- Spherule Foundation started COVID relief along with the lockdown in March
- The NGO has distributed 1.5 lakh ration kits as part of the COVID relief
- The team has distributed 1.85 lakh sanitary napkins in the last few months
New Delhi: “During one of our ration distribution drives in Pune, I met a woman, the sole bread-winner of a family of four. She lost her husband years ago and since then she has been working as a labourer to provide for her three children. During the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, she lost her job and the only source of income that would get her Rs. 400 per day. Since she knew tailoring, she started that but didn’t get much business. Unable to meet the basic needs of the family, the woman married off her daughter so that she has one less person to feed during COVID-19. Such was and is the state of people suffering during the pandemic”, recalled Carolene Mayagam, who volunteered at Spherule Foundation during the initial phase of COVID-19 in India. Spherule Foundation, a Pune based non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been carrying out relief work in the form of distribution of dry ration and hygiene kits since phase one of Coronavirus induced lockdown in March. When on the ground, the team also carries out COVID awareness sessions.
Over the past few months, the NGO has supported six lakh people in four states – Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana and Odisha. Talking to NDTV about their work, Geeta Bora, Founder and Director of the Spherule Foundation, informed that the relief work began from the day 2 of the lockdown. She said,
The phase one of lockdown was put in place from March 25 and soon we started getting calls from people saying, we didn’t know lockdown will be imposed and we don’t have many resources. Daily wagers live hand to mouth so they can’t stock ration. From the very next day, our volunteers were on board. We started a designated helpline number and a page on our website where anyone could call or apply for support. On the website, one can fill a form on the behalf of someone else as well like if you know someone who needs help, you can share his/her details and we will do the needful.
Initially, the team started with distributing cooked meals but soon they realised that cooked meals are best for people living on the streets or walking and travelling to their native place. However, daily wagers and migrant labourers need long-term solution so they started preparing ration kits that would sustain a family of four to five people for the duration of the lockdown.
The lockdown was announced for 21 days so the kit was prepared keeping in mind that timeline. When the lockdown was extended for 19 days, we distributed another round of kit. This process continued for months and so far, we have distributed around 1.5 lakh ration kits, explained Ms Bora.
Both ration kit and hygiene kit consisted of basic items; while ration kit had rice, pulses, wheat flour, oil, spices, salt, sugar, potatoes and onions, hygiene kit included masks, soaps, and sanitary napkins.
The NGO began the relief work from Pune and later expanded to other states including those where it didn’t have a volunteer base for example in Haryana. Explaining how the team used to provide ration without volunteers, Ms Mayagam, who also handled the helpline number for few months said,
We used to get calls from all across the country. I would take down the basic details like the number of family members, their source of income, if they have a ration card or not, so on and so forth. If the beneficiary was within our reach, we would go and deliver the ration, but if they would call from states like Haryana we would pay for their grocery and ration. I would ask them to go to the nearest grocery store, buy essentials like flour, oil and we would directly pay the shopkeeper.
For Spherule Foundation, one of the challenges was to identify the people in need and ensure everyone’s needs are met. Ms Bora believes that when the lockdown was announced, suddenly everything came to a halt and 90 per cent of the people living in slums, the focus area of the NGO, were in need. She added,
How do you identify that one family is not taking twice or thrice and hoarding. Someone would come to us and say, I am old, I cannot run behind a food distribution van, other people have an edge over me. The other person would say that I have young kids and I cannot leave them at home and stand in line for ration. We wanted equitable distribution therefore we devised a process wherein we first distribute coupons to a family and inform them that we will come on a particular day and time to give you ration. During distribution, we collect coupons.
In a community, before distributing ration, the team also conducts awareness sessions and educate people about COVID preventive and precautionary measures – how to wash hands, how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, how to access government helpline number, how to safely use public toilets and other things.
Through its helpline, Spherule Foundation also provided basic medical assistance. Explaining the same, Ms Bora said,
People living in slums often visit government hospitals for all kinds of diseases. Because of COVID-19, almost all government hospitals were converted into COVID-19 designated hospitals and these people didn’t have any other option so we would connect them to doctors.
Another volunteer, Harminder Kaur from Pune, informed that to ensure their own safety, the team would wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while working on the ground. Beneficiaries would often mistake them for doctors and start asking questions like, ‘I have a mild cough, is it COVID-19’, ‘can I eat so and so medicine’. Talking about her work on the ground and sharing an anecdote, Ms Kaur said,
When you connect with people, they open up about their problems and that’s when you understand them and feel proud about your work. I met a woman living with her 12-year-old granddaughter; the duo was completely dependent on their neighbours for their daily meals. Her daughter-in-law had left them; son lost his job during the Coronavirus pandemic and committed suicide. Therefore, the two were left to fend for themselves. Everyone was hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown so neighbours also had limited resources but despite that, the families were sharing whatever little they had.
Ms Bora has been vocal about menstrual hygiene. In fact, Spherule Foundation was born out of Ms Bora’s will to change the status of menstrual hygiene in India. For the same, in 2016, she left her well-paying job in the US and came back to India to create awareness about menstruation. Ms Bora kept her mission alive even during the pandemic and distributed sanitary napkins to women and girls.
People who eat hand to mouth never keep stock of sanitary napkins at home. I met people who told me that they have started using cloth piece as they don’t have money to put food on their table, how to buy pads. A woman told me that she has three daughters who are used to using sanitary pads. They would get it for free from their government school but now they are forced to switch to unhygienic and unsafe alternatives like cloth, said Ms Mayagam.
The team has distributed 1.85 lakh sanitary napkins in the last few months. Talking about how the team sustained the project financially, Ms Bora said that funds received under corporate social responsibility (CSR), donations, and crowd funding helped them.
Volunteers told NDTV that people often ask for a job as they feel that some or the other NGO will give them ration once or twice but how will they survive after that. Ms Bora also informed that the relief work is still on and in October the team supported 20,000 families. She expects people to be able to find jobs during the festive season and the number of beneficiaries to go down.
While signing off, Ms Bora shared her future plans and said,
We are training house helps, gardeners and others on how to maintain basic hygiene, wear a mask and wash hands so that people also feel comfortable to call them at home for work.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.