On Friday, 29th May, a small team from Future Hope, armed with 200 food packets and 30 sheets of tarpaulin, headed out to the Sundarbans not quite knowing what to expect. Super-cyclone Amphan had ravaged the district of South 24 Parganas on the night of 20th May. It also devastated Kolkata, leaving the city in a lurch for days without power, water and network. Overnight the city lost over 5000 trees. Massive old trees fell and with them all modes of communication – electric wires, internet cables, phone lines and everything else including concrete walls and iron gates.
When relief workers were struggling to restore power after four days, people started protesting in the city until CESC, the private electric company, provided temporary power. In contrast, when we visited the villages Jaynagar, Mazilpur, Kultali, the villagers had resigned to the fact that power would not be back for a month or so. We did not see a single repair truck or any form of restoration work in progress on our way.
These villages are quite remote and it took us seven hours to reach with several roadblocks on the way – as you can see from the photograph above. The people we met were bedraggled and hungry, yet with a glimmer of hope that we had brought them food. They told us that no one had come so far, nine days after the cyclone we were the first ones to offer help. Their houses are broken and many left roofless, their crops are destroyed, and with no savings they are left to live hand to mouth.
Our bags of food supplies included rice, flour, potatoes, onions, cooking oil, tea, sugar, spices and soap, enough to last a family of five for about 14 days. Hundreds of people turned up and the need was such that we decided to make a second trip on Monday 1st June to bring more food, medicines and other supplies required to help these communities through this difficult time.
An elderly couple in Raidighi said they had on one to care for them. Part of their house fell down and the tarpaulin would help them to stay dry.
In Radhaballabpur, a woman queued up for food supplies. She told us that her husband was blind and that they begged to survive. After the cyclone her fellow villagers were hard pushed and unable to give them anything. She was so grateful for the sack of supplies that she deftly put on her head to carry.
We met Mansoor, a grandfather, who lost the asbestos roof of his house. He is a daily labourer but currently without work. His sons and their wives, all economic migrants, are stuck in a coconut factory in Tamil Nadu since the lockdown. He has a wife, a couple of grandchildren and the pregnant wife of a grandson to look after. We were glad that we could bring him and his family some relief.
Despite the damage and devastation we were happy and relieved to see the village children playing. It reminded us that we have to count on human resilience to come through this phase.
As lockdown in Kolkata has started to be lifted in certain areas of the city, some of our teachers were able to come to school after 10 weeks of complete lockdown. They packed schoolbooks and work for our day scholars as many of them face difficulties to re-connect to the on-line lessons. We are doing everything to keep our “normal” activities going and to offer all our children structure and stimulation.
We were delighted to receive the following thankyou and invitation from the charity:
19 May 2020
Thank you for your donation to the Future Hope children, especially in this difficult and unpredictable time around the world.
Our team in Kolkata is working around the clock to make sure that all the children in the homes and our day scholars who live in slums are safe and well. The whole city remains in severe lockdown and the children have not been outside for over seven weeks now. They have been patient and resourceful for a very long time, but they are feeling the pressure and are longing to get out. Virtual classes for the school are slowly taking off after a challenging start due to limited resources and a lack of internet connections. Most of the homes and our teachers are now connected through Skype and lessons are taking place. Over the weekend the children enjoyed a street food challenge among the homes, staff and some of our supporters. They had a lot of fun and of course it was the children who produced the best – looking – food!
We are worried about the children and their families who live in the slums. Covid 19 has put many more millions of lives at risk. Most people in the slums rely on daily wages that stopped when the country went into sudden lockdown. Social distancing is simply not possible for many of the families in these communities. Toilets are shared between hundreds of people, water and electricity is scarce, and access to food and medical supplies is extremely limited. Dying of hunger is often a bigger fear than the virus. Kolkata’s street and slum children need Future Hope more than ever.
We have been distributing emergency food and rescue packets – so far just over 2000 packs – to our day scholars and their families, some of our alumni who have not received their salaries and to daily wage workers in the community. Each pack has food for a family of five and lasts for about 14 days. This is a vital lifeline and we will continue to help these families for at least as long as the lockdown lasts and until people are able to find ways to earn again. Besides food we now also help our day scholars with school equipment and connectivity through mobile phones. This way we can communicate with them and provide some daily structure through basic on-line education using mobile phones. No schooling at all is a disaster for these children who have so little stimulation and few role models around them. It is good to see how positively they respond, and we can only hope that there will be a vaccine soon so that we can offer them more hope and opportunity.
Stay well and let’s hope that we all come out of this together, safe and stronger!
Tim and Erica Grandage.