Social distancing and self-quarantine have become paramount during this period of the pandemic. The less we go out the more we reduce our chances of contracting COVID-19 or enabling its spread. While the millennials are at an advantage due to their tech-savvy nature, many senior citizens have found it difficult to stay indoors without a means to essential goods or completing chores like paying bills.
Just like Ranjana Holkar, who now marvels at what her phone can do. Usually, the sexagenarian from Pune would use her smartphone only for calls and the occasional picture sharing with her friends and family. But to her amazement, the phone could also pay her monthly bills! All due to the efforts of Sneha Dhatrak, an engineering student who sits patiently with Ranjana and guides her through the process.
The only common thread between Sneha and Ranjana is their address. The Holkar couple lives in the same housing society as Sneha who has “adopted” 15 families in her vicinity during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Sneha is one among the 60,000 students of the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) who have adopted families in their living areas to extend all kinds of help during these tough times.
As of 24 April, 1,99,005 families are benefitting from this initiative. “And all in three weeks’ time,” says Dr Prabhakar Desai, the programme coordinator and director of NSS, SPPU.
“By simply connecting with 10 families in their neighbourhood, these students can collectively have a huge impact. Our neighbours are in just as much danger as us and so this initiative focuses on establishing connections with families and helping them,” he tells The Better India (TBI).
Pune: Putting up a Tough Fight against COVID-19
Maharashtra was one of the first to implement a statewide lockdown and in light of the skyrocketing cases in its cities, has put strict regulations on stepping out of homes. Travelling in vehicles without a pass, stepping out for anything other than essentials is punishable by fine or more.
Thus, initiatives like that of the National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers from SPPU can have a huge impact on the lives of the elderly.
“There’s always a police patrol van doing the rounds in our area. Although the grocery shops are open during the day, it’s always a good idea for one person to buy things in bulk for many rather than crowd the shops. So the 15 families I have registered under this initiative ask me to buy dairy products. Once a request is made, I ask the others if they need anything and purchase things together. In addition, I have also done phone and cable recharges for my neighbours,” Sneha tells TBI.
How the Initiative Works:
Following social distancing norms, volunteers get in touch with their immediate neighbours over a call or social media. They take note of the number of family members, working professionals, senior citizens etc. Those that are most vulnerable, like the elderly or people living alone, are prioritised.
Another Pune volunteer, Paritosh Bhosale shares, “Like most others, I too have adopted 10 families in my neighbourhood. Every family lives at a walking distance. Some of them are unlettered and are yet to fully grasp the gravity of COVID-19 and the lockdown. So I sit with them, explain the situation and inquire about their health every 2-3 days. Some are senior citizens who need medicines and others require groceries and I do everything in my capacity to help them out.”
As for funds, the university and the NSS provide financial backing to the volunteers. “The services are free of cost, of course, but if the students spend money on commuting, on food or any other logistics, we pay them back,” Desai shares.
Another volunteer, Pratik Gaikwad, who has adopted 10 families in Pune tells us, “While the families that I have registered haven’t really asked for any help, they did reach out to me to inform about five other families who needed groceries urgently. I have connected them with NGOs supplying such essentials and the goods are expected to be delivered in the next 1-2 days.”
Currently, the students are mainly working in Ahmednagar and Nashik, apart from Pune.
Services Provided by the Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik Students:
- The students buy groceries, medicines or other essentials for the beneficiaries.
- Pay utility bills online or take any such errands online (if need be, even providing technology education to the families)
- Around 19,000 of the students have signed up as “blood donation warriors”
- Desai tells TBI that so far, 7 lakh masks have been distributed. Some of these are hand-stitched and others are store-bought
- Students who are registered as police volunteers are adopting families that live far away. Commuting becomes easier for such students
- Students who may not be registered for the NSS are doing their bit by providing manpower to civic bodies and research organisations in making sanitiser and other such COVID-19 essentials
- Desai shares that they are currently developing an app which will provide GPS tracking to the NSS volunteers. “Much like the taxi apps the volunteers will be alerted of any request which they can choose to accept or decline it. So far, about 20-25,000 students are registered on the platform but work is still in progress,” he tells TBI.
Sneha, Pratik, Paritosh and thousands of others like them are taking the opportunity to help their neighbours during the crisis. These students have come as a wave of relief to the 1.9 lakh families under their wings who sleep easy at night knowing that help is always at hand.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)