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Sixteen-year-old Priyanka Rauth resides with her parents and grandmother in one of the most crowded slums of Kolkata city. Along with numerous other families, Priyanka’s family lives a life of hardship there. Most of people in the slum pocket re migrants who turned to the urban cities, searching for livelihood opportunities and eventually stayed back there.

In Priyanka’s family, the only earning member is her mother, who works as a cook in a church. The family lives in a small single-room shelter and uses a community toilet that 12-13 other neighbourhood families also use. With 4-5 members in each family, the toilet remains busy and unclean.

The family faced the worst when Priyanka’s mother, Rina Rauth (38) contracted COVID and was recommended home isolation. In a small, one-room shelter, even home isolation was not possible. The family decided to send Priyanka to her grandmother’s house in the same neighbourhood. This area is adjacent to one of the largest tanneries in the city. As a result, health hazards such as skin ailments and lung disease are quite common to the residents. The area lacks proper drainage systems and arrangements for water supplies. The residents of the area live amidst claustrophobic and dark interiors.

When the community members learnt that Priyanka’s mother had contracted COVID, they shunned the entire family. Priyanka’s family was not even allowed to use the common toilet. The neighbours complained to the local leader, who tried to calm them down by assuring that the family would take adequate preventive measures. Everyone in the community was living in fear of contracting the virus, which in turn made things extremely difficult for Priyanka’s family. While her family was coping with Covid at close quarters, they were also battling lack of support and social isolation.

“I was shattered when my neighbours started behaving differently with us, as they came to know of my mother’s COVID positive status! It was as if I am getting introduced to these people for the first time in life; although I know them since my childhood”, said a devastated Priyanka.

Priyanka’s mother was not able to continue work and this meant diminishing income. They could not buy essential food items, leave alone sanitisers or other protective gear. The only solace was that her mother received free medicines and additional help from the government hospital, but that was all.

“I was in disbelief that my neighbours could behave this way, I was worried about my daughter, Priyanka, who did not have food for at least one day as there was no support system, and I was also unable to cook due to fever and weakness. But my daughter was brave enough, with a smiling face, and by wearing the protective gear given by Bal Raksha Bharat, she gave me medicine on a timely basis,” said Rina, Priyanka’s mother.

Priyanka had her own struggles; with schools shut, confined to a one-room home with other family members, she found it hard to attend her classes online.

Priyanka opened up to Bal Raksha Bharat team about her ordeal. “I was pained to see my mother suffer both physically and emotionally. I was all alone and no one to support. It was difficult. Everyone in our neighbourhood turned away”, she said with a heavy heart.

Bal Raksha Bharat team members kept in constant touch with Priyanka and her mother over the phone. Our team helped them and the community understand more about the virus and helped them stay positive. Additionally, Bal Raksha Bharat provided handwashing liquid and sanitisers.

Sharmila, Bal Raksha Bharat Field Coordinator who was connected with Priyanka’s family said, “Home isolation is a long shot for those staying with families in a single room, in crowded settlements with poor hygiene and limited access to support services. We ensured counselling support to Priyanka through telephone and initiated advocacy meetings with the local administration to ensure COVID Appropriate Behaviour and testing in these communities. We had mobilised some local volunteers to ensure that Priyanka and her ailing mother receives food”.

Priyanka’s mother has now recovered and is back to her work at the church, but Priyanka has learned one key lesson that the right information and awareness are critical. If people in her community knew about the virus, prevention and care, her family would not have to deal with their hostile treatment.

Priyanka is the newly elected Prime Minister of the Child Cabinet of her area. She has resolved to spread awareness in her neighbourhood to remove the stigma around Covid, so others don’t suffer the way her mother did. She is committed to ensure that there is all the support and care available for those affected in her community. Using her mother’s cell phone, she is reaching out to all the children of her group and is sensitsing them about the virus and how to adopt COVID Appropriate Behaviour.

Bal Raksha Bharat has initiated a community-level sensitisation process by urging people to follow all COVID protocols even amid state-wide lockdown. We ensure that communities in our intervention area practise COVID Appropriate Behaviour and go for necessary testing and isolation. We are advocating with the local administration to provide easy availability of COVID drugs to those who are testing positive at home to ensure home isolation.

Further following our urge, the local administration has instructed for a community-based kitchen to serve nutritious food at doorsteps to all those who are becoming COVID positive. This would ensure home isolation and minimise the community spread of the virus. We are also advocating with state and local administration to ensure the availability of ambulance and oxygen-supported hospital beds for the critical patients in the community.

Children at the Centre of COVID’s Second Surge – Help #ProtectAMillion

As the Coronavirus tsunami sweeps cities and towns across India, the vulnerable children who already grappled with issues like lack of education and healthcare, compromised safety and abuse, are at a high risk of suffering even more. The pandemic threatens to reverse the gains made for children and jeopardizes their future gravely.

Bal Raksha Bharat is geared up to respond to this unprecedented emergency and will be reaching 1 million children and their communities. Our response will cover providing Oxygen Support, COVID Care Kits, Hygiene Kits, Food Baskets, Education Support, Livelihood Support and Psycho-social Counselling. We cannot do this alone. Help us reach those in real need by making a contribution. Please DONATE NOW.

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