Bhubaneswar: The helpdesks are still working, but the content of their work has changed. It is now about the threat of COVID-19 and how to keep oneself and community members safe.
Until recently, Pavasini Nayak, a helpdesk member from Eshaneswar Basti, Ward 14, was busy helping people entitlements such as pensions, citizenship documents like aadhaar cards, ration cards and health cards, to name a few. Now, it is mostly coronavirus since her prime responsibility lies in safeguarding the community from COVID -19. Her main messages are now about washing of hands and social distancing. Using a microphone, she has reached out to around 280 households in her area.
Other helpdesk members, Tiki Nayak and Sukanti Sahoo of Jokhalandi have done wall paintings on the prevention measures against the virus. Their messages have reached nearly 300 households and 1,200 members of their community.
The helpdesks – 23 in number – came about in a year as part of the efforts to help marginalised communities gain access to the benefits they are entitled to – citizenship rights, social security, food security, health care, and so on. Spread out in 77 settlements in 8 wards of Bhubanswar, the helpdesks are the hub of public participation and social inclusion. As many as fifty-six thousand people are connected to the helpdesks. Manned by women who work with communities to motivate them to seek their rights and entitlements, which would make their lives more secure, these women have helped hundreds of people get pensions, citizenship documents like aadhaar cards and health cards, to name a few.
The helpdesks are also tracking the problems being faced by the community. One of the residents has been identified as particularly vulnerable is Kankil Godam, a woman in Budhanagar Bhoi Sahi under-42 ward. Kankil is around 70 years old, and lives alone. She has two daughters who have been married for the past 15 years and is without support. She is now dependent on others for her survival but she has become even more vulnerable due to COVID-19 lockdown as she receives neither visitors nor help.
Another woman, P. Annapurna, is 60 years old and lives at Budhanagar Bhoi Sahi. Her husband has passed away when she was 48 years old. She is childless, lives in a slum and depends on the monthly pension of Rs.500 and 5 kg of ration she gets from the government. That’s why she begs. But now she is in a precarious state as nobody is reportedly coming over to provide her food or any other facility.
In the current grim scenario caused by the lockdown, helpdesks are continuing to support communities. Menaka Kinner, a community reporter, has created a video on COVID-19 and has spread it among other help-desk members to raise awareness.
The help-desk members of Jokhalandi have sprayed phenyl in open drains. As a result, people have been saved from bad odour as well as flies and mosquitoes.