when she was five years old. With your support she completed her 10 Std at our Snehalaya English Medium School earlier this year. She is also an incredibly talented dancer who loves performing on stage at our annual events and festival celebrations.

In January this year she started complaining of a pain in her leg. We took her to hospital for examination by a doctor who misdiagnosed her condition. Sensing there was more to it we took a second opinion and it was recommended she have a biopsy to rule out cancer. As she is HIV+ it was difficult to find a doctor willing to do this and when we finally did the biopsy came back clear. The pain continued for Harshal and we realized that maybe the first biopsy had not gone deep enough and insisted that another one be done by another doctor. This one confirmed our worst fears, she had cancer in the bone of her leg and the best option was to amputate to prevent the spread to other parts of her body.

We had to share this news with Harshal just as Corona virus was beginning to take hold in India and also just before her 10 Std exams. She bravely accepted that her leg would have to be removed and said: “I would rather live without a leg than die”.

As we continued to search for doctors willing to treat her, she bravely fought the pain to sit her exams. Soon she was unable to walk, and was relying on a wheelchair to get around. Fearing COVID 19, we also took the decision to isolate her in our on-site hospital to prevent infections. With the country going into total lock down and limited medical expertise in our city to treat Harshal we started looking to Mumbai and Pune for help. The sad fact is that not many doctors are willing to take the ‘risk’ of operating on someone with HIV. When we did find a doctor in Mumbai, travel restrictions meant we were unable to reach the hospital.

Time was passing and the threat of the cancer growing and spreading was becoming very real. At last we found a doctor who recommended she undertake chemotherapy. Harshal endured this, losing her hair in the process but also the pain subsided. Unfortunately, the cancer was stubborn and the pain returned. Another doctor recommended another round of chemo which again Harshal took in her stride. Again this didn’t work. Finally, last week Harshal’s leg was amputated. She is now recovering in hospital and it is a testament to her fighting spirit that just over a week after her surgery, yesterday she managed to stand on own.

What is even more incredible is despite the pain and trauma she was going through during her exam period, is that she was not only one of our 10th Standard class that secured a 100% pass rate, she was also the top scoring girl achieving 72%.

We are so incredibly proud of her fighting spirit and determination, she has been smiling through the pain since her initial diagnosis and has been so patient over the eight months it has taken since diagnosis to finally get the treatment she so desperately needed. She is an inspiration to our other girls and last Saturday, in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child, her best friend Anuja requested to speak with this year’s 10 standard class to inspire them to study as hard as Harshal.

We know that children all over the world are struggling to continue their education during lockdown and although everyone is facing different challenges, we hope that Harshal’s story is an inspiration to them to do their best to persevere with their current situations. We also hope you take comfort that the support you offer is paying off with girls like Harshal focused on their futures despite the hardships they face. Thank you so much for giving your support to all our girls, it really does mean the world to them.

Harshal's incredible smile
Harshal's incredible smile

Links:

 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.