Vacha's intervention with girls during COVID-19
Some of you already know what Vacha is doing with participants of our Girls’ Empowerment programmes in bastis in Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli part of Thane district. All ‘slum demolition’ programmes are off currently and that is a relief. Of the 18 basti centres in the areas covered by Vacha, we have distributed grocery packets to 15 bastis and 683 families so far. Each packet contains 5 kilos of wheat flour, 5 kilos rice, 3 kilos pulses or lentils, 3 litre oil, 3 kilos potato and 2 Kilos onion and 4 soap cakes. This is for a fortnight. We did planning and made preparations in initial period of lock down and began distribution from March 30. Some of the challenges we have faced are as follows:
- Most of the grocers do not accept payment by cheques and insist on cash payment.
- Prices keep increasing constantly.
- Shopkeepers run out of stock due to hoarding by those who can afford it.
- Other residents in the area resented that only Vacha girls and boys and their families were being supported.
- Due to frequent curfews and lockdowns so Vacha team found it difficult to visit the bastis, at times.
- Difficulty in transferring cash due to total unavailability of public transport.
- Every single stationery shop is closed so we could not get notebooks and paper for girls to do interesting things at home.
Despite this Vacha team has taken risk and covered as many centres as possible. The trust board appreciates this and is grateful as well as concerned about the team’s own safety from infection. They have been frequently told not to stretch too much and take care but they feel committed to girls and their families and valiantly go on. If there are instances of positive cases or community transmission, they will be immediately withdrawn. All of them use masks and gloves and girls and their parents are encouraged to have masks. A parent comes along to help the girl carry the grocery home.
Solutions and Happy Moments:
- Vacha team has taken risks and covered as many centres as possible in 4 days from March 30th to April 3. The process will continue for two more days.
- Each community organizer and coordinator is in touch with all girls for emotional support and counselling. Each office level team member remains connected to the special programme under CORONA threat and works on budgeting, fund raising and management from home.
- There is a serious problem of transport. Local buses, trains, metro, taxis and 3 wheeler autos are not working. However, we got help from a journalist husband of a team member who had a curfew pass and who helped us send salary cheques and other materials to team members in his van. Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal officers provide their vans for grocery distribution.
- Girl leaders and some of the male peers in gender programmes in bastis have been amazing. They maintain names of those who receive packets and deal with grocers and local residents, if any problem arises. They also remain connected with other girls in the group for any contingency and keep their morale up.
- Most of our funders have offered support in general and approved spending even though exact budgets could not be made. They have also been kind and permitted spending in basti centres that are not even under their own project grants.
- Friends and strangers are giving small but much valued donations for our current basti work.
The case of Shelar Chowk:
While grocery distribution in most places was peaceful, it was also painful as many more wanted the packets but we could give them only to our programme participants due to paucity of funds. At shelar chowk, a basti with sizable number of poor Scheduled Castes (formerly called untouchables as they cleaned dirty toilets and skinned dead animals etc.) along with settlers from other States we had practically a riot on our hand. Despite presence of 3 police inspectors and 5 police constables and support of the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation, we had to withdraw after distribution of only 25 packets. Currently the rest are kept in an apartment of a coordinator’s uncle and we are strategizing for reaching out to the remaining participants. It may become necessary to give just cash to the remaining 43 participants. Only grocers and chemists can keep shops open so the amount will have to be spent only on useful things.
The case of Netivli:
Netivli Is a village turned slum in process of fast development in nearby townships. It has attracted poor workers from at least 5 different States. We could not reach there as there was a curfew. Today no one could step out for basti work. A quarantined man had surreptiously come out to attend a wedding festivity where, it seems, over 300 people were present. The event itself has broken strong lockdown and the COVID 19 positive man has put many in danger. There is total curfew now as individuals who have interacted with that man from the wedding celebration are being located and contacted for testing. Netivli in any case was under a local curfew yesterday. We will visit it again in a couple of days.
A big Thank You to all of you for being with us and caring about intersectionally deprived girls in these stressful times.
We hope you are taking adequate care and remain safe from CORONAVIRUS.
With best wishes and regards,
Vacha Trust Board and Vacha Team
Girl Leaders in bastis distributing grocery items