COVID Has Shaken The Lives Of The Marginalized In Every Way

Soumita Basu and Mansha Vij, #COVIDActionCollab

October 22, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Marginalized communities in urban areas have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic disproportionately. Be it access to healthcare or children’s education, or simply the stress of providing food to the community, those who were already vulnerable, have been finding it even more difficult to cope.

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  • A Bigger Fight For People living With HIV:

Last year has seen a downfall of health conditions for thousands. Even those who have not been infected by the COVID virus, have suffered tremendous on the health front. This pandemic, with the long phases of lockdowns and disrupted transport, has impacted access to healthcare for many, aggravating their condition. People living with HIV (PLHIV) is one such group. Given their lack of immunity, they are more at risk of COVID.

Child Survival India (CSI) has been working with the PLHIV community in Delhi and Punjab for a few years and all of their healthcare issues have been impacted. The COVID-19 pandemic forced HIV patients to stop their routine tests and visits to the hospitals, with no or limited access to medicines and other essentials. The ART (Antiretroviral therapy) centers dispersing these medicines were also not able to reach the patients. This is where CSI and the ART centers collaborated to ensure medicines reach the patients. CSI’s outreach team at Firozpur (Punjab) assisted PLHIV in getting movement passes so that they could access medical centers, and they also home delivered the medicines for the more vulnerable. “For the PLHIV community it’s been a huge struggle. Our outreach team at Firozpur worked with the government ART center and took the medicines from the center and home delivered to the patients,” explains Sheela Mann, Project Director at CSI.

  • A different COVID struggle for women:A young 34-year-old mother of five, Reshma, could hardly deal with the grief of losing her husband to Covid, as she had to struggle on basic survival of her children. She has never worked before, and her husband was the sole earner. Suddenly, the entire responsibility of raising all five children fell on her. Reshma needs beyond immediate relief and efforts to build long term resilience.Women have, in fact, been more affected by the pandemic than men in many ways. As men lost their jobs, and in many cases succumbed to the virus during the second wave, women dealt with challenges they had never faced before. Loss of jobs for their husbands meant that the women needed to rise to the occasion to fend for the family. “For women who lost the sole earning members of their family, it was very difficult as many of them have never stepped out of their homes and worked and now they had to fend for their families and to survive during the pandemic,” Sheela explains their plight. CSI is helping them with seed funds to start their own micro businesses and start to walk the road of being financially independent. Reshma, for example, started a small shop of bangles, cosmetics, and everyday household items, just at the front of her house. This helps her to earn as well as watch over her children.Lockdown was a protective measure against COVID-19 but it brought along a shadow pandemic of violence against women. Being confined with the perpetrator was most dangerous, as women become more and more isolated from people and resources who could otherwise help them. The lockdown made reporting violence even harder, including limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, and social services.CSI has been running a “Mahila Panchayat” program for a few years and during the lockdown the team of paralegal workers started doing follow up of their registered cases on the phone. This sent a message in the community and many more survivors of domestic violence approached us and we started helping them with necessary emotional support, counseling, guidance on how to deal with domestic violence during lockdown, as well as connecting them with the police if the situation demands.Death of their husbands is an even harsher reality where the women, along with losing their loved ones and their main sources of income, were suddenly confronted by a lonely world without any support to make ends meet.

    CSI realized that they needed special intervention, started creating a registry of these Women and children who have lost the sole earning member of their family. The first priority was to support their immediate survival needs with dry ration kits for the family & education kits for the children. For long-term resilience building, CSI is ensuring that they are linked to all the social welfare schemes. Many are not aware of the schemes they maybe eligible for and might even lack the necessary documents. Awareness is needed even more on newer schemes like the pension scheme for COVID widows and a scholarship for COVID orphans, both started by the Delhi government. CSI is helping in getting to complete all the necessary documentation like collecting death certificates, identification documents, etc.

    It is not the question of livelihood or survival alone, the general burden on women has increased as schools have been closed in the wake of the pandemic. Along with a need to navigate childcare, women also need to find ways to navigate the new mode of digital education for their children. Even medically, they were highly disadvantaged during the first and the second waves as many women were not able to avail basic medical facilities even after getting infected by COVID-19. The stigma around COVID-19 started increasing as people stopped visiting testing centers out of hesitation despite having COVID-19 symptoms.

  • Digital Inaccessibility Widened the learning gap in children: The closing of schools and aanganwadi centers amidst the COVID pandemic has denied children access to education. Children are trapped in the confined spaces of their homes and have no exposure to the outside world, which is making them dull and apathetic. This is especially worrisome for younger children, as their developmental needs don’t get the right environment. Municipal corporation schools conducted online classes and even sent worksheets on WhatsApp but families of the students here do not have access to smartphones or even afford mobile internet data. Thus their children could not attend online classes or complete their home assignments. The digital divide is problematic because it widens the opportunity gap for these marginalized children. To add to the challenges, many of them are first generation learners and their parents are usually from vulnerable communities likes migrants workers, construction workers, factory workers, domestic helps, rickshaw drivers, who were not just ill prepared to help them with school work, but were also often stretched to make ends meet. etc. To solve this, CSI identified some “Education Champions” from the community. These are students of senior classes and were willing to help children from the primary classes with their studies, supported by CSI with sanitizers, masks, blackboard, stationery, etc., starting the community-based Learning centers “Masti Ki Paathshalas”.CSI created mothers-groups of children and started sending demo activities and study materials for their kids to learn during the pandemic. There was particular stress on pre-school kids and activities using common household items were designed to keep them stimulated and engaged. Sheela explains, “Parents started realizing how staying at home was affecting the mental health of their children. We started providing them with training to engage their children in fun activities.”

  • COVID-19 – A Setback For The Poor:People and communities with lack of financial support went into abject poverty and have been facing hunger. The first lockdown saw migrant workers in urban areas returning to their rural homeland. The migrant crisis was one of the worst that India had ever seen. It resulted in major unemployment in the country, especially amongst vulnerable communities. The lockdown made it difficult for vulnerable communities to even access the social welfare schemes.The second wave of COVID-19 was more deadly, it saw issues related to health, along with a huge lack of beds and oxygen. At this time, CSI started a helpline called “Prayas” with the support of CHANCE Foundation (USA). The helpline worked as a helping hand with families and friends of COVID affected in identifying oxygen beds, ambulance, oxygen alternatives, references of medical stores to help find necessary medicines and injections and also the plasma donors. The helpline also supported people with free oxygen concentrators for people under home care, after doing due verification. There was an overwhelming number of 1200 people who called this helpline in just 3 months, not only from Delhi-NCR but also many other cities across the country. “Most of these slum households do not have a thermometer, leave alone an oximeter,” Sheela points out to the need of home care kits. CSI distributed home care and hygiene kits to vulnerable families, through CAC in partnership with corporates, and other government and non-government agencies in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.Sheela recalls some of the most grueling experiences during the second COVID-19 wave. “The second wave was very dangerous. People were very scared and we were also trying our best to help people through the pandemic. I have myself lost 3 family members in 6 days. I come from a place of privilege and accessibility. But if COVID-19 hit the privileged hard, the poor were hit the hardest.”The pandemic affected multiple facets of people’s lives – be it personal, professional, financial or social. The scale at which several vulnerable communities and groups needed assistance during the first and the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic made organizations like CSI continue with their relief operations. “It is important to remember the purpose of helping thousands of people with our means and resources. You might lose hope, but when you realize your power and privilege is best utilized when you give yourself a purpose to better the lives of hundreds of people.”

Child Survival India (CSI), a CAC partner, is a rights-based organization that aims to act as a facilitator for people to achieve their optimal potential and to prepare them to face life’s challenges with confidence and dignity. The organization has been at the forefront of helping the communities fight the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Started in Delhi in the year 1991, Child Survival India now has its footprints in 2 union territories and 8 states of the country and reaches out to around 2 lakh people directly every year. They primarily focus on women and adolescent girls and boys, along with people living with HIV.

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