Thursday 23 April 2020
COVID-19 pandemic is not only taking the lives of people across the globe but also creating multiple vulnerabilities and threats in the life of millions, especially in a country like India. A prime reason for this is the lack of available options for livelihood, health, education, and security. The nation-wide lockdown has severely affected the lives of people, especially the daily wage earners, whether- those who work in the village or migrated labor force. Due to the lockdown situation, people from most marginalized communities are facing enormous challenges for survival—the options for earning money closed for these poorest of low-income families.
Gayatri Kumari, all of 17 years, of Kharsah village, in Sitamarhi district of Bihar, India, shared about the grave situation of her own family and the entire tola (hamlet) where she stays. There the people did not have sufficient food to eat. In her village, few families had no food to eat for two-three days. They were in dire need of any immediate help. Looking into the gravity of the situation, Gayatri decided to raise this issue with Save the Children's project team to find support for her community. She shared with the team how the ration through the Public Distribution System (PDS) was not being distributed in the villages post-January 2020. The team members guided Gaytri, and she called-up the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) member and local PDS dealers, but they did not turn up with any support. Instead, they informed her that ration would be distributed after the lockdown period gets over.
Gayatri is well-connected with each adolescent of her village, along with other stakeholders like teachers and health workers of the village. Being part of Save the Children's girl's group, she had all the information and knowledge of the existing platform where she could raise her grievances. Gayatri immediately shared the agony of her village with the project team, especially the partner staff of Save the Children. Due to the lockdown situation, it was also not possible for the project team members to visit the village, so the team connected over the phone with the local dealer, the block officials, and even with the district-level dealer of PDS, but all this had no outcome.
Gayatri then went on to contacted a local ward member, and with help, she prepared a list of 910 households of her village and shared the information with the team. Save the children and its local partner NGO partner CHRAM have a strong lobby with district administration, to the extent that they are part of the district social media groups formed by the district administration. They shared the problem on these social media platforms. But despite this, no fruitful result was achieved.
Understanding the gravity of the ground situation, the project team provided handholding support remotely to Gayatri in drafting the letter to the District Collector of Sitamarhi. She wrote a letter mentioning every detail and shared it with Save the Children's partner NGO. The letter was subsequently shared with the District Collector. The letter worked, and immediate actions trickle down. The very next day, government officials (Supply Inspector, Circle Officer, Pramukh, and Block Development Officer) arrived in the village to inspected the on-ground situation. All ration dealers were gathered, maintaining social distance, and the issues were discussed in front of the house of the Discussion Leader, Gayatri.
The Government officials were surprised to see that how a girl from a remote village could gather confidence to write a letter to the District Collector. When asked, she boldly answered that it is the life skills education training that she underwent, which gave her the necessary confidence to put forward her problem to the District Collector. The officials came into action, on April 14th 2020, the government officials distributed ration to most needy families, only 10 families got the ration. On April 15th, the distribution of ration was scheduled in batches of thirty families at one time to avoid the crowd.
In subsequent, during a video conference with Mr. Nitish Kumar, Hon. Chief Minister of Bihar, the District Collector, shared this story. He appreciated the courage and confidence of the little girl and also acknowledged the district administration's prompt action in reaching out to a community that was in acute distress.