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#StoriesFromTheField | Three Years, Many Stories

By Anupama K., for #COVIDActionCollab

May 16, 2022

“When I joined Disha Mahila Bahuddeshiya Sanstha (DMBS), I had completely different plans for myself. I wanted to start my own business. However, working for the community members has been a truly rewarding experience, and my work has enabled someone to leave sex work. Now, I only want to do more for the community members I work with”, says Akash Ahire, who works with DMBS, a partner organization of #COVIDActionCollab. 

Akash lives with his mother and two brothers, who are very supportive of his work. He joined Nashik-based DMBS three years ago. At DMBS, he is responsible for a range of work that includes organizing health camps, vaccination drives, social protection-related activities, managing livelihood programmes and helping the beneficiaries with financial security.

“Here, my mornings start with figuring out the plan for the day. On some days, it might be vaccination work, on others, along with my team, I leave for groundwork. In the field, we overview our social protection activities and at times, we have several meetings to attend. In the office, I am engaged in creating program reports or updating the progress of the work so far. No matter what the office hours are, we are working for our beneficiaries round the clock,” he shared.

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Protect 10 million most marginalized people from COVID-19

Swasti is actively partnering with grassroot organizations, coalitions of marginalized communities, community institutions, community health workers and champions as first responders; collaboratives like the #COVIDActionCollab, factories and others to reach the last mile on COVID risk assessment, Vaccine demand generation, Social Protection helpdesk & the Meal Box.

CAC’s role in supporting social protection 

Akash is one of the many individuals associated with #COVIDActionCollab in taking our vision a step forward. We work closely with our partner organisations such as DMBS on the ground to ensure that support reaches each and everyone who deserves it. With the support of CAC and Swasthi, DMBS has been enabling many beneficiaries under social protection. In order to make the women sex workers eligible for receiving the vaccination, special camps have been set up for those who did not have Aadhaar cards. Last month, a special camp was organised for those who wanted to create ration cards, voters ID and pan cards. “When it comes to government schemes meant for our beneficiaries, we even approach the bank officials directly to ensure that the community members face no difficulty in submitting their applications or any other documentation-related work. This has encouraged many to approach banks without hesitation to claim their rights,” shared Akash.

In terms of creating livelihood opportunities for our beneficiaries, CAC along with DMBS work with small vendors, focusing on income generation. Over 40 women sex workers received training for a beauty parlour course and some of them from the batch are now actively engaged in managing their own businesses. Some women underwent training in jewellery making courses and this led to the opening of a store named Bhadrakali Collections in Nashik. Over 100 women learned tailoring from a tailoring course. “Even though it was just a basic course, the women have started to earn after putting the training to use. We were able to do this as we are partnered with Jan Shikshan Sansthan, an initiative by the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship. We convey our requirements to them and they design the course for us,” Akash said. 

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic that brought the world to a standstill changed several things for Akash as well. “In the initial days of the pandemic, everyone in the organisation was scared to go to the field. All our work was being done either via phone or online. But the community members were really struggling during this period,” he shared. The migrant women DMBS worked with, who were staying in the brothels were out of jobs and they were being asked to leave the brothels. “However, support was pouring in for these women in the form of ration kits, food and financial assistance, and we had to ensure that it reached them promptly,” recollects Akash. CAC played a crucial role in preparing these ground staff to engage with the community members during this period without getting exposed to the disease. This was achieved through numerous virtual meetings and awareness through digital tools. With the collective efforts put in by CAC, Swasthi and DMBS, the women received financial assistance, vaccination, and medicines. 

Prior to the pandemic, the women were undergoing several vocational skill training classes. Even though the classes were affected due to the lockdown, some of the women productively utilised the knowledge they gained from these courses and they are engaged in managing their own ventures now. “This has helped create a certain amount of confidence in these women as they have realised that it’s possible for them to earn an income from an alternate field of work other than sex work. I am really grateful that I have been able to witness such a change in someone’s life”, Aksha shared fondly.

Way forward

“The last year has been about focusing more on creating livelihood opportunities for our beneficiaries on the field with the support of CAC. We have achieved our vaccination target, which is 10,000+ so far and the team aims to target 6,500 beneficiaries more this year. The next thing would be preparing children for the vaccination”, Akash shared. It is through these vaccination drives, we were able to ensure that more community members got the vaccination. For example, when one woman attends our vaccination camps, she would bring her husband, sister, relatives and friends along with her and this has helped us cover more people. The team is also trying to get funding for the members of the community to start their own businesses and we are looking for opportunities to market these businesses. 

The change

According to Akash, change has remained constant in the last three years. “Earlier, we had to struggle a bit with initiating these programs. Now our work speaks for itself. The community members we work with have accepted us, forming partnerships is easier, being recognised for the work we do helps us in supporting the community members with funding and the role played by CAC and Swasthi in this has been instrumental”, Akash said. 

“Furthermore, the bond I share with these women sex workers is incredible and it is not something that can be broken overnight. I have witnessed the change our collective efforts can bring in the lives of people who belong to vulnerable communities. Ab jo bhi mujhe karna hai, idhar hi karna hai (Now, whatever I do, I want to do it here),” Akash added. 

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COVIDActionCollab is not merely an aggregation of partners, but is an aggregation of capacities, through which we have developed key high impact initiatives. We have drawn upon our one year’s experience at CAC and engagement with our large constituency of partners to put together a menu of initiatives for funders/investors to support which will save lives and livelihoods, and enable vulnerable communities to 'bounce forward’. Support these initiatives to build resilient communities