We are pleased to report that, despite a second lockdown in large parts of West Bengal, we have recently been able to start distributing chicks again to our beneficiaries who are registered on our poultry programme.
This is after a long period during March and April when our field staff were unable to visit families and provide the toolkits and face to face training that they normally would do. Almost overnight, our poultry farmers lost their livelihoods and means of an income. To make matters worse, rumours were rife that chickens were responsible for the spread of Covid-19 to humans, so the market plummeted. And then, on 21st May our farrmers were hit by a devastating cyclone (Amphan) which caused huge damage to their homes and completely destroyed a large number of chicken coops.
While we help our farmers rebuild their poultry enterprises, we reflect on how our team on ground in India responded to the Covid crisis and the efforts they made to support their striken communities.
This report was written by Dr Natalie Schoon, a supporter of Shivia who tuned into one of our webinars in May to hear about our local response to the pandemic.
How to respond to a crisis - Shivia's approach
"As the world struggled to get to grips with the impact of COVID-19 and started to put in place measures to isolate people and close borders, many NGOs understandably sent their staff home and closed their doors in an effort to make sure everyone stayed as safe as they could. Major donors have, understandably, rapidly shifted their focus to health and crisis management.
Shivia (known locally as Nirdhan in India) has followed a different path, as I found out when I joined one of their webinars in May and also listened to their audio blog published on the Shivia website (https://shivia.com/conversations-with-kolkata).
Although equally concerned for the health and well-being of their staff and beneficiaries, their staff did not leave. Because they are already at home. All Shivia/Nirdhan’s people on the ground in West Bengal (Livelihood Service Providers or LSPs) are local - they speak the local languages, have the support and trust of the community and understand the issues and concerns of the beneficiaries. This is of great importance at all times, but specifically in times of crisis. They have been able to provide health and safely information to the communities, so they are aware of the risks of infection and how to prevent it, plus dispelling social media rumours that COVID-19 is spread by chickens.
Shivia/Nirdhan’s staff has been invaluable in recognising needs and have proactively addressed them. They collected fabrics, thread and sewing machines, sourced a mask pattern and mobilised people to make masks against a fee. With their normal income flow reduced due to the virus, making masks gave the women in the villages an alternative source of income.
The masks are distributed to a wide range of recipients within Shivia/Nirdhan’s beneficiary portfolio as well as families in the wider communities, focusing on the families who cannot afford the cost of the masks and those with vulnerable members. Recipients of the masks have also included civic police, civic volunteers, health and community workers, nurses from the local hospitals on duty during lock down, as well as a charitable foundation in the Sunderbans region of Bengal after cyclone Amphan hit in May.
Making the masks also has a secondary benefit. It had already been noted that there is a reluctance to take up farming among the younger generation, and making masks is providing an opportunity to develop new skills including fabric handling, pattern drafting, sewing, and use of colour.
Given that the requirement to wear masks in public is expected to last for a while, Shivia/Nirdhan is already considering a line of masks for different occasions such as weddings, but also perhaps a limited edition for festivals such as Diwali.
Remaining involved with the community and proactively seeking out opportunities to help current beneficiaries as well as the wider community has raised Shivia/Nirdhan’s profile in the community. The field staff have gained a lot of respect in the process, for the organisation as well as themselves."
Dr Natalie Schoon, CFA, LLM is an independent consultant with a main focus on financial services, financial regulations and policy, and gender equality. Besides supporting their work, she is not affiliated with Shivia/Nirdhan.
Women have been employed making masks