The plight of India’s informal sector of migrant labor and daily wagers has been a harrowing tale in all the news around COVID19. They were set adrift with no source of income and turned out of their rented shanties. With nowhere to go and completely immobile due to lack of transportation as a result of the lockdown, these workers started walking back to their villages sometimes hundreds of miles away. Action plans, drawn up in response to the pandemic, did not feature this group. It was an eye opener for those in the comfort of their homes, getting provisions online, and watching the news on television.
EkTara was excitedly moving into a new chapter wherein our primary and secondary classes were to shift to new state-of-the-art premises in June. However with the onset of the Pandemic, we closed operations from March 20. The welfare of our children and their families came first. Families were going hungry and could not comprehend the seriousness of the situation. For people in communities living in such close quarters, the concept of social distancing was alien, let alone the need to stay indoors and wear a mask.
Our beneficiary families depend on daily wages of one member earning on piece rate seasonal work. They hurtle from one crisis to another, juggling meagre income for umpteen demands and no savings. They live on the fringes of society, in communities riddled with crime. The anxiety of being forced to stay home and being unemployed has seen rising cases of abuse and domestic violence.
There is serious concern for the virus spread with families crowded in one room tenements exposing their abject vulnerability.
EkTara pivoted immediately to respond to the crisis. In less than a week we devised a 3-month plan to address the needs of our 900 children and their families (~5000 individuals) living in eastern India’s largest slum. They view EkTara as a secure haven where they can engage in different activities and have access to daily hot meals and healthcare. Having nurtured them so far, we did not wish to start reinventing post the lockdown.
Kits were prepared with monthly food supply for families of 5 to 7 people. They contained notebooks, workbooks, stationery for children so that education was not hampered. We included hygiene kits of soaps, washable sanitary napkins and masks. In addition, we also served 10,000 cooked meals in other neighbourhoods with similar issues.
The family may struggle to find food, but almost all have a smart phone! Around 35 teachers connect daily with all students in groups via phone calls giving assignments, reviewing homework. We have partnered with Qatar based Education Above All, for adaptable project based learning modules which has been working effectively.
Working from home and sometimes late into the night with poor internet, we put together solutions for finding large quantity supplies, getting delivery during restricted transport movements, arranging community staff – girls to make masks and cotton bags, boys to pack and distribute the essentials. Students and families were tracked, numbers listed, and collated while our main database was in the office computer. The biggest achievement was the ability to respond to an emergency and not leave our children and their families in the lurch.
The move to the new EkTara location has been put on hold, as our expansion plans will have to wait until after COVID19. EkTara team is already brainstorming on reorganizing systems of delivery and leaner operations, getting back to normal once the situation improves, and picking up where we left off.
COVID 19 has reinforced our conviction that EkTara’s approach is the correct one. All of that which is flashing across our televisions daily, highlights many times that there is no substitute for education and skills building. While there is no dearth of well-intentioned government plans, there are many capacity related gaps in the efforts. That is where organizations like EkTara come in. Our belief that India’s poorest urban communities can, and will, thrive once its girls become empowered and drive change has never been stronger.
In true Nation Building, everyone needs to be taken along and given equal opportunities to access quality development tools that are available. That is our forte, trying to give a level playing field for those girls, who are traditionally pushed into the background. It is a long difficult road in these trying times and EkTara is not disheartened, but does need all the help it can get from its well wishers.
For more information, please check out EkTara at: http://www.ektara.org.in/
Contact number: Shuvasree Biswas at +91 8017214413
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
With a strong commitment to creating educated youths, from first generational learners, Vinita Saraf has designed high quality, cost effective and comprehensive services for the community using an eclectic approach tailored to the unique needs of every individual.
With a BSc Honors in Geography from Calcutta University, a Degree in Interior Design from Sheffield School of Design, New York, a Degree in both Spanish and German, she started her career as an Interior Designer and continued her passion for travel. She started Ek Tara in 2011 with her cofounder and childhood friend Namrata Sureka, and with their relentless efforts and dedication, they are proving that relevant education reform is the single most important driver of all-round social and economic development.