Combating lockdown in the country as also in Ajmer, (Rajasthan) the Hunger helpline started on 24 March– commencement of the lockdown. It has since helped in providing food to the needy and most vulnerable population.
Hunger helpline was started by Ajmer Administration to provide food to all those who are in need, and is managed by Ajmer Municipal Corporation in collaboration with Akshya Patra, under the chairmanship of Ms. Chinmaya Gopal, Municipal Commissioner, United Ajmer, MTTV India and CFAR nominated as task force members to support in running the helpline.
‘Sahaya’ Single Window facilitated the reach of food packets and dry ration to beneficiaries in six i wards with the active support of community volunteers.
Tulsi, Anju, Savitri, Parvati, Krishna, Rekha and Pinki, to name few, are members of Help-desks and volunteers representing bidi workers, daily wage workers, rag pickers, artisans, construction workers facilitating the food distribution while observing social distancing and hand washing techniques. There are a total of 120 volunteers from 28 settlements who are coordinating distribution of 400-600 beneficiaries daily.
These community volunteers do everything from readying the list and ensuring the delivery to vulnerable households such as single women, widow, people with HIV, people with disability, affected with tuberculosis and any other chronic disease and people like beedi makers and daily wagers who have no jobs and no earnings.
Nagfani slum is one of the most vulnerable slums in Ajmer city where the houses are located on the elevated areas of small hill and people have to walk around 2-3 kms up and down to get things. There are around 500-600 houses on the topmost part of the hill and hardly get any benefit at the time of lockdown nor do they have any money to buy ration and get gas cylinder to cook food. Hence, receiving cooked food is a great relief to them.
Who is making a difference?
Basanti Devi (60), a resident of Nagfani, used to get some money while helping at a confectionary. However, the shop, too, is closed now. `‘I walk slowly taking care not to fall from the raised areas in the slum. I go down daily to get something to eat, but thanks to the volunteers of Help-desk, who came to me, added my name in list of beneficiaries. From that day, they are providing me food packets daily twice a day and I have also received dry ration, which is really a great help to me in the present situation.’’
Anju, a Help-desk member of Gurjar Dharati, has been associated with the Single Window for the past two years. She lives in a habitat of mostly women headed households engaged in beedi making. When she heard about the lockdown, she made up her mind to help the people in distress and those hungry. Anju started making phone calls and made a list of the most needy households requiring food. Later, she also became part of the local food distribution team and was made responsible for food delivery in close coordination with district administration in her settlement. She is also working closely with the ASHAs in health vigilance, now she is a ray of hope for the people.
Testimony of a Migrant
Dilip, a migrant worker from Chhattisgarh, shares his travails and tribulations with us….
Dilip, belonging to Saleha village in Chhattisgarh, came to Ajmer district two years ago along with his family to work in Vishwakrama brick kiln on Ladpura village road, 25 km from Ajmer city. He and his wife work in the brick kiln. The couple live in a brick house next to the kiln.
Together, the couple make 900-1000 bricks a day for which they are paid Rs.160 and a weekly allowance of Rs. 300. When asked why they came all the way from Chhattisgarh, he narrated the struggles and hardships they faced back home.
“Although there are many factories and industries in Chhattisgarh where we can work, but I did not because I had to raise money to pay the lawyer fighting our case land dispute case in the court. If I had stayed back in my village or got a job nearby, I would have been forced to borrow money. No one would have lent money and I would have had to borrow from a moneylender at a high interest rate as I did for my marriage. I did this with great difficulty and it took me years to repay.”
Dilip has two brothers, but with both of them away and not supporting the family, he looked after his aging mother. His father passed away sometime back. In 2011 his mother fell sick and he had to borrow Rs 50,000 for her treatment, which again took him years to repay, and with great difficulty. He also recalls, with a heavy heart, how he had to borrow Rs 80,000 for performing the last rites and rituals of his father. He had borrowed the money from a private moneylender at a high interest rate. He said he had to do this to fulfil his duty as a son and to ensure acceptability in society.
Since there were no schools near the brick kiln, he sent his two children back to the village to live with their grandmother. Just as they were trying to rebuild their lives, the recent lockdown has dashed their hopes for a better future. The lockdown has come as a rude shock to him and his wife. He was not aware of the gravity of the situation and was completely unprepared for this nearly 5 weeks lockdown.
He said that he has not received any help from the government as yet, and as far as he knows there are no schemes for migrant workers in Rajasthan. He has no expectations from the government. He said the brick kiln owner is arranging food for the families residing there, but will deduct the money spent on food from the wages once the lockdown is withdrawn. It is also not clear when the brick kiln will open, if the lockdown extends till June end because all work at the kiln stops during monsoon. He is still in a dilemma about whether to stay back or return to his village. Either way, the scenario looks bleak. There are more than 50 such families and all of them feel shaky and unsure of what the future has in store.
When we assured him that we would support him and other families with a month’s grocery and hygiene kit, he was relieved and looked forward to building strong connections with us.
Community platforms and Help-desk members creating awareness on COVID-19.
A group of 12 Mahila Aarogya Samiti (MAS) members and volunteers of Nagfani decided to prepare IEC on creating awareness on COVID-19. They decided that visual IEC is more effective as its impact lasts longer. The colours and charts were arranged by the two anganwadi workers of the area.
The group members involved ASHA workers and discussed the advisories issued by the State Health Department and accordingly prepared the posters in simplified language.
Further, they decided to display the posters at the places where people could see these easily. The poster were displayed with support of frontline workers at 12 prominent places as food distribution points, ration shops, dispensary and corners of the streets.
Supporting through making masks
Members of the MAS of Gurjar Dharti, Anganwadi II found a way to support the community by making masks, for which they collected material including old cloth, and thread from nearby houses and made 500 masks and distributed free of cost with support of ASHAs and reached out to old people and people with disability as first priority.
Practicing safe hand washing techniques
Hemlata, ASHA worker of Ward 34, demonstrated hand washing techniques to Pushpa, Munni, Naurati and Kamlesh, the MAS members and in turn they trained other people in the settlement about hand washing technique. All 250-300 families are now following the hand washing practices with dedicated place assigned in the house so that it becomes a habit.