Published: 29th March 2020
How this school in Tamil Nadu is helping tribal families stock up on food to tide over COVID-19 lockdown
The school felt it was best to send the children home because they felt they might feel better with their family. But that was only because they thought the lockdown would be for 5 days
Videos of migrant labourers on foot crossing borders to reach their hometown, daily wage earners struggling for basic needs and homeless people complaining about not having even water to wash their hands are all flooding social media. Despite the government announcing a relief package for daily wage earners struggling due to the lockdown imposed to combat COVID-19, a large section of the society doesn't have ID cards sometimes because they are nomadic tribes. Which is why Vanavil School is raising funds to help the tribes that will otherwise plunge into a state of hunger and despair.
Vanavil, an alternative residential school was set up in 2005, in the aftermath of the Tsunami and works closely with two very marginalised communities in Tamil Nadu - Boom Boom Mattukarars and Narikuravars. Many children belonging to the tribe stay in the residential school and Vanavil also runs tuition centres in different villages. The students thus have access to meals and the tuition centre children also get snacks during their sessions. When the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, the school felt it was best to send the children home because they felt they might feel better with their family. But that was only because they thought the lockdown would be for a duration for of five days.
Vanavil wants to ensure all their children don't miss out on meals during this time
Prema Revathi, the director of the School said they only expected the lockdown to be for five days and so hoped that the families would be able to manage for those days. "These families are sellers, some of them beg, some sell small items near pilgrimage areas near the Velankanni Church. So the initial days, we went around and educated everybody about staying safe, washing hands and distributed sanitisers as well. And we told them because it was a tourist place, a lot of foreigners would be visiting them. Suddenly we were told it would be a 21 day lockdown," she explained.
"Going without work or mobility for almost a month has put these families into dire situation and almost all of them do not have savings or resources that they can use in this critical juncture. A majority of the Boom Boom Maatukarar and Narikuravar families lie outside of the social security net and many do not have clear identity documents. We have been working with 500 such families in Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur districts for the last 14 years in the areas of child protection and education," Revathi informed.
Conservancy workers are also affected by the lockdown
"We didn't want our children to suffer because we know that the families could not stock up for so many days. That's why we decided to have a fundraiser," she adds. Vanavil is seeking funds online to feed the families - Rs 833 per family and a total of Rs 6 lakh for 731 families. "We are tying up with the small grocery shops near the villages and sending them the money. Our volunteers will transfer the groceries to the families homes. The groceries include - rice, pulses, rava, oil, tamarind, chilly powder, tea powder, sugar and biscuits. "The children in our tuition centres also got a snack now they may not have the chance to go out to shops and buy the snacks that kids usually like. So that's why we added the biscuits as well," she explained.
"A lot of these children suffer from chronic malnutrition and cultural marginalisation. So their immunity is already low which is why it was important for us to ensure they got all their meals," she told us. Besides the tribal families, Vanavil has also been raising funds for the families of conservancy workers. Revathi tells us that a lot of conservancy workers have told her that they are working almost double the time these days in order to keep areas disinfected, "Since they are working all the time, they have't had a chance to gather any food. Their salary is also not much to stock up on food, these are families of 5-6 people at times. Which is why we decided to collect funds for them as well."
So far, the organisation has managed to raise Rs 1.6 lakh but they have a long way to go as it would be difficult to sustain the families for 21 days. "But for a first day, the money we raised is pretty good," she adds.
If you would like to donate, here's the link: