Posted by Sujay Joseph | June 17, 2020 | Touching Lives

Ocean in a Desert

A few years ago, Butterflies set up community-based participatory structures to prevent violence against children. The result is a Child Social Protection Committee (CSPC) comprised of parents, children, local government representatives (such as police officers and social workers) and teachers. The CSPC members are trained by the staff to collectively identify potential risks to vulnerable children and families buffeted by stressful domestic, educational, and civil/legal situations, of which the COVID19 pandemic is an unprecedented example. We’ve seen in Asha’s profile what one savvy, skilled and dedicated CSPC committee member can accomplish. Here’s how the six members of the CSPC — five women and a lone male — responsible for the sprawling settlement called the Gandhi Camp in South East Delhi collectively responded to the virus.

The Gandhi Camp is adjacent to the Okhla wholesale vegetable market where the majority of inhabitants are migrant workers living with their children in small rooms with no running water and access to nearby public toilets. Working youth living independently from families are among the laborers who make a pittance in the market as porters, cart pullers, and vegetable sorters. Some adults venture further afield to unskilled construction jobs or domestic positions in private residences.

The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent overnight lockdown cut off their meager livelihoods. Add fear of the virus in crammed quarters to the stressors, and we see why so many workers of rural origin were set to return to their villages even though this entailed walking hundreds of miles in the heat.

Enter the Child Social Protection Committee (CSPC) whose Butterflies-trained members have been trained, for the past six years, to develop analytical, organizational, and communication skills, as well as trust-building empathy so that they could devise timely interventions for their community. The most effective actions that bubbled up from their cooperation include:
• Identification of TWO immediate priorities, i.e. the provision of daily meals for the most vulnerable families and the sanitisation and safety of the community public toilets
• Field work to determine where to focus. As one CSPC member, himself poor and uneducated, told the Butterflies Child Rights Advocate, “When we started contacting families, we realized that the number is huge. People also started approaching us with a lot of expectations. It took some time to find those in the most distressed situations who were not receiving any relief”.
• Registration of 122 families facing acute food shortages in the Public Distribution System for emergency relief assistance. Armed with the resultant e-ration cards, these destitute family units were eligible to pick up dried bulk rations distributed by NGOs such as Butterflies.
• Containment of Population- Enrolment in the government relief system not only staved off starvation. It tamped down the exodus panic that had initially propelled day workers to try to reach their village homes on foot by walking hundreds of miles without food and water. As a result, thousands more migrants sheltered in place.
• Localized Public Health Messages – Using the gathering venue of the common public toilet complex, the CSPC members also organized regular public announcements on the importance of sanitisation and hygiene in lessening the potential risk of virus transmission. Messaging was expanded to re-enforce the importance of keeping children — even masked — socially distanced when they left their room.
• Organization of online academic classes for children- CSPC committee members helped promote Butterflies’ Child Rights Advocates’ (CRAs) efforts using mobile phones to help children complete school assignments, produce stories and art, and drill for exams by staging virtual General Knowledge Competitions, etc.
• Maintenance of Positive Community Relationships – CSPC members have demanded, yes, that responsible government agencies keep their migrant camp safe and clean. But they have also, wisely, mounted informal campaigns to acknowledge the efforts of government workers. As one CSPC member put it “the government workers, specially sanitation staff, are highly burdened these days but whenever we contacted them, they were always ready to come and sanitize our toilet complexes. We should show our appreciation to them”.

One huge deliverable this Committee mobilization achieved is that the experience of intervention in a crisis of such scale and magnitude has boosted the confidence of CSPC members. Hence, the reflection of one of the more proactive CSPC participants, Shubham, who said, “we are also facing the same crisis in our lives – no money, no food at home, no work. In these situations, we realise how our small support is important for others”.
Sana, the Butterflies’ CRA who liaises with the Okhla CSPC, created an apt metaphor to describe their collective action. “What they did may be a drop in the big ocean of relief work, but even a drop can create ripples and even the ocean would have been lesser without that drop. And for those 122 families, their help meant an ocean in a desert of insecurity and helplessness”.

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