Today we learned that India recorded yet another ‘record’ number of daily COVID cases – more than 400 000. It’s also very hot with temperatures over 40 degrees most days. There is little to be optimistic about. Some of our team and their family are sick. They say there’s a tangible sense of fear, anxiety and sometimes panic on the streets. We are worried for the children who come to our schools – the 380 kids we love and care for. We are concerned for their siblings, their parents and grandparents too. Every day they suffer because of poverty, and now it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
It will be worse if and when large numbers of people start to really get sick. Already there are reports in the city of Bijnor where my Charity "project Help India' works, that many people are dying. When you live in the slum there is no access to COVID testing and limited (if any) access to medical help. People are already being turned away from the local hospital…told to not come back “unless you can’t breathe or are dying.”
It’s especially confusing and scary for the children. With restrictions and longer curfew hours, many parents cannot work. Schools are closed. For kids school is their place of belonging where they are fed a healthy meal, where they are safe with their teachers who ensure for their learning and wellbeing The kids miss their friends along with the fun and games that distract them from the harsh realities of their circumstances. Slum kids are most vulnerable …they are at risk of malnutrition, illness and infections, physical and sexual abuse. They are at risk of trafficking too. It is well documented that during times of crisis, child predators strategically operate. So, for the children, Project Help India with our limited resources will try hard to;
- feed them and their family by providing cooked meals or ration packs
- keep them learning and keep them distracted with worksheets (and home visits if we are permitted)
- provide their community with COVID awareness
- direct them to medical assistance
- check in on their safety and emotional wellbeing
- provide counselling, advice and support, especially to teens and parents
- connect with them as much as possible, with messages of love and reassurance, and words of hope.
Our Disability Centre Kids
For the twelve students who attend our Disability Centre we identify these children as most at risk. Like beautiful Sadab. Consider what a precious soul she is, and how complex her life circumstances are;
12 year old Sadab lives in a slum community on the banks of the river bank in Kotdwara. Her father Mr Shamshuddin is also physically disabled. He has one hand, one leg and a lazy eye, and due to this he is paid a lot less than most. Sadab’s mother is a housewife. She has no time for paid work. Sadab has 8 siblings (5 sisters and 3 brothers). Her elder sister is extremely unwell and is bed ridden. The family struggle to support Sadab and her eldest sister financially as both of their medical fees are expensive. If there is a full COVID lock-down, their father will earn no income.
Sadab was born prematurely at just 7 months weighing only 1.5kgs. At the age of 2 her breathing stopped but doctors revived her. Up until 3 years old she was bed ridden and unable to sit or stand without the support of others. She began to walk at 5 years old. She is not able to speak, her voice is not audible and her family say she is “weak in the brain and cannot understand things easily.” They struggle to understand how to communicate with her like when she stood in the sun for several hours and her family could not get her back into the house without her screaming and crying.
Sadab’s community regard her as a curse upon her family and they feel ashamed of what others think. They wanted her to go to a good school but the schools would not admit her saying that they could not educate a “special child”. When Sadab started attending the Project Help Disabilty Centre her family told a Project help officer that;
“Project Help does hard work for us, something that not even the government is thinking for. Sadab loves to attend her classes and now there is a big change in their life. She knows how to clean herself and how to be behave.”
We know that Sadab’s behaviour was amongst other things, a reflection of not being able to express herself, and not ever having social experiences, or people beyond her family who value her. She is a beautiful girl, we love her and think that she is remarkable.
The scope and depth of our impact
During this time of crisis we are caring for our teachers, staff and their families too. This time last year, we saw how quickly drained and deflated they became. Our amazing team is busy planning coordinating and planning for many layers of contingency. There is so much to do but the heat makes for slow work as well as being susceptible to other viruses and fevers. Please pray that they stay safe and do not sick.
There are approximately 1200 families (6000 people) in the slum communities and villages who we work with. We fear the worse for how COVID might impact them over the coming days and weeks, but we are confident of this … In a society that regards the dalits (the untouchables) as the lowest of the low, we know these people. Every individual has a name. They will not be forgotten, no matter how isolated in lockdown they might become. They are valued and important to us.
We will do all we can to feed them so that they will not go hungry. We will keep track of the kids to try to keep them safe. We will check in with others who too are vulnerable and most susceptible to COVID, including the homeless and our friends, the beggars with leprosy. We will love them deeply and as relentlessly as God, trying not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead.
Friends in Australia and in other countries, our world is really not that big. Through Project Help India we are connected to these people. Their suffering is our suffering. Their story is our story. Many trust us and look to us for hope. Every day people knock on our office door asking for help.Your generous donations make a difference. Right now, our small steps are taken with an ever bigger imperative and purpose.
I will stay in touch with how you can continue to help the Project Help India COVID Emergency Crisis Appeal.
For now, we will all put on a brave face.