Jul 17, 2020

Virtual slum classes

Small classes in our teachers' homes
Small classes in our teachers' homes

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.

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 meagre 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 over 10,000 kits 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 with 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.

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 child 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.

Children share their work via Whatsapp
Children share their work via Whatsapp
Lock down inspires creativity
Lock down inspires creativity
Keeping classes small helps contain Corona
Keeping classes small helps contain Corona
Ration kits feed children's families for 1 week
Ration kits feed children's families for 1 week

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Jul 17, 2020

Over 1 million cases in India

We have literally helped truck loads of people
We have literally helped truck loads of people

We sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. 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.

We realise the current pandemic is wreaking havoc on the entire world and affecting each and every one of us in many different ways which is why we are so grateful that you have chosen to support our work. When India locked down it had a devastating impact on so many communities but particularly daily wage workers who live hand to mouth from day to day earning as little as US$1 a day. These included migrant workers who, with no earnings to support themselves and their families, struck out to seek refuge in their home villages. When we, like you, started hearing about their plight we took immediate action.

To begin with we started delivering cooked meals to some of the poorest slum communities in our district, including our sex worker communities who like everyone else had stopped working when they realized the risks of COVID 19. However, realizing this wasn’t sustainable, we started delivering ration and hygiene packs to help families feed themselves over longer periods. We also promoted hygiene and health protection distributing masks and sanitisers. To date, with your support, we have distributed over 10,000 food and hygiene kits.

After a month of lock down we started seeing the migrant workers on their long journey home passing through our city, some of whom had already walked hundreds of miles from Pune and Mumbai with everything they owned on their backs and still hundreds of miles away from home. In response, we set up roadside centers where they could enjoy a cooked meal and pick up ration and hygiene packs for their onward journeys and fill their water bottles. We also provided locker facilities where they could store their belongings to pick up once lock down ends, road maps the help them navigate the quickest route home, details of other NGOs en route who could offer similar support, transportation including bikes, prams and carts to carry their belongings and buses to take them to the state border as well as new shoes, clothes and anything else they required. During the one month we were there, we helped over 40,000 people, including 4,600 who we transported further down the road on our own school buses.

The lock down continues and cases are increasing at an alarming rate. 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. We are also now 20% over capacity in our adoption center as more babies are abandoned and relinquished and more families experiencing poverty feel that their only resort is to place their children in care. People living with HIV are also suffering with healthcare services focused on the virus and the access to their life-saving medication becoming harder to access.

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. We are extremely grateful to know that we are all in this together and your support means we are there to not only offer emergency relief but to continue to offer our vital services to our current beneficiaries and the extra demand we are experiencing due to Corona.

Please stay safe.

The long walk home...
The long walk home...
Some migrant workers hadn't eaten for days
Some migrant workers hadn't eaten for days
Most slum dwellers are daily wage workers
Most slum dwellers are daily wage workers
Our kits provide at least 1 week's food supplies
Our kits provide at least 1 week's food supplies

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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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