Published: 26th March 2020
How these Kerala youngsters are ensuring that the Attappadi's tribal folk are safe from COVID-19
Home to 192 hamlets and various tribal groups, around 400 volunteers are spreading awareness in Attappadi
Bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu, close to the Nilgiri Hills and the Western Ghats, lies Attappadi, a reserve forest that is home to 192 hamlets, which houses a lot of Kerala's tribal population and is categorised as one of the most backward blocks in the state. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kerala, the government was obviously worried about spreading the awareness and keeping the tribal population safe.
It was around that time that Dr Suresh Babu IAS, Collector, Palakkad and the Attappadi Nodal Health Officer Dr Prabhudas made an open call for volunteers to create awareness classes in the tribal hamlets. They soon created a Google Document for young people to create awareness and help out the people in times of need. In a day, around 400 young people, comprising of teachers, students, activists and others signed up for this. They were quick to create a WhatsApp group and coordinate awareness activities.
"Attappadi is a very sensitive area. People's houses are very close in tribal hamlets and there is a lot of community involvement in their way of life. So, if one person gets infected by this deadly virus, the chance of it getting spread to the entire hamlet is very high. We had to stop it at any cause," says Bindu Thankam Kalyani, a school teacher who is part of the volunteer group. "Until Saturday, people were roaming around outside, without knowing much about the intensity of the situation. Also, a lot of the tribal children are studying in tribal hostels in other districts. Since the schools and colleges are closed, a lot of them have come back home. On Saturday alone, around 350 students had arrived together. So, we had to act quickly," she says.
Explaining more about the awareness session, Bindu tells us that the Attappadi residents were also provided with soap and were taught the proper way to wash their hands. "We instructed them to stay at home and not to step out unless necessary. They were asked to use handkerchiefs while sneezing and coughing and to let the health workers know, in case they exhibit any sort of COVID-19 symptoms," she says. She proudly informs us that all the Attappadi residents stayed indoors on March 22, following the Janata Curfew that the Prime Minister had called for. "We also collected the data about all the residents and have updated them. We also sent back a lot of vehicles that were headed to Attappadi for no reason," she adds.
"We already have around 60 people in Attappadi under observation," says Nikhil MZ, another volunteer. "We hope that the samples come back negative because a community spread will devastate Attappadi and we can't let it happen. The government hospital too isn't equipped to handle so many people," he adds.
Until now, no case of COVID-19 has been reported from Apttappadi. The volunteers and the police still continue their work in the hamlets, ensuring that the condition remains the same.