When the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, a few friends got together online to discuss its potential impact on daily wagers and slum dwellers in Guwahati, Assam.
What began as a Facebook post discussing the need to build resilience in these communities soon turned into a WhatsApp group called ‘Call of Duty’, where these friends from school, college and working in local non-profits began brainstorming concrete measures they could take to help the underprivileged.
“During our discussions, the first thing that struck us was the plight of daily wage earners living in the city’s slums. Some of us were familiar with their living conditions through our prior engagement with these communities. What we decided to do was initiate a crowdfunding process that would help a few households in some of the city’s slum pockets,” says one volunteer, who wishes to remain anonymous, speaking to The Better India.
Starting with the Gandhi Basti area, they first identified 150 households, where the money (nearly Rs 2.5 lakh) raised from multiple crowdfunding initiatives raised by individual volunteers was used to develop a kit of essentials consisting of 5 kg of rice, 2 kg of potatoes, 1 kg daal, half a litre of mustard oil, one pack salt and a bar of soap.
With a team of 4 volunteers from the core team, 32 personnel from the Assam Police and CRPF, they served over 100 families. Going forward, this team believes that they will have to venture out a few more rounds to deliver more ration kits.
“No matter the situation, we can mobilise resources locally and can be of help to each other. As a community, we have the power to mobilize every possible resource. So, we did it. Ordinary citizens like you and I can help vulnerable communities build resilience in these hard times. But our donation drive was not just about going and distributing essentials. The drive also focused on sensitising families on the importance of hand washing, social distancing, the importance of the quarantine period and basic personal and public hygiene behaviour,” says another volunteer, who on March 29 distributed these essentials.
Besides volunteers and the police, local commercial establishments and residents stepped up to the plate in helping them deliver rations.
“Another major contributor to the drive was a family of four, that runs ‘Rudrani’ a humble departmental store at the Jatia, Kahilipara locality. In a time when major retail stores and supermarkets have raised white flags, this family slogged all day to mobilise and provide necessary grocery items at a subsidised rate. Moreover, there was another surprise element during our drive yesterday–two tempo drivers, who selflessly helped in packing all the 100 kits without any expectation of additional remuneration. They were equally alert and active during the entire drive, thereby rendering substantial support towards building resilience within these communities,” says the volunteer.
Nonetheless, there is still a massive requirement of support in terms of essential food items, medical assistance, social security and psychosocial support. “We have started with a small initiative of providing basic food items along with awareness to a small section of the community. But a lot is yet to be done,” he adds.
Support from the Assam Police
None of this work would have been possible without the active support of the Assam Police, which has facilitated the delivery of essentials.
“Our work facilitating the delivery of critical rations, food and medicines began immediately when the lockdown was declared. People soon started calling me up expressing their desire to help, and we began identifying locations where residents didn’t have enough food, medicines, rations or other essentials. Many NGOs, institutions, commercial establishments and the general public reached out to me expressing their desire to help. Since they had problems coming out during the lockdown, we helped organise the distribution of essentials. For example, we distributed dry rations to orphanages and old age homes as well. If required, our police officers are even paying from their own pocket and not waiting on anyone,” says Imdadul H Bora, DIG, the nodal officer coordinating relief efforts in the city.
In order to facilitate relief, SPU personnel have been deployed for helping those in need.
The first drive was conducted today, with Fancy Bazar Gurudwara & PISA.
If any Orgn wants our help to distribute essentials, they may contact Sh. Imdadul H Bora, IPS, DIG at 9435064500. pic.twitter.com/sA8WiuNkl7
— Assam Police (@assampolice) March 26, 2020
In fact, the Assam Police is also working with police forces in other cities to assist residents of the state working in different cities like Bengaluru or Hyderabad as daily wagers or factory employees stuck there, he adds. In areas like Gandhi Basti, however, the rations delivered are enough for a few more days, and more rounds of assistance will be required.
There are many other similar initiatives in the city and around Assam. If there are more organisations engaged in such charitable acts, please post them in the comments.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)