Where governments fail, youth respond to the Covid crisis

Members of We Care Tribes giving ration to mine workers

At the peak of the recent second wave of Covid infections while other parts of rural Uttar Pradesh struggled to survive the pandemic, there was no panic among residents in Deorai village of Kerakat block of Jaunpur district.

This was thanks to the volunteer work done by a group of young activists, backed by celebrity poets and artists, to ensure good healthcare to Covid patients – a task abandoned by both state and central governments.

COVID Response Watch Logo“From time to time, we visit all houses in the village and take stock of the health condition of residents. If needed, we organise online doctor’s consultation for the patients says Anand Kumar, a journalist who has mobilised village youth to meet the medical needs of the villagers.  During the first wave of Covid-19 last year Anand, originally a resident of Deorai, had launched a poster campaign to make villagers aware of the threat from the virus in the village. The posters, using health related messages from the state agencies, were put up in public places of the village.  When the second wave of the pandemic started spreading to the countryside Anand started going door-to-door along with a couple of other youths to check the oxygen level of the villagers, using oximeters purchased with his own funds.  Later he managed to open a full-fledged Covid Care Center with support from the Hindi poet and politician Dr Kumar Vishwas.  Free medicines are given to Covid patients with mild symptoms at the Covid Care Center, who are also given advice on how to deal with the infection.

Anand checking the oxygen of a woman working in the field

In the initial days of the second wave there were reports of people dying due to Covid from the nearby villages, but it could not be confirmed due to lack of access to proper testing equipment. In Anand’s village too, many people were suffering from symptoms of corona infection, but they were not getting any tests done due to fear of stigma and being boycotted socially.

It took some time to convince those affected by Covid to acknowledge their condition and follow isolation protocols and take recommended medication but finally Anand and his group managed to win their confidence. The initiative was also hampered in its early days also due to a lack of resources but help arrived through a campaign called ‘Aao Gaon Bachayen’ (Come save the village) that was being run by Dr. Kumar Vishwas and other celebrities.

Dr Vishwas’ foundation provided the funds needed to start a Covid Care Center in Deorai’s primary school building and buy essential medicines, masks, sanitizer, oximeter, thermometers to distribute to villagers who needed it.  Anand’s group was also able to hook up with a team of three doctors, available 24 hours a day for online consultations.

The Center has also become a point for spreading accurate information on Covid-19, particularly the need to get vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy has been a big problem in many parts of rural India, especially in Uttar Pradesh, but thanks to the efforts of Anand and his volunteers villagers in Deorai have been getting vaccinated more readily.

The story of Anand’s initiative is not unique. Ever since the pandemic started early last year thousands of young people, many of them students, have contributed in various ways to lower the suffering caused by both the disease itself as also the drastic lockdowns that have crippled both the urban and rural economy.

Delhi University students giving ration to laborers

In the national capital for example students of Delhi University, since the middle of last year, have been continuously providing rations to people living in slums in the city as also to labourers who lost jobs in the wholesale vegetable mandis, which have shutdown. These students of Delhi University have so far provided essential food supplies to about 1600 people with donation money under this campaign called ‘Feeding Workers in Delhi’. Beneficiaries of this initiative include palledars of the Azadpur Mandi, laborers living in the slums of Wazirpur and  Seelampur. Wherever possible medical kits also have been supplied.  According to Roshan, a volunteer with the campaign. “In the last one year, the workers have gone deeper into the quagmire of poverty than ever before. Today there is a large section who are just struggling to survive everyday” he says. Similarly, an organization in Varanasi called ‘We Care Tribes’, has been distributing ration among mining workers in Mirzapur. According to Shantanu, who is part of this campaign, the second wave of Corona has caused the most damage to the workers, who don’t have any work and are not able to feed their families.

Where did the inspiration to become a COVID volunteer come from?  ‘We saw a large number of people dying in rural areas during the second wave of Covid due and felt the need to do something to save lives” recollects Anand.

A similar sentiment is expressed by Megha, who is associated with the ‘Feeding Workers in Delhi’ campaign. “Everyone knows that the epidemic has caused havoc and affected the workers deeply. At such times civil society had to come forward to collect resources and help the people. Government relief packages often arrive very late” she says.

And as to why a journalist is so deeply involved in social service instead of pursuing his own profession Anand laughs and says, “The system and the situation have put the oximeter in my hands instead of a pen. When the government fails, then someone will have to help the people. That’s why I took up this responsibility.”

Akash Pandey is a journalist based in Jharkhand and can be reached at [email protected]



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