Published: 20th May 2021
This NGO in Ladakh is helping students, teachers and anganwadis workers rally against COVID. Here's how
The Foundation has supported local health and education workers to spread amenities and information in a systematic way following the COVID-19 surge in the region
They are pulling out all the stops in Ladakh. Social entrepreneur Sujata Sahu set up the 17000 ft Foundation in 2011 with her husband Sandeep Sahu and partner Dawa Jora. An organization focused on ensuring access and quality of education in Government Schools in remote villages, the organisation has since then, adopted over 220 villages/schools across both the districts of Leh and Kargil, where they have built playgrounds, electrified and digitized remote schools, provided classroom furniture, painted and renovated schools, setup libraries, donated books and even translated them into the Bhoti language for local students. Since last year, COVID has brought added responsibilities to the foundation, and here’s how the Foundation has stepped up.
While schools continue to be shut, Sujata and her team are focusing on supporting remote villages with basic health and hygiene supplies and supporting teachers with ways to ensure students continue to learn from their homes. “Because of its remoteness, Ladakh is quite dependent on the rest of India for basic supplies, therefore, the opening of roads for essentials has increased the number of cases in the region. Short of quarantining every village, there is no way of keeping cases in check. It is more challenging in remoter villages where the healthcare supplies are not as easily available, making it harder to even tell if people have contracted the virus. They just report having a fever or other symptoms. For testing or vaccination, people have to travel to the main town or the nearest block headquarters,” says Sujata.
The Foundation responded with a COVID-outreach programme across 220 villages the last year. The local 17000ft team travelled to each of the villages and distributed digital thermometers, sanitisers, surface disinfectants, masks, face shields etc. and also conducted awareness drives in the schools.
TAB UP: More than 100 school children were able to take tablets home
But then the pandemic has pretty much changed all our lives. “Our functioning has definitely been impacted,” says Sujata, “The most important shift has been with reaching the children. Schools were closed for the entirety of the last year and it looks like another academic year will also be going that way”. When the world was moving to online learning, children here had difficulty connecting, since over 50% of the villages here do not have basic mobile connectivity. In Nov 2018, 17000ft designed and implemented a specialized Tablet based Solar Powered Digital Learning Solution that was meant for areas just like these, with neither electricity nor mobile connectivity. This solution was implemented in 105 extremely remote schools and allowed even children in remote villages to benefit from Digital Learning.
“The beauty of this solution is that it also allows the tablets to be taken home by students, and last year, when Covid hit Ladakh, and all children were at home, 1500 children from our schools were able to take tablets home to learn and showed amazing learning! Though we didn’t design it for Covid, we are super happy that our solution was very beneficial in these extreme conditions,” says Sujata
“This year, cases have been under control and fairly decent until around a month ago, and we hoped that we had seen the worst of it, but the total number of cases recorded in just the past two months is the same as what was recorded the entire last year. And we are worried about the second wave which is also said to be affecting children,” Sujata laments
The Foundation is now gearing up to take COVID prevention and care to individual homes in remote villages by supporting Anganwadi Workers who work with very young children in the Anganwadi Centers. Many of them are also supporting the Health Department to go door to door to conduct COVID surveillance duties. With the villages spread quite far apart, and the unavailability of health essentials, the Foundation is now fundraising to ensure that these workers are equipped with masks, Infrared Thermometers, sanitisers and more to help them stay protected and also ensure that the children and communities they are in charge of, stay safe.
Sujata says, “While the health department is ensuring that institutional healthcare infrastructure is adequate and is equipped to detect, treat and protect their citizens, 17000 ft Foundation is helping them by ensuring that the same care and protection reach the remote villages, most of which are hard to reach and many without roads. That’s what we do best, make sure that no one is left behind, regardless of how remote the village they live in.”