As COVID-19 has escalated, so has uncertainty - inciting hunger, despair and the need for shelter. Quarantine centres are bubbling up everywhere similar to the numbers of the unemployed people across. The nationwide lockdown has gravely impacted the vulnerable and marginalized sections of the region who are acutely vulnerable and without any cushion to the livelihood risks.
While some are stranded in foreign areas distant from family members, some are deprived of basic supplies due to the clampdown. All in all, the entire population in the region is affected because of the pandemic. The conditions of a large section of the unorganized sector in the five districts (Bikaner, Churu, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur) of Rajasthan, have worsened even before the summer of 2020 truly begins.
Urmul network through its body organisations has made efforts to trace the major challenges in the region -
- A majority of the population are unaware of the intensity of the pandemic and its effects. In rural areas, rumours easily catch up with the population and create a sense of fear among the communities.
- With a huge population deprived of basic necessities, access to sanitization, health kits , face masks are rather far-fetched. Without proper awareness and access to these facilities, spread of the virus is imminent.
- Due to the immobilisation and clampdown on shops, flow of income has come to a halt. There is a huge population without accessibility to basic food and health related kits.
- The restriction on interstate and intrastate transportation has left a lot of family members stranded in foreign areas. Without a source of income, most of these people are helpless.
“The migrant labourers feel that they have been left in a lurch by their employers. They are unsure about how to fend for their families now. They are trying to travel on foot back to their homes. There are some young local boys who have become self-appointed police authorities and are misbehaving with these labourers from certain marginalised communities. We are all patiently trying to battle this. We cannot go back in old communal times. This misinformation around these communities needs to be actively corrected.” - Rameshwar Godara, Chief Executive, Urmul Setu Sansthan
Urmul network with assistance from its body organisations Urmul Trust, Urmul Setu Sansthan, Urmul Jyoti Sansthan, Urmul Seemant Samiti, Urmul Khejri and Urmul Desert Crafts located in different regions of Rajasthan has provided the communities with the essential services required during the nationwide lockdown. The Urmul team has initiated its response strategy around five categories -
- Awareness Generation
- Production and Distribution of Masks
- Dry ration and hygiene kits
- Migrant Labours,
- Quarantine Centres
Urmul has also taken up initiatives to tackle the pandemic through widespread awareness campaigns. We believe that the correct and timely information could help us fight this pandemic.
- In collaboration with Zilla Parishad, awareness campaigns through vehicles were conducted by Urmul Setu in Lunkaransar and Urmul Seemant Samitee in Bajju, Kolayat along with circulation of 2000 posters.
- URMUL Team has conducted awareness campaigns in 600 villages in Rajasthan to contain the spread of the virus prioritizing on safety measures.
- Urmul Teamhas conducted awareness campaigns in 14 villages of Jaisalmer district to contain this issue through awareness programmes prioritising on safety measures and transmission of the virus.
- In Barmer, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer districts continuous awareness discussions are being conducted with school authorities. These dialogues ensure that accurate information on the preventive and curative measures to be followed COVID-19 is conveyed to 5,533 girls enrolled in these schools.
Face Mask Production by our artisan network
In our efforts towards mitigating the spread of coronavirus, Urmul Desert Crafts team stepped forward to provide immediate support in Bajju. Urmul Desert Crafts has already been working to manage the current shortage of essential medical supplies by taking the help of their artisans to make cloth masks.
Our production unit has managed to produce 30,000 reusable cotton masks with the help of over 20 village artisans. These masks are being made at homes under strict hygienic guidelines and distributed to the community members, doctors, nurses, field staff, and village institutions at a no-profit costing. The team is working with government institutions and they are delivering it without failure. The unit also ensures following the safety mandates of social distancing and sanitisation during production as advised by government and health officials. The process was also aided by clean energy resources as the entire unit is run on solar energy which not only helped control the cost for production but also facilitated round the clock production.
In addition to Bajju, Urmul Desert Crafts has provided assistance even in the Pokhran region of Jaisalmer . Under HDFC Bank Parivartan’s Holistic Rural Development Program, Marugandha Project, the 119 women that have specialized in versatile craft techniques have decided to invest their skills in manufacturing face masks to curb the transmission of the disease. With Support from our artisans we have successfully delivered over 10,000 cloth masks between March 27th to 31st in the project focused areas i.e14 villages in the 5 Gram Panchayats of Pokhran region.
“We have self isolated ourselves inside the Urmul campus in Bajju. Urmul has helped me and thousands of artisans in the region with a source of livelihood. Today, we have the opportunity to give back to the community, so we are helping the team to produce these masks and contribute our bit. It makes me really happy that we are serving our community in these times.” -Manoj Kanwar, Urmul Desert Craft
“The initiation of making masks was started with one person in our team at the beginning of this quarantine. Little did we know, that this small effort put by us would result into developing masks at such a large scale. Now not only our team in Bajju, but in the corresponding and all the villages wherever we are able to reach, this has become more than just a process. This has become a story. A story which has led us to provide people with the basic food and medical facilities. A story where every single day, when we go to new villages, we come across people who are fighting some or the other battles. From Bajju to Ghariyala to Bethnok, the entire team is trying to contribute in whichever way possible. By far we've successfully distributed 20k masks where a single person started making it and now the entire team is of 25 people. We are targeting 2k masks each day. And with the kind of motivation with which we are able to support each other during this hard period of time, this is more than just a miracle!” - Shwetambara, Lead, Design Team
Providing Dry Ration Kits
Due to immobilisation in the region, Urmul is providing dry ration kits to approximately 2000 BPL families with special focus on the extremely needy such as pregnant women, disabled members or poor who reside in areas. These kits include flour, spices, millet, oil and other kitchen essentials which could enable extremely destitute families to sail through the next 3 months.
Urmul Trust is also facilitating government and donor supplies to BPL families in 14 villages of Jaisalmer along with service delivery facilities in collaboration with District Administration in Bikaner under Marugandha Program.
“Let alone forage for livestock, there are families in the area who don’t even have access to food. The market in Bikaner is quite far from these areas (Bajju and Cheemana) and due to the lockdown they are unable to move. I think they would manage something for water since it's an age old problem, but food, they are unable to access.“ - Dipak Gode, Programme Coordinator, Urmul Seemant Samiti
“Jamna’s grandfather Anoparam is a resident of Jhajuu, Kolayat. The financial condition of this family is extremely poor. He is unwell and stays at his farm. Due to lockdown the family of six hardly had anything to eat, but one NGO provided them with a little amount of food grains to sustain. We met Anoparam while he was on his way to the flour mill carrying the last bag of grains left in my house. We greeted him and said there is no need to go to the flour mill as we have got food packages for your family. After receiving the packet his eyes teared up but at the same time he was happy that his family would not have to suffer due to shortage of food during this lockdown. Looking at his happy face I felt really good. That's it I won’t be able to write anymore ,by getting to know people's problems I forget my own sorrows.” - Damyanti ji, UrmulSeemant Samiti
Linking migrant labourers of Nagaur to government schemes
Due to unreliable farming based livelihood opportunities, labourers from Nagaur mostly migrate to the states of Maharashtra, West Bengal and Telangana for granite work. They are constantly on the move and they remain unregistered under any government schemes. The Labour Departments across the state do not have their updated records and they are not listed under the Construction Workers list issued by the government. Some of these workers managed to come back to their homes in Rajasthan while others are still stuck in other states and have been sent to quarantine centres by the government. They have little to no resources to sustain themselves and their families. It has become challenging for the state government to trace their whereabouts as they are always on the move. These workers have neither been registered in the food security schemes or the Jan Dhan Yojana, thus making it tougher for them to avail any benefits in case they cannot return to their work.
Urmul Khejri is trying to contact the workers stuck at various places through the contact details provided by their family members to know of their situation and troubles. We are further planning to link them to government schemes and get the details of the money they have left at their working sites so we can help them get them back. Based on this evaluation and needs assessment we will also mobilise funds to provide them and their families with ration kits and other necessary requirements for their sustenance.
“We are working to ensure the number and location labourers who have still not been able to come back. We would facilitate their home coming and also help them come out of the trauma they must be facing due to this situation in stranded places. We are going to ensure linking them to government schemes and unless they retain their work we provide them alternative livelihood option lobbying with the government officials to increase MNREGA work permit per family so they can earn more. We also need to save them from rumours around government benefits by sensitisation and awareness.” - Dhanna Ram, Secretary, UrmulKhejri
Making the Quarantine centers livable and manageable
In our work area, numerous migrant families have gotten stuck in the government quarantine centers, where they are kept for 14, 21 or sometimes 30 days before being sent home. Local government officials managing these centers are being accommodative however most of the local community members maintain a strict distance and look at these people with suspicion. They get thorough medical check-ups on a regular basis and are provided food by the authorities. However, the trauma and the feeling of being jailed does not leave these simple, hard-working people who cannot come to terms with this situation. They just want to be released and reach home.
This is where Urmul Seemant Samiti decided to intervene and adopted 5 quarantine centers – 4 in Bajju and 1 in Kolasar. Urmul and the Plan team made a strategic plan to deal with the situation with support from the local authorities. The teams visited the centers regularly to take stock of the situation, the people and the facilities available to them. It was found that most of the people in quarantine had lost most of their belongings on their way to these quarantine centers. Till today we have provided for 197 individuals quarantined in these 5 centers.
Basis this, we provided all the individuals with face masks made by our artisans, individual water bottles to maintain distance as COVID precaution, with hygiene kits which included – washing soap, bathing soap, comb, nail cutter, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair oil, small mirror and sanitary napkins among other things.
In some cases, our team also arranged for new clothes from the Urmul crafts shop for some women and children who had not taken bath for almost 7 days since they had nothing to change into. We also provided toys to the children so that they could pass time more effectively. At times, when the authorities ran out of food or water in the center which couldn’t be arranged immediately, then we arranged to send help from our own campus stocks.
Our team members visited these centers twice daily to monitor the situation closely and to counsel the quarantined women and men. To keep the women busy and more positive, we conducted Yoga / exercise sessions, took hygiene training with them, took their help in planting a kitchen garden in the school / hostels (since these were farm labourers it was easy to convince them), sang songs with them, cooking food for everyone and maintaining cleanliness at the premises.
While doing this, we also made sure that our field teams are properly protected and provided them with sanitizers, gloves and face masks as protective gear. We also made sure that the teams took a bath and changed clothes immediately after coming back from these centers as a preventive measure.
Ensuring safety for every child
India and all its states have come to a complete halt as the nation is gripped by the Coronavirus crisis. The nationwide lockdown induced as a result of the crisis has led to the creation of a host of other issues for communities residing in Rajasthan. To address and root out these issues, there has been a display of unprecedented solidarity between the local authorities, the community and NGOs doing humanitarian work in the region.
- Urmul trust with support from the district authorities and NGOs like Child Helpline and Mahila Avam Kishori Balika; has undertaken the task of providing food packages, shelter and ease the distress of 39 cases calling the child helpline for aid.
- Urmul Trust along with the aforementioned organizations has also been successful in rescuing 8 children originating from Orissa and caught in the trap of child labour in the district of Bikaner.
- Urmul Trust has arranged for food, water, shelter and availability of other essentials for these children in their quarantine camps in Bikaner.
Motivating Local Youth to come forward and work for society
Urmul Seemant Samiti is reaching out to the community in Bajju with the intent of spreading awareness and keeping the community alert against the threat of COVID-19. There are 75 volunteers working across 71 villages of Bajju, Kolayat, Bap in Bikaner and Jodhpur districts of Rajasthan to help and ensure retired people receive their pension, PMAY account holders receive their money, families receive a connection under the Ujjwala scheme and availability of necessary groceries and food grains.
Calling for relief as migrant workers in Girajsar look at dark days ahead
The lockdown has not only stranded individuals but also forced labourers to come back home to their villages due to unemployment. Urmul Seemant Samiti met with 60 such carpenters in Girajsar who had to come back from Mumbai as their work had been stopped there. Each of these labourers were earning around 25-35 thousand rupees salary per month which was the only source of livelihood for their families. These people are now jobless. Devoid of any support, these 60 families are uncertain of their survival. Urmul Seemant Samiti is trying to explore possibilities to settle them in the villages itself and set up a business setup so they can be employed again. These migrant workers need immediate intervention by both civil society and government bodies for relief.
“We just returned from a meeting with 60 carpenters from a village who returned from Mumbai. They lost their income avenues. It means that in the next 10 days, there would be 60 families unsure about how they would sustain and eat. We have to ensure that they get local employment opportunities.” -Kanwar Singh, UrmulSeemant Samiti
- Urmul Seemant Samiti has provided masks, hygiene kits and basic supplies for 197 individuals stranded in the 5 (4 in Bajju, 1 in Kolasar) quarantine centres.
- Urmul Seemant Samiti has provided Ration kit - 15000 ration kits , 325 medical kits to families .
- Urmul Seemant Samiti has provided 182 Sanitation kits to Anganwadi workers and 30 medical kits to ANM nurses.
- 570 kits with basic supplies were distributed in the quarantine centres of the Bikaner region by Urmul Trust.
- Urmul Trust conducted awareness campaigns in 600 villages of Jaisalmer.
- A total of 30,000 masks were produced by Urmul trust, Marugandha and Bajju teams with assistance from people trained or involved with Urmul Desert Crafts.
- Urmul Team with assistance from stakeholders has distributed over 56000 masks.