“Those who were able to have two meals a day earlier, now can afford only one”

October 23, 2021

Jai Odisha volunteer spreading awareness on vaccinations and addressing the doubts of the vulnerable people.


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.

Fear versus vaccine 

While many people have taken  the vaccine shot, a lot of people are hesitant. It is common for people to think it will cause deaths or will lead to side effects. Many, especially the elderly, do not know what a vaccine is and its functions. “We try to explain and counsel them. We need to be very careful with the language. We got the training from CAC (Covid Action Collaborative) on what to tell them. A lot of people even argue with us, and say that their immune system is very strong. They don’t need vaccines. People also say that they don’t trust the government’s vaccines,” Sonali from Jai Odisha gives a glimpse of the hurdles of getting people vaccinated in Bhubaneshwar and adjacent suburbs. 


Peer learning and influence has been seen to be most effective in fighting vaccine hesitancy. The volunteers of Jai Odisha going door to door to counseling for covid-19 vaccine also find a huge challenge in accessing and the availability of the vaccines. Binit Agarwal, secretary of Jai Odisha, elaborates on the problem further, “The government prefers people to be registered on the app and have booked an appointment. Do you think someone from the lower income group, living in the slums, is educated enough to register on an app?” The volunteers are helping with the registration when they go to counsel people and address the doubts they have on vaccines or the myths which have made them vaccine adverse. However, there is a huge challenge in registering everyone. “In the 18-45 age group, slots aren’t available for online registration. So people are just frustrated trying. We have given them our numbers, so that in case we get to know of slots, we will let you know,” explains Itashri, a member of the Jai Odisha team.

“Even the government needs helping hands, the pandemic can’t be fought alone”

Binit, secretary of Jai Odisha, reflects on how there has been higher acceptance of social organization by the government to do a lot of the on ground work needed during the pandemic. “There were already more requests from the government in the past 2-3 years to get involved but the pandemic has opened all doors of cooperation from everyone. We are getting permission within an hour if we approach them with any proposal, like we did during the cyclone. The effect of the cyclone during the pandemic is unimaginable. The people in the government also want to do good, however, there are norms and regulations which are often more difficult for them to navigate. They have started recognizing NGOs like Jai Odisha and their extension where required,” says Binit.

Jai Odisha has been particularly collaborating with the government to meet the oxygen cylinder crisis. They are trying to help the government by getting oxygen cylinders, filling them and transporting them. They are also in talks with the government to provide a seat in the tehsildar or the collector’s office for more concerted efforts to have a social protection helpdesk, so that the vulnerable communities can access the government schemes they are entitled to. This will help the vulnerable population get some support which they currently can’t access. 

However, there needs to be more coordinated efforts between the different levels of the government. In the larger vaccination-related drives, there is often lack of information at the ward level on how Jai Odisha is working to counsel people on hesitancy and with the permission of the State government and often create obstacles and prevents them from doing their job.

“We are in a war situation.” 

The second wave has a huge oxygen crisis and many people are succumbing to the deadly virus only because they are not getting the oxygen. Odisha is otherwise an oxygen surplus state and has large industrial oxygen units but the cylinders through which it can reach the patients are in hugely short supply. Binit says, “We buy cylinders, and that’s what we are requesting funds for. We rely on donations. We have 2 cylinders. There’s an industrial unit in Bhubaneswar. We use our personal vehicles to get it filled, and send it to the house of whoever needs it. We buy cylinders, and that’s what we are requesting funds for, even from CAC and all. We rely on donations. We have 2 cylinders. There’s an industrial unit in Bhubaneswar. We use our personal vehicles to get it filled, and send it to the house of whoever needs it.”

As all the focus went to assuage the Covid-19 attack on millions, those with other illnesses and healthcare needs often went unattended. The pregnant women were among those most affected and couldn’t access healthcare as they needed. “Earlier, the ASHA worker would accompany pregnant women for tests and even take them for delivery. These days they are also scared, they give excuses because they are also scared of catching the infection. They tell them to go on their own but many of these women can’t go and navigate on their own,” observes Sonali, member of the Jai Odisha team.

Similarly regular blood donation drives have been affected and many patients in need for transfusion in the hospital are struggling to get blood. Jai Odisha used to have regular blood donation camps and now has changed the way to continue the blood donation efforts but in a Covid safe way. 

Jai Odisha Volunteers also stepped forward to deliver medicines which many patients, and particularly the elderly were struggling to get. The regular delivery personnel of medicine shops were also skeptical, especially if they had to go to Covid affected places. “Whoever asks for anything, we just try our best and help them out.” says Binit. 

The Elderly

Many elderly in Bhubaneswar live alone as their children move to other cities with jobs. “There are also many families where the senior citizens are living with the family but during the second wave many of the younger members of the family got infected by the COvid-19 virus together, usually at the same time. To help them with their daily food requirements, Jai Odisha started the cooked meal program. They have been distributing 300 meals every day to such households in Bhubaneshwar and the suburbs. 

General food deliveries were badly affected and organizing the logistics was not easy as Binit explains, “Everybody has experienced deaths of friends and family in the second wave, so people are scared. And when people are scared, they have stopped venturing out. That’s where we are playing a big role by doing deliveries to home. We have a team of 35 volunteers who are still willing to step out and do their bit, even at the peril of their lives.” 

The ‘unspoken’ poverty

The “middle” and “lower middle” income groups have been hit by the pandemic in a way that is hardly being talked about. “Those who were able to have two meals a day, are not dependent on others too. People who have savings, they are relying on that. Like people who would earlier eat rice, dal and sabzi, now they only eat rice and boiled potatoes. They have minimized their basic meal a lot.” explains Itashri. She has been on the ground, working tirelessly to provide all possible support to those affected by Covid. Many people have started looking for new income opportunities, especially those who were earning minimum wages or on very low salaries. Even during peak lockdown people opened pop-up snack or tea and paan shops in front of their houses. They ran it for a couple of hours everyday hoping to not be caught. Many such small attempts of earning a livelihood often would unfortunately go against the lockdown norms and the police would levy heavy fines on them if caught. Some are retailing vegetables on their bicycle after getting them in small amounts from the regular vegetable vendors. “The government and everyone was struggling between keeping safe from Covid-19 and dealing with the financial crisis, especially for the common person,” Binit Agarwal reflects.

Missing more than just school

Children are all locked up in their homes these days. Online education has come as a solution but many don’t even have a smartphone or laptops, or even internet for their children to join the online classes. Education has almost shut down. In lower middle class families, they do not have smartphones, so they aren’t able to join online classes. They are just going through old books, relying on what their parents know,” says Itashri. In many cases, these are first generation learners who cannot get much help from their parents. 


Many children of the poorer sections of the society depended on the midday meal from the government schools for their nutrition. That one meal was their main source of sustenance everyday. They are being deprived of this extremely important nourishment now, vital to their growth. 

Covid Relief Work

Impact on women- increase in domestic violence: We have noticed that people who were addicted to alcohol, no availability of alcohol, they have ganja etc. There’s an increase in domestic violence. When there was no lockdown, men would go outside and only return at night. Now they are at home the entire day, there’s no money or alcohol, so they end up beating the wives.

Jai Odisha is working in Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack and Puri, with various vulnerable communities like transgender, urban poor, and poor women. Their work impacts the lives of approximately 3 lakh people. They have a large volunteer group of over 500 people of whom only 40-50 were actively available at any time during the pandemic, and most of their onground effort have been supported by donations from corporates and local businesses. They are a #CovidActionCollab partner.

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