"Fascinated with simplifying the complicated and writing on the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Also, a hodophile."
"Someone folding hands for just one kilogram of rice is what the pandemic has brought us to. Watching small children, families of workers or the elderly queue up for rice and dal is heart-wrenching. You can see the desperation on their faces, a fight to get through each day," says Praveen Shukla, founder of Being Social- Ek nayi shuruwat.
Being Social, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) has been actively helping the underprivileged with the essential food items to survive the coronavirus pandemic. The corona warriors associated with the organization have been on-ground, reaching to the remotest parts of Bengaluru to provide relief materials to the deprived.
Their aim is to provide sufficient help that would help sustain a single family for at least ten days. The grocery kit has five kilograms of rice, two kilograms of dal, cooking oil packet, spices, soap and sanitary napkins for females.
"We have a small group of volunteers. The number has been consciously kept limited to keep less number of people on the ground, to minimise movement and interaction during the outbreak.
We cannot sit and be a part of the blame-game. People need support, the marginalised part of society have been hardest hit due to the pandemic. The organisation understands that this is not the time to indulge in petty activities rather mobilise help and ensure relief is provided with minimum movement.
Lack of awareness is one of the major drawbacks. While distributing essential food items in slums and villages we have witnessed that people are not educated about the meaning and importance of social distancing," Praveen Shukla tells The Logical Indian.
Therefore, before starting with the distribution drives, Being Social volunteers conduct a short session explaining people to wash their hands, to wear a mask and to be mindful to maintain distance. It is only after educating them about the basics of hygiene, they move ahead to help them with food products.
"We handed almost 4 kilograms of rice and 2 kilograms of dal to one of the construction workers at a construction site in KR Puram. He asked me how long were he and his family going to survive on one meal a day, on meagre supplies? With no work, I could see the helplessness on the faces of these workers," remembers Praveen.
These workers who supposedly are working at a construction site, reside on shanties near such sites. The daily wages that they earn is the only mode of livelihood for them to feed their families, with the imposition of the lockdown their lives have come to a standstill, survival has become an everyday fight.
Praveen explains that the migrant workers have been particularly hit under the given circumstances.
"They might not be linked to the government portals to avail free or subsidised ration or other benefits. Some might not be linked to the public distribution system. Others might not have ration cards or any other IDs to get access to help. While a few migrant workers might have left their ration cards with their families in their native states," he said.
Corona Warriors At Being Social
The volunteers at Being Social are very careful and take all the necessary safety precautions before venturing out for the distribution drives. They are well equipped with the cover-all, masks, gloves and sanitise themselves frequently.
Praveen shares that the volunteers are given sufficient time to self-quarantine themselves after each activity.
"This is just a precautionary measure. It is important to understand that the volunteers interact with a number of people while distributing groceries, and in different parts of the city. We don't want to put anyone's life at risk, at any given point of time," he added.
The volunteers have to resort to strictness too. While giving away the grains and other essential supplies, the volunteers ask the individuals to stand in a queue, follow social distancing norms while one member per family is permitted. They ensure that this availability of resources helps them connect with people on the grass-root level and educate them on the pandemic.
What are the problems faced during distribution drives?
Praveen lists out the difficulties that they face as an organization engaged in social activities during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We need to have a channel or a medium through which we are aware of all the places which have received support from various volunteer groups. Suppose if an organisation has provided relief materials to people at Whitefield, there should be a record of when and for long the food would sustain the area so that other groups can plan accordingly and follow-up.
Also, it would help us ensure that trial and error is avoided and all the areas receive help. It can happen only when the NGOs and volunteer groups communicate and coordinate on a single platform," he said.
Highlighting the significance of social media to plan activities, Praveen says that his organisation mentions the date, time and place while posting about the activities to be carried out on their social media platforms.
"We get distress calls, people intimating or seeking help from several places. We have to consciously verify the calls and prepare a list of places that need help with essentials. The onus falls on us to make responsible and judicious use of the donor's money," Praveen tells The Logical Indian.
A plan is chalked out in advance for the distribution events, however, visiting areas around Bangalore is arduous. For such places, the NGO prepares supplies that would sustain families for at least a month. To provide relief material in the city, supply kits that would sustain for seven to 12 days are prepared.
"It is difficult to plan frequent trips to places outside Bangalore so we ensure the provision of supplies that would help go on for a longer period. While it is easier to reach places within the city limits, " said the activist.
What is the process?
"90- 95 per cent of the funds are from individual donors. A person sends us Rs.1000 or another one helps us with Rs. 5000. The amount is subjective but every penny is put into feeds an empty stomach.
Suppose we plan to help 120 families, we need a minimum of Rs. 45000-50000. The donors contribute financially but we also give them an option to accompany us during the events, although we recommend them not to under the lockdown norms. This is just to bring transparency in the entire process and assure the donors that their hard-earned money is put to the right use.
On the other hand, as soon as wind up the task, we send pictures and bills related to the supplies to the respective donors. It keeps us accountable and builds trust," Praveen clarifies.
Speaking on the days when there is no or less inflow of funds, he says that help has to reach the needy and waiting is not an option so the volunteers contribute money from their own pockets.
"The contribution from the volunteers is limited. They can put in one month's salary or two...they also have expenses and family to look after but we try not to let anyone sleep hungry. That's the mission. That's what drives us."
The NGO has an agreement with the wholesalers who have agreed to provide them with the grains and other essentials at subsidized prices.
Additionally, the seller packs the essentials in gunny sacks and paper bags.
"We have been mindful of not using plastic while distributing food materials. We either ask the locals to get utensils for grains or provide them kits in paper or cloth bags. Plastic is being deliberately avoided. The pandemic might end after three months but the repercussions of the action during the outbreak would stay for a longer time," Praveen tells The Logical Indian.
What are the plans ahead?
"We are thinking of implementing a fever-checking process while we distribute the essentials. The volunteers and I are working on a strategy to conduct basic fever-checks on the people who come. We are also preparing a list of fundamental questions that indicates the presence of mild to severe symptoms so that we can document details about such people and then provide the data to the nearest government hospital for analysis and documentation.
The government is making every effort to reach the farthest of pockets, to feed the hungry but being on the ground also gives us a perfect opportunity to do things that the government might be unable to," shares Praveen.
He also told The Logical Indian that volunteer groups or organisations stepping up to provide support need to be sensitive towards the people and their social status.
Praveen is of the opinion that pictures and videos while distribution should be taken only after taking permission from the community involved. The pandemic should not be used as an opportunity to glorify oneself at the cost of other individuals' self-respect.
"The volunteers at Being Social have been sensitised towards community development and to avoid falling into social media gratification trap. We seek consent, and only after that, we click pictures. Very often, we cover the face to protect identity. The pictures help in motivating people and is also for the donor's reference.
Being Social is not just about serving society, the founder says that the volunteers are being trained to be leaders in the community. The people they interact with helps them understand the issues concerning the lowest rung of the society and then to work towards providing a solution to them.
"The beginning is about making a difference, about finding solutions rather than waste time in questioning. That's what Being Social- Ek nayi shuruwat is all about," shares Praveen.
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