It seems so strange now to think back to the COVID pandemic and the disruption and devastation it caused worldwide. With the virus hopefully now contained we will no longer be taking donations for its project. We are so grateful to those from all corners of the world who stood with us as, without you there in our corner, the situation and death toll would have been much bleaker for the thousands we reached.
Thanks to you, we continued to offer our usual level of service whilst also reaching out to many of the 5 million living in our district, keeping starvation at bay and hope alive. We remember all those who lost their lives, including many of our friends and relatives but are heartened by the response by many like you who were moved by the stories being reported from India and took action to protect us.
While the pandemic may be over, we continue to deal with the aftermath. The shadow pandemic saw a significant rise in gender-based violence, while some women became widows children also became orphans. More babies were abandoned and relinquished for adoption while the adoption process was stalled. Children missed school and a 2022 survey found more than 80% of public schools reported 'stunted behavioural and socioeconomically development' in their students post-pandemic.
It will still take some time for the world and India to right itself and as you can see our work has never been more vital. I would appeal to you to consider supporting one of our other projects here on GlobalGiving which directly work with those hardest hit.
I can;t say it enough, thank you for everything it meant the world to us in an extremely challenging time for us all.
Thank you for all your support which is helping our beneficiaries in so many different ways. It’s because of you we are able to help so many people through so many different challenges. As we continue to recover from COVID, Joyce, our CEO of Snehalaya UK who was ‘locked in’ at our Indian projects during the pandemic reflects on her experience.
I am fortunate to have been able to live in Snehalaya’s Rehab Center since 2016. Living in India and at Snehalaya is always interesting and often a little bonkers as I adapt to Indian culture and social issues. However, little could I predict the bizzare turns COVID would bring. I was as shocked as everyone else when Ahmednagar, where the majority of our projects are based, went into lockdown two days before the state officially called for people to stay indoors. I watched in disbelief as videos of the police sweeping through the city on a March afternoon, closing shops and businesses along their way, emerged on my social media.
I live in Snehalaya’s Rehabilitation Center, alongside 200 children, around 50 women and their children seeking shelter and around 50 employees. It is also home to our head office where many staff from our other projects visit on daily basis along with supporters and visitors wishing to donate or learn more about our work.
Many of those I live alongside are HIV+ and at the time we were terrified about how the Corona virus would affect them. Fearing for the safety of all we immediately closed our Rehab Center to all but residents and essential staff were given the option to go home to their families or stay locked in with our beneficiaries. I am incredibly grateful to those staff who chose to stay with us, moving in with no idea how long they would be there and while some moved in with their families, others ‘temporarily’ left theirs with relatives, unsure when they would see them again.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been in lockdown with around 300 people, especially when I speak with those living alone at the time. Still it was scary. No-one knew how long we would be locked in for and who would survive if the pandemic spread into our sanctuary. The 50 or so staff who had stayed included caregivers, maintenance crew, drivers and kitchen staff. As we heard tragic stories from the outside world it was vital we keep our beneficiaries safe, calm and entertained.
As schools and colleges moved classes online we had to juggle 12 year groups attending a range of different institutions with limited numbers of computers available. Our own English medium school teachers stepped in offering classes to all children to help keep them on track. Our kitchen also struggled with reduced staff so we recruited older children interested in catering to help out.
As boredom set in and everyone started to go a little stir crazy we were kept busy delivering a program of daily activities, including a very popular Zumba class that I am still running today. We were also fortunate to have a large number of volunteers offering online sessions covering a whole range of activities and subjects. Everyone was missing their friends and families and we were also concerned about our staff’s wellbeing so set aside rooms for them to spend relaxation time.
We had to develop emergency plans and quarantine areas for anyone displaying symptoms and every sneeze and cough set our pulses racing. We were fortunate in the first lockdown to have not one single case in our Rehab Center. We weren’t quite so lucky in the second wave and despite our best efforts around 50% of our Rehab Center staff and beneficiaries tested positive. This created a new issue with different levels of quarantine required, no mean feat with so many people in one space. Regular testing and moving patients between many areas set aside for the different stages of infection filled our days. Again we were lucky with no serious cases to manage, something I am incredibly grateful for considering the horror stories we were hearing from elsewhere.
Being locked in meant I couldn’t physically help with the amazing COVID relief Snehalaya undertook in the community. However, daily updates, photos and videos from our project teams told of distributing food and essentials including ART medication and roadside assistance to the 40,000 migrant workers passing a few hundred meters from where we were locked in. I was truly humbled to play my small part in such devastating circumstances and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else preferring to stay and do my bit to protect my Snehalaya family.
The contributions and encouragement we received from supporters like you meant we knew we weren’t alone and had the food and materials not only for our own needs but to ensure starvation didn’t become the biggest killer. We are still dealing with the knock on effect and are grateful to know that in a time when the whole world was experiencing such an unprecedented time you were right there with us.
SAVE THE DATE
Giving Tuesday, 29 November, is a fantastic opportunity to stretch your support even further. Thanks to GlobalGiving any donations made that day will earn us our share of US$1 million in match funding. Since 2015 we have raised thousands in bonus funding that helps fund committed teachers and students like Yasmeen and Ram. Look out for reminders from us nearer the time.
Thank you for your support in helping us fight the COVID pandemic. once again cases are rising in India but for now we reamin safe and healthy, we hope you are too!
COVID cases may be more manageable these days but still we are facing the fallout of the virus which disrupted and claimed so many lives. We recently distributed food parcels to those worst affected and who are still suffering from loss of earnings and loved ones along with huge hospital debts.
We have also recently been tasked by our district Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to support children who lost both parents to COVID. Our Family-Based Care team was founded in 2018 and is committed to keeping children out of institutions and is currently developing family-based solutions for children in need of care and protection. This includes keeping children within their families through family strengthening and counselling support.
At the request of the CWC they will be conducting hone visits of all the identified COVID orphans in our district to complete Social Investigation Reports (SIRs) which will investigate their home environment and relationships with the extended families they are now living with. The aim is to ensure each child is safe, secure and fully supported emotionally and developmentally. The team will also help identify any support the children or families require to continue living together.
While the best interests of the children are at the fore we are also proud that our team’s commitment and expertise in child protection has been recognised and that we have been entrusted with supporting the over-burdened District Child Protection Unit, a government service usually responsible for these investigations.
Another positive to come out of the pandemic is a passion for zumba among the girls living in our shelter home. When the first lockdown started, schools closed and movement was restricted we were challenged as to how we would keep our 200+ children active and entertained. At the same time dancer Dhruvi Shah was wondering how she could help people in lockdown. The result was #DhruviShahDance's 20-minute Zumba workouts on YouTube which we played for our girls every day. Her combinations of classic and popular hits were an instant hit and although we expanded our repertoire of videos to other instructors we kept coming back to Dhruvi with requests from the children coming in the form of the outfits she wears in each of her videos, the most popular of which was 'Pink Shoes'.
When restrictions eased, we contacted Dhruvi to see if she would be willing to come and deliver an in person class. Her response was immediate and enthusiastic and it turns out it was on her bucket list to do just such an activity in an NGO. She also took the time to do a one-to-one dance session with our cancer patient and amputee. As you can see by the smiles and energetic dancing in the video link below her visit was a smash hit.
Every penny you donate counts towards transforming lives of so many COVID survivors, thank you. This July Bonus day those pennies go even further with all donations made on 20 July being matched by GlobalGiving. Any amount you can send will go a long way in empowering more children and families still struggling post-COVID.
As the world enjoys some return to the new normal and the freedom that brings we would like to reflect on how your support helped us to save countless lives here in India.
We are incredibly grateful for the huge impact you made allowing us to respond to situations as soon as they arose. Our work over the past 33 years meant we had the staff, expertise and contacts to leap into action to prevent starvation and exploitation of many of the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
We haven’t stopped since March 2020, responding to the crises as it unfolded while also keeping our day-to-day business running providing support to those most vulnerable through our 20+ projects to empower women and children. We operate in a largely rural district where the situation has been bleak for many of the low-income families living here and our Ahmednagar District was one of the worst-hit by the virus.
Thanks to your support, starvation was not the biggest killer during the pandemic as we were able to provide over 300,000 food parcels to hungry families with no income and help 40,000 migrant workers on the long walk home. We also continued to rescue and adopt unwanted babies (accounting for over 10% of India's total adoptions in 2020-21) and prevent 88 child marriages (accounting for over 40% of all rescues in Maharashtra).
India also had one of the longest shut down of schools and colleges to try to limit the spread of COVID, while children are now back in the classroom the long-term impact of this remains unknown. More than 700 million girls around the world having seen their education disrupted by closures and it is estimated that 10 million girls will never set foot in a classroom again. What is also known, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is that the number of children not enrolled in schools increased and there was a significant shift from private to government schools as families struggled financially and returned to their villages. It also found that one in every three 1st and 2nd standard children did not have access to online classes and had never attended in-person classes.
Fortunately the children living in our shelter homes had access to laptops and computers and were largely able to attend their classes, in our slums where technology is even more limited we were able to continue with our slum schools with our teachers visiting their students homes while also conducting online classes and sending homework through Whatsapp. Your support enables us to continue education and support to some of the most vulnerable children to help them catch up on their studies.
We are proud and relieved to report that all of our beneficiaries have survived the pandemic. Unfortunately, beyond our gates, many families and communities have been devastated by the deaths of loved ones, including their main wage-earners. Many are also saddled with enormous debts from having to pay inflated prices for medication through the black market on top of hospital bills for those struck down by COVID. The impact of this is huge with families who were already living a hand-to-mouth existence now further crippled with medical and funeral debts.
The knock-on effect has seen a dramatic increase in incidences of domestic violence, child marriage and labour and women and children are even more vulnerable to trafficking than before. We are currently reaching out to all families who have lost parents and suffering the grief of lost relatives and the strain of financial hardship.
When I founded Snehalaya in 1989 little could I predict a pandemic on this scale but our three decades of experience is helping us to reach out to thousands suffering the consequences and with support from generous donors like yourself from across India and the world, together we are literally saving lives. I am truly humbled and would personally like to thank you again for all you have done to help keep us safe and healthy.
Good news - match-funding is available for this project until 8 April through GlobalGiving's Little by Little campaign. All donations made this week will be matched by 50% up to US$50, meaning if you donate US$50 we will receive US$75.
Wishing you a very happy Diwali from your Snehalaya family. We are all so happy that the current COVID situation here in Ahmendagar has improved enough that we can enjoy a return to some of the traditional celebrations of the Festival of Light.
That said, our Rehab Center which is home to over 250 children and women, is still in lockdown and we are entertaining our children with a range of activities, gifts, new clothes, entertainment which will culminate in a party this Sunday. We have also distributed gifts to women and children in our other projects, including a sari distribution to our female sex workers and food parcels with one month's worth of supplies to others.
None of this would be possible without your support and we are sincerely grateful to you for ensuring we can give our women and children their own family Diwali celebrations.
Are you thinking of donating before the end of the year? If so, 30 November is Giving Tuesday and there is US$1 million in match-funding up for grabs. Save the date to make your donation go even further this giving season.
We wish you a healthy, safe and prosperous festive season and new year.
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