The global crisis we are facing due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has induced a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty within us, but every dark cloud has a silver lining. Stories of solidarity and positivity from all over the world are becoming a ray of hope in these unprecedented times.
Beyond the stats and data of this pandemic are the actions of the people who are uniting to fight the ill-effects of it, actions that restore our faith in humanity and make us hopeful about the times to come. Few such stories are from Ananthapuramu, a chronic drought district of Andhra Pradesh in South India.
We have always worked in diverse development sectors but given the crisis we are facing, we are acting as a single unit and have put our resources together to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus in rural areas through:
1) Distribution of meals and basic provisions to migrants and jobless labourers,
3) Production of preventive materials like hand sanitisers and masks, and
4) Spreading awareness at the grassroots.
But at the heart of all the work we are doing is the will of the people to reach out to those who affected in whatever ways they can and that keeps encouraging us to do more.
Accounts of the exodus of migrants from all over the country desperately trying to find a way to their homes is hard-hitting. They are facing the harsher consequences of this lockdown, and to alleviate their situation, RDT has been distributing around 7,000 meals on a daily basis, but what’s heart-warming about this is that most of the provisions for these meals are being supplied by farmers, vikalangula sanghams (self-help groups of persons with disabilities), and people in the villages.
“We saw in the news that many migrants were left without food. We can’t cook in such large quantities for them, but through RDT, we are able to help them out by giving our yields,” says Narayana, one of the farmers who donated to the programme. The incoming food provisions were so large that RDT’s entire auditorium had to be converted into a storage room, and it made it possible for them to serve over 1,60,000 meals (from March 31 to April 28, 2020).
“RDT helped us when we were in need, when our land was dry and crops were not growing. When we saw in the news that many people had nothing to eat we decided to help. There was no doubt. It was our time to give back to the society,” explains Kullay Reddy, owner of 3.5 acres of land, from Papampalli village, a small village 28km from Ananthapuramu city.
Another initiative happening in the villages is the making of non-surgical, cotton cloth masks. Since March 25, Integrated Development Trust, an RDT partner organisation, has produced over 60,200 such masks with the help of over 35 artisans (all of them women with disabilities) and hundreds of volunteers and distributed it among COVID-19 frontline workers.
The demand has been so high that RDT started conducting tailoring workshops in over 223 villages across the regions that RDT works in for local tailors on how to make these face masks to ensure self-sufficiency in villages. Even the Chenchu women, an indigenous tribal community living in Srisailam region, joined in this project to ensure that they can protect themselves and their community.
“When the lockdown started we had almost no income, but thanks to the mask production we are working again and most importantly I am able to maintain my family expenses while contributing to the society,” says Obulamma, one of the local tailors who attended the workshop in Kalyandurg town.
“These trainings are not only about mask-making but also about the importance of wearing a mask, how to wear it, how to maintain it and about the importance of ensuring the quality standards,” explains Safia Begum, the main trainer. Over 3,07,000 masks have already been produced at the village level by 914 tailors. “10–15 people participate in each workshop, but the interesting thing is that after it they themselves train other people in the village,” she adds.
Giving birth can be a daunting challenge in these times, especially in the rural areas where there is an existing gap of adequate medical infrastructure. In the eighth month of her pregnancy, questions and uncertainty started looming over Renuka who was nervous about brining a baby into this world in these uncertain times.
However, on April 20, she delivered a healthy baby girl in the temporary Obstetrics Department set up in RDT’s Professional School of Languages since RDT Hospital in Bathalapalli was appointed an exclusive COVID-19 centre. What were once classrooms and offices, filled with students and books at this professional school are now occupied by medical equipment, pregnant women and new mothers accompanied by their families who feel more secure knowing the lockdown does no harm to their access to quality healthcare. Already 82 deliveries have been safely conducted in this temporary facility.
While the world grapples with this novel virus and it may seem too challenging for all of us, our comfort lies in supporting one another.
“Poor people know the struggles of other poor people. These farmers are helping us through RDT and that is a big thing,” says Ramdas, a physically-challenged man from the Shikari community in Anantapur. He used to go to the temples to request for food but due to the lockdown is now solely dependent on the food distribution programme for his daily meals.
Moncho Ferrer, the Programme Director of RDT remarks, “My father used to say that ‘Poverty is the greatest violation of human rights’ and we are witnessing the desperation of thousands who are facing the harsher consequences of the lockdown. Only through solidarity can we defeat the virus of COVID-19 and poverty.”