the contribution of NGOs During COVID 19 in india

Written by Arunima Tripathi and Chandni Ahuja

In the unprecedented situation that the year 2020 has thrown us all into, it will not be a misjudgement to say that as much as all of us are affected by it, there are certain sections of the society who have suffered and continue to suffer the major repercussions of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns. This included migrant labourers, people living with incomes Below Poverty Line, differently abled citizens, women, and people working in the unorganised sector.

The exponential rise in unemployment resulting in regular hunger, lack of essential items in underprivileged families, and a rise in the cases of domestic violence are all reflective of the multi-faced crisis that such groups are facing on a daily basis.

However, the collective conscience of the society has not completely failed the underprivileged and India saw a rise in the number of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in different states coming forth and providing relief materials to those affected by the lockdown. This led to a significantly large number of people getting access to basic essentials such as food, clothing, water, etc. on a daily basis to partly sail through the crisis the lockdown had thrown their way.

The level of collective impact was so profound  that the highest court of the land recognised the contribution made by the NGOs and individuals and remarked that they “deserve all the appreciation” for providing food, water and transport in this  “difficult time”. A  Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah said “Although it is the responsibility and duty of the States and Union Territories to take care of the needs of the migrant labourers, in this difficult time non-governmental organisations and individuals have also contributed and played an important role in extending a helping hand to the migrants,”. The bench further observed that “Non-governmental organisations coming forward to help the migrant workers and to fight the pandemic and extend help by providing food, water and transportation at their cost deserves all appreciation,”

Rahul Khatri handing over essentials kit to ice cream vendor in Delhi

Upholding the same spirit, Raindrops Foundation has been working day in and day out throughout the lockdown to provide essential items to those who need. The youth-run NGO actively provided relief to migrant labourers and differently abled in different parts of the country.

Starting from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, the home of the local coordinator of the Foundation was turned into a makeshift kitchen, where food was being cooked for over a hundred people daily. Priyam, the coordinator of Raindrops in Kanpur Dehat said, “Right from the moment the lockdown was announced, we knew that the migrant labourers in the city will be the worst hit. That’s why we started our food donation drives in the initial days of the lockdown covering slum clusters throughout the city.”

Gradually the relief efforts spread to Delhi where volunteers of the foundation stepped out to provide basic ration and medicines to the families of the affected. However, there were containment zones where the foundation’s relief team could not reach because of Governmental restrictions. In such areas what came to be really helpful was the system of direct delivery where in the donor’s money provided to the grocery stores of the areas led to the food being distributed effectively. This was beneficial in two ways; firstly, some donors are hesitant in donating cash to NGOs due to the scepticism of their donation reaching to the needy, but now they were completely assured that their money is going directly to the beneficiaries; and secondly, the foundation itself was assured that the people in need living in such inaccessible areas are adequately helped.

Governments of different states have their own policies to provide food and health care facilities to the under privileged state residents. However, those who faced greater trouble were the migrant labourers, who were not listed on the beneficiary lists of the state they migrated to.

Raindrops Foundation received several distress calls by migrants on their social media accounts, for which it set up a dedicated team to deal with such requests. Different volunteers were assigned tasks for identification, verification and delivery. One of the earliest requests on one such social media platform came from Ritu Jaiswal, a well-known activist-sarpanch of Singhwahini Panchayat in Bihar. She had tagged the NGO on a post detailing the problems faced by migrants from Sitamarhi.

They were quickly identified, and provided ration within 24 hours. Pranjal Singhal, who supervises the Covid relief campaign online, says, “To provide ration, we just need 3 things: the number of people, their address, and mobile number. As soon as a request for help comes, a member of our team contacts them, while another member arranges for the ration. Soon we provide ration to the needy family. A relaxed smile on their faces means everything to us.”

The number of people reached out as a part of the relief campaign increased from tens to hundreds and from hundreds to thousands. As of October 2020, 8,000 people have been provided with more than 1,000 kilos of relief material throughout the country due to the sincere efforts of the foundation. The beneficiaries not only included migrant and daily wage labourers, but also those who had lost their jobs, and persons with disabilities.

Meena (name changed) is a single mother from Delhi who lost her job at a major e-commerce portal during the lockdown. Raindrops Foundation not only provided her with 3 months of ration, but also arranged for her medicines. She later called up Rahul, the coordinator, to thank him saying that she would not have been able to survive the lockdown without the NGO’s contribution”.

Utmost sensitivity towards the health conditions of both the volunteers and beneficiaries were maintained  by regular circulars of precautions to be taken while going for drive and on coming back from a drive. The beneficiaries were also asked to stand in the chalk boxes drawn at every 6 metre. Rahul Khatri who leads the on-ground activities believes that it is extremely important to ensure the safety of volunteers as well as the beneficiaries as he says that “We can only help more people if we are all safe and sound. It is also a pleasure, when beneficiaries agree to cooperate, and observe social disturbances while standing in line.”

In some parts of the country, natural disasters were wreaking havoc along with COVID. In Bihar which was hit by floods in July-August, Raindrops Foundation reached out to 2,000 families who lost everything in the floods.

It was heartening to see the local youth volunteer for the cause enthusiastically despite the widespread concerns of their safety. The on-ground volunteers crossed risky terrains, including crossing flooded rivers in wooden boats, and carrying the relief items on their head as they crossed rivers.

At a time when the world was battling with a pandemic, such empathy and passion for community service was truly heartening and commendable. It is moments like these that help us restore faith in humanity and give a hope for better future.