How women in India are helping those most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic | ActionAid UK

Sarika Sinha

Director of Policy Campaigns and Communications, ActionAid India

ActionAid’s Sarika Sinha discusses the incredible work by volunteers and women survivors of violence, getting food and vital aid to vulnerable people in the city of Bhopal, India during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarika is playing a key role in helping vulnerable people in Bhopal, India during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarika is playing a key role in helping vulnerable people in Bhopal, India during the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought so much disruption to so many. All over the world, people are having to shift their priorities, to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, to step up and be brave.

Bhopal, the city in India where I live and work, is no exception.

As ActionAid India's Director of Policy, Campaigns and Communications operating from Bhopal, I have seen our staff and volunteers become extremely resourceful as we expand our services and try to protect the most vulnerable in our society from this terrible disease.

One of our key initiatives here is a centre, established in 2014 as a joint venture with the government, that offers support to women who have survived violence. From emotional support to legal assistance and economic rehabilitation, we have helped more than 30,000 women recover from trauma and begin new chapters in their lives.

How the coronavirus pandemic has changed the centre and our lives

The name of our women’s centre is Gauravi, which means ‘brave heart.’ In recent months, during the coronavirus outbreak, this name has taken on a whole new meaning.

As I write this, there are a dozen women, each one trained by us to drive an electric rickshaw, who are out delivering vital supplies and emergency aid to vulnerable people in our city. They are using these vehicles – originally intended as an eco-friendly source of livelihood – to bring vital food, hygiene supplies and other essentials to those who are vulnerable and especially at risk, including sex workers, transgender communities, Muslim minorities and homeless people.

Talat, a survivor of domestic abuse, was supported by the Gauravi Centre and is now part of ActionAid India’s Covid-19 response. She has been using her rickshaw to deliver food to vulnerable people in Bhopal, India.

These fearless women are taking our ‘brave heart’ ethos to a whole new level

As the coronavirus pandemic has entered our community, the Gauravi Centre has become a vital hub for providing support to people and families affected by the virus and the lockdown. At the same time, we are also carrying on our important work for local women whose lives have been shattered by violence and abuse.

Nobody is getting paid for this work. They’re not doing it for money; like so many people all around the world, they’re helping because they care, because they want to do something. It’s very inspiring to see

To aid us in our virus response, we’ve teamed up with about 18 different groups and organisations in the area, including community kitchens and shelters. With all of these amazing people working together, around the clock, we’ve been able to distribute food packets and dry rations every day to the most excluded people.

Nobody is getting paid for this work. They’re not doing it for money; like so many people all around the world, they’re helping because they care, because they want to do something. It’s very inspiring to see.''

Volunteers at the Gauravi Centre packing the food to be delivered. On some days they are distributing over 7,000 ration kits to families in need.

Of course there have been shortages. Like other places, we worry about running out of PPE, which is so vital for keeping our volunteers safe. There was one period when Bhopal’s entire health department was affected because they are frontline defenders. We had around 90 people getting infected in one go.

At that time the authorities made the lockdown very strict – for about a week, my family had very little food in the house, and had to eat less each day to make our supplies go further.

Running the Gauravi Centre under the lockdown

I also fell ill at the start of April with a very high temperature and blood pressure, a cough, and the loss of my sense of taste and smell. I had to be quarantined at home for several weeks, and so I would spend many hours every day on the phone helping to co-ordinate our work.

I am feeling better now and have tested negative for Covid-19. My life still feels very topsy-turvy and I work from early in the morning to late at night.

I am not the only one who does so! Our amazing team of volunteers and ActionAid staff members are doing this, and no one complains. I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported ActionAid, enabling us not only to work with women and girls in Bhopal but to mount this immense operation that is saving lives around the city.

I derive a lot of strength from what’s happening thanks in part to the generosity of ActionAid supporters. These stories of people getting rations, of our volunteers being out there and getting stuff done - they give me hope.

I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported ActionAid, enabling us not only to work with women and girls in Bhopal but to mount this immense operation that is saving lives around the city.'

How you can help

ActionAid is on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis helping to stop the spread and save lives as the pandemic hits the world’s poorest countries.

From Italy to India, Liberia to Kenya, local ActionAid-supported women’s groups are distributing life-saving advice, health information and hygiene kits to vulnerable communities.

We are also distributing food packages and essential supplies, working to stop violence before it happens, and provide support to women and girls who are affected. Please donate now to help us reach people in urgent need.

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