Migrant workers and their families leave New Delhi for their villages during the government-imposed nationwide lockdown. Photo: AFP/Bhuvan Bagga

Famous media personality Oprah Winfrey is believed to have once said, “Helping others is the way we help ourselves.”

In today’s time of never-ending challenges, perception matters a good deal: Do we look at the flip side or the flop side of the way everything has been upheaved? Our lifestyles, our mindsets, our approaches … the list goes on.

There always remain two choices: the ability to change, and the ability to accept. Either one chooses to bury oneself under layers of self-pity, lamenting the change thrown at one; or, one stands up, brushes the regrets off, and extends a hand to help and change. 

Geeta Seshamani, assistant professor of English language at Delhi University, has been running Friendicoes SECA (Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals) for around 40 years. The gritty lady leads the organization, along with Amanda Seth, fondly known as Mandy, with relentless effort and steely determination.

Their team of doctors and medical staff work day in and day out, serving those who don’t share our language and can’t stand up for their own rights. Countless complex and simple surgeries, critical medical care, and support services, even in these times, are what keeps the team at Friendicoes on their toes.

“Today’s times are challenging, to say the very least,” Seshamani said. “We have to face a fresh bunch of challenges, each day: logistics, staff, food supplies, medicines, and the list never ends. What keeps us going is the fact that we make a difference to a helpless soul….

“Thankfully, people come forward and help, in cash or kind, or through volunteering, but there is so much more that needs to be done.” The pick-ups, consultations and treatments carry on uninterrupted at the hospital. 

Delhi-based non-governmental organization Goonj, since its inception in 1999, has been doing disaster relief and rehabilitation work all across India by engaging the urban and rural masses and organizations. Beyond disasters, it channels urban surplus as a tool to mobilize and motivate rural masses to evolve solutions for their own challenges, with dignity. 

The current challenging situation has set Goonj to intensify its urban and rural network of teams, volunteers and partner organizations, across India. Meenakshi Gupta, co-founder of Goonj, said: “Right now, we are trying to ensure immediate, localized relief to people stranded in cities and villages, or who are walking across India. Our strength has been our work with rural communities across 25 states. We are gearing up to reach out to rural [and] slum families with family kits, [consisting] of largely ration and personal care material.

“With long-term, large impacts on rural family income, we will be working to support rural/local livelihood in geographies known for migration.”

However, Gupta reiterates that given the unprecedented nature and scale of the pandemic, strategies will have to be fine-tuned. 

Geeta Dharmarajan is the founder of Katha. Started in 1988, Katha’s work spans the literacy-to-literature continuum. By seamlessly connecting grassroots work in education and urban resurgence, Katha brings children living in poverty into reading and quality education.

Keeping in mind the current challenges, Katha has been undertaking a number of measures: from food distribution to securing basic awareness on health and hygiene, no stone is being left unturned.

Just recently, girls from the Katha School of Entrepreneurship took up the task of making face masks, with the help of a sample provided to them, a sewing machine in the sanctity of their home, and good quality cloth received earlier-on from exporters; their aim: to make 1,000 masks for the communities that need them the most.

Dharmarajan said: “In these times of challenge, we must all get together and creatively, innovatively and strategically help as much as is possible. I am happy to inform that we have created an e-book titled The Mystery of the Missing Soap. This unique e-book is an amalgamation of creativity and purpose, serving an important cause: It aims to encourage our children to understand, in their language, the essentials of hygiene and health, necessary to overcome the current challenges.” 

The e-book is currently available in English, Hindi and Tamil. The Marathi and Assamese versions will be available in due course. It can be read for free here.

Dharmarajan added: “The e-book serves as an exciting one-stop guide for children to know how to protect themselves from the pandemic, as it is filled with interesting facts and do’s and don’ts that children should follow. The idea is to reach out to everyone, including children from low-income communities, and hence, anybody can read the book for free. All they need is an Internet connection or a smartphone, laptop, [or] any other device that supports an Internet connection. Our objective is to protect our children from this pandemic, as much as is possible, and awareness is crucial for the same.”

Pooja Murada, director of communications at the Sehgal Foundation, which has a community radio station called Alfwaz-E-Mewat, said: “Community radios are one such forgotten army that silently keep working among their community/geography. They are the proven media to bridge the information divide especially in areas which have limited availability of other mediums. 

Community Radio Alfaz-e-Mewat broadcast its first awareness message on Covid-19 on February 6 by airing an address by a senior medical officer. Since then, the battle against the coronavirus is on in our daily broadcast. 

“The station brings information from the local authorities, experts to its listeners, music, jingles keep the entertainment level high while giving the reminders, and special campaigns continue to engage and motivate people so the defined rules to safeguard everyone from the pandemic is followed.”

Sarah Berry

Sarah Berry is head of communications, Centre for The Digital Future, based in Haryana, India. She is also outreach adviser for the organization.