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“What can be done to sustain the lives of the underserved?”

Indumathi S was one of many Covid Ninjas who registered with us to volunteer during the second wave. She shares her thoughts and experiences here.

Covid19 and the subsequent lockdowns have exacerbated the inequality and the poor have suffered the most. In March 2020, during the first Covid19 lockdown, the images of men, pregnant women and children walking miles and miles, crossing highways and rail roads, with the hope of reaching distant homes with no money or food was beamed into our homes. This is when I started volunteering by organising a few members from my apartment and handing over cooked food and packed bread and fruits to help the walking migrant labourers.

One question that returned to my mind time and again was, “What can be done to sustain the lives of the underserved? Though I am helping right now, what can I do to bring them out of poverty?”

Rations packed and ready to go.

I came to know about Indus Action’s efforts to support pregnant and lactating mothers with rations. They needed volunteers to call women and find out their status and what support they might need during the lockdown. Once I started volunteering with Indus Action, I called around 90 women over 10 days to find their status.

I still remember one incident clearly where the mother of a pregnant woman answered my call. When I informed her that I was doing a survey to find out the kind of support they required she did not hesitate and started sharing all the concerns and the family situation. During the 2020 lockdown most of the adults in the family had lost their jobs and since then they had been slipping into poverty. In 2020 their landlord was ready to offer some help and had waived off the rent, but was unable to do so again in 2021. They had been asking relatives for help or were taking small loans and making ends meet. Ration and nutritious food were difficult to access and they were managing with rice kanji and pickle mostly. She mentioned that ration or supply of groceries would be of great help and I assured her that we would supply rations.

I felt two things after our call: one, that I was there to listen to her and offer my time. Perhaps it brought some solace and hope that someone had reached out to her. The second was that the family need not worry or be concerned about food for some time.

The second wave of Covid presented a different crisis. My husband himself was affected and we had to wait for hours before we could find an ICU bed. The hospital scenario seemed highly chaotic; many patients were turned away. My husband recovered well; however, we would often have friends, relatives or distant cousins requesting to find a plasma donor or bed or help for Remdesivir and so on.

Having a first-hand experience and being in the situation of crisis myself, I started volunteering with Mercy Mission to help care takers or patients register with BBMP and find a bed.

There are two incidents that I recall. Once, a care taker called me at 7.30 in the night and informed me that he was not able to find a hospital bed. I called the BBMP and registered the details of the person. The care taker informed me that I was the only person who had picked up his call and none of the hospitals or BBMP personnel were responding to him. I said I would try my best and tagged my coordinator and requested her to follow up. The care taker started calling me every one hour and informing me the status of the Oxygen and to check if there was any breakthrough. He sounded hopeless as he had lost his distant relative just the day before as they had not been able to find a bed and give medical care. Finally, I got a call from BBMP around midnight that a bed had been allotted and I quickly called the care taker. I shared the details and he said that he would arrange for an ambulance and take the patient immediately to the hospital.

Though volunteering could have limited reach, it has a personal touch, as it helps to directly reach the beneficiary. One can touch lives. It gives a sense of satisfaction that they have contributed meaningfully.

I recently gave a bag of groceries to a family who have moved back to Bangalore on June 14th. The conversation started with ‘Can you help me find a job’? The woman shared her phone number and took mine and asked me if I could find a job for her as house help or gardening. I have been knocking on many doors and but have not been able to help her on this.

The question I started with — what can be done to sustain lives, remains unanswered yet.

About the author: Indumathi holds a Doctorate in Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is an independent researcher and consultant based in Bangalore. She has been working in the development sector for more than a decade now. She enjoys birdwatching and hiking.

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