Children have found a way to channelize their energy by participating in Covid-19 rescue and relief work

In early April a tweeter user had put up a post saying that his children have given away all their savings towards Prime Minister Care Fund. A number of children have joined hands with citizen’s groups and NGOs to reach out to the communities who had lost their livelihood due the lockdown.

Covid19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has hit the lively spirit of children and young adults and they have been relegated to home. Many parents say that their children have become jittery and distressed. Lockdown has inspired some children and young adults to take to creative writing, whereas children from a slum in Oshiwara in suburban Mumbai have joined hands with an NGO wanting to reach out to the local communities for delivering food and other essential items. These children have also been providing technical support such as data pertaining to the number of households and their coordinates. The groups involved in relief work need localised assistance for identifying the impoverished families with little or no support.

A collage of pictures showing ration distribution done by Spark a Change ‘Spark a Change’ (SAC) a Mumbai based NGO conducting learning centres located in the slum areas of Juhu, Andheri-Lokhandwala, Irla and Oshiwara areas of Mumbai decided to respond to the communities they were active in. This 5-year-old NGO provides programmes aimed at bridging the learning gaps among school children from low income groups and conducts coaching classes in the slum areas mentioned above. SAC’s after-school programs revolve around meaningful education, building better comprehension of language and numerical concepts to inculcate a joy for learning. The NGO has been able to reach out to 500+ kids through their 5 SAC learning centres.

On March 16 SAC suspended all the activities at their learning centres to protect children from unwarranted exposure to the virus. Many of the NGO’s beneficiary children come from daily wage-earner background, the segment that was most affected by the lockdown. As the situation worsened, it became abundantly clear that the crisis was here to stay for a while.

The NGO decided to respond to the crisis as they believed it was their moral duty to stand by the families of all their children and ensure that their needs were met. For ensuring the food security of its students, their families and other children from the basti, the NGO decided to provide food and hygiene kits. While the discussion around the modalities of procurement and distribution of Ration and Hygiene Kits was going on, a group of students (aged 14-17) from the SAC Oshiwara centre voluntarily stepped in to offer distribution of the kits in their basti.

‘’It was a heart-warming moment of pride and validation for SAC. All programs at SAC, educational or otherwise, are primarily to mould them into socially conscious, empathetic future citizens of India’’, Shared Nirmala Venkatesan, Founder Trustee of SAC.

‘I feel quite happy that I was able to serve my basti. I got this opportunity only because of Nirmala Madam and her team’, shared 16-year-old Rakshak Prajapati who has just completed his 12th standard studies and he’s rearing to join senior college.

‘Nine of us from Oshiwara sat together and devised a plan of distribution. The SAC teachers are already doing so much for us, why burden them with an added responsibility, we thought. It has to be a shared duty isn’t it?’ adds 15-year-old Alam Siddiqui who attends the SAC afterschool class at Oshiwara.

‘We carry out this activity with full precaution and care. 40% of the rooms from our basti have been vacated as many daily wage earners, carpenters, painters, plumbers, auto rishaw and taxi drivers and construction workers lost their work and they left for their native place. Domestic helps were rendered jobless as the housing societies wouldn’t allow their entry. The families from our basti were finding it difficult to make ends meet. The help of SAC came at the critical moment. The packed ration kit contains rice, pulses, wheat flour, oil, masalas, sugar, milk powder and tea. The hygiene kit has hand sanitizer, soap, washing powder, phenyl among other items.

‘Our group members make an announcement by going door to door on the day of the delivery. They don’t enter any house; they just have to relay the message from outside. We also use WhatsApp to communicate the date and time of the distribution to the beneficiaries. We use one of the empty rooms for the distribution. The food and hygiene kits are laid out on a table. We don’t have to touch the pack with hands. People from the neighbourhood come to pick up, we just have to click a photograph of each of the delivery and send it to the NGO’, Rakshak details out the distribution programme.

‘All the7 boys and 2 girls of our group shoulder each and every responsibility of the distribution programme. Basti elders laud our work and give us lot of blessings’. Rashak, Alam and the rest of the group members at Oshiwara miss the educational tutorial of SAC and the vigour that they derive from it.

SAC’s efforts aimed at moulding the children into socially conscious, empathetic future citizens have borne fruit indeed.

Alka Gadgil, Maharashtra