During the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic when the country was put under intense lockdown to contain the transmission of the virus, 22-year-old Ayush Sarda was busy gathering funds to build 1200 homes in eight villages in the Sundarbans.
A cluster of low-lying islands spread across India and Bangladesh, measuring about 40,000 square kilometers, accommodates unique mangrove forests and is home to nearly 4.5 million people. The region is ecologically fragile and vulnerable to climatic changes which make the land inhabitable. People struggle to make a living but most earn their income through farming, fishing, and collecting honey.
The effects of Cyclone Amphan in 2020 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have added to their woes. With tides flooding their homes and crops and the virus outbreak impacting the economy.
During this time, Ayush, who had been actively involved in social work for the past seven years, wanted to find a way to increase the villagers' income. He took to social entrepreneurship by setting up the venture 'Sweetness of Ethics' with the help of a student-led NGO Ek Packet Umeed. With the enterprise, Ayush established an organic honey brand where the villagers could sell hibiscus honey. Nearly 80 percent of the earnings go back to the villagers while the remaining is invested to refine the brand and for other community purposes.
"With the funds that we have collected from last year, we have helped build two schools, one hospital, a stitching center, and even extended financial help to two other villages," Ayush told The Logical Indian.
Ek Packet Umeed is a student-volunteer non-profit that was established in 2015 when Ayush and his friends wanted to collect funds for the victims of the Nepal Earthquake. The organisation soon grew from ten to a hundred volunteers. The team adopted Bali village in Sunderbans to help the people recover from the deadly impact of the cyclone and had been helping to augment their income.
Initiatives During The Second Wave
"During the second wave of the pandemic, we have been distributing ration to marginalised communities and old age homes in the Sundarbans and a few districts in Bengal as well as procured 13 oxygen buses," Ayush said
"These buses consist of oxygen concentrators and oxygen cylinders that are handled by a team of 80 paramedics and doctors, that run through three districts in Bengal to supply oxygen as needed." When asked about the need for starting this unique initiative, Ayush said that when they talked to the Sundarban Collective Network, a group of NGOs' and organisations working in the villages, we understood that there was no shortage of oxygen in the city but for the villagers to travel to the city for oxygen cylinders would take 3-4 hours.
"Imagine a villager in Balli had to travel to the nearest city, he would take 3 hours to reach there and by that time it might be too late," he said.
"The unique feature about these healthcare facilities is that it is permanent and will not last just during the pandemic," Ayush informed. Noting that the healthcare system was poor in Bali, the NGO worked with local officers, BDO (Block Development Officer), and other organisations to supply medical supplies, PPE kits, gloves, and essentials to the doctors in the local hospital.
"Around 3500-4000 families have been displaced from their homes due to the cyclone and it has been a complete pandemonium. We are starting from scratch by providing food, torches, medicines, clothes among other things to the people," he added.
The team also has plans to expand its initiatives to villages in other states. "We have shortlisted villages in Rajasthan and Bihar where we can extend our services with the help of some partnerships. We aim to adopt villages across the country who are in dire need of funds."
"We adopt a village and provide income opportunities to the villagers and we leave once the village and the people become self-sufficient. We don't want to make any village dependent on us."
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