India is on day 196 of lockdown, with COVID-19 cases surging to 6,835,655, resulting in 105,526 deaths. More than 65 million people in the country live in slums. Of the children who live in slums, 47 per cent are estimated to be malnourished, and many of them are uneducated and in high risk situations
Biju Thampy is the Founder of Vision Rescue, a ministry based in Mumbai that provides food, education, counselling and medical assistance to the Indians facing poverty, addiction and abuse. He is also the Senior Pastor of The Gateway Church in the same city.
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Eternity asked Biju to share what the experience of a pandemic has been like, working on the ground, in one of the world’s Coronavirus hotspots.
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Covid-19 hit India by the end of January, when students came back from Wuhan to our southern state of Kerala. But it was only in March that it hit us badly. Towards the end of March, our Prime Minister announced a lockdown which ended up becoming the world’s largest/longest lockdown.
The most affected as a result of this lockdown were the poor, especially the daily wage workers, and their numbers go in hundreds of millions. Since most of them don’t have any savings and their only source of income coming to a hard stop as a result of the lockdown, people began to go hungry. For the poor in India, the bigger worry was starvation, not the virus.
Migrant workers who had moved from the villages to the big cities began a huge exodus back to their villages. With no public transport available, they walked for days together with little children on their shoulders.
Being in Mumbai and working among people living in the slums, this reality was right in front of us. I heard about a whole family who committed suicide because the parents couldn’t bear the thought of seeing their kids die of starvation.
Migrant workers who had moved from the villages to the big cities began a huge exodus back to their villages. With no public transport available, they walked for days together with little children on their shoulders. Some never made it home. They died along the way.
Non profit organisations have begun to help. We can’t kill the virus, but we can stop people dying of starvation.
Vision Rescue distributed grocery kits to feed a family of five for 8-10 days. We started by helping 17 families in one of the slum communities we’re familiar with. But as we went in, we saw so many people who were on the verge of starvation.
Lockdown here has lasted 6 months. We have been able to supply grocery kits to over 14,000 families regularly and also help start six community kitchens in the slums. By the second week of September, by God’s grace and with the sacrificial giving of many people, we were able to distribute one million meals-worth of grocery kits and food packets.
Another group of people who are struggling are women in the red light districts. Obviously, with the lockdown their income came to a sudden stop. This is not the time to debate the ethics of their profession, but to go and feed them. We were able to work with our partner organisations and supply groceries to a lot of women in several red light districts of Mumbai.
We were not the only ones. There were several likeminded organisations who rose to the challenge and stepped up.
I am convinced that, more than any other time, education is the key. Those most affected by COVID are the poor. One of the main reasons for their poverty is illiteracy or lack of skills. This season has brought us to a much stronger resolve to continue to engage and sustain children in education. We want to start schools in small towns and villages of India bringing high quality education at an affordable cost. If we don’t build schools now, we will have to build jails later and dig a lot more graves much sooner than otherwise required.