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Hill of Hope COVID-19 lockdown relief update

The beginning of May saw a major change in the focus of our work in providing Relief to the migrant workers and their families. On the night of May 2nd the State Govt. announced that with immediate effect, 40 trains a day, for the next seven days, would leave Hyderabad for the specific purpose of allowing Migrants to return to their home states. By midnight hundreds were packed and making their way along the roads to the train stations, usually 20 or so kilometres away. By early morning thousands were on the move. What they did not know was that first their names, with destination desired, must be registered with the nearest Police Station and that they would then be notified on which day their train would depart; and that buses would take them to the station.

Women and children lean against a wall
On the roadside
Women and children take shelter while waiting
Footpath shelter
Video clip of the central packing area at C3 with the older Shunem boys doing much of the work.
Rations packs being distributed

As the migrants took to the streets, the police immediately blocked their movement and accommodated them in nearby Function Halls, large open sheds where a couple of thousand could gather (usually used for big Indian weddings). Having packed up and left their earlier construction site huts, many were not permitted to return. Early on the 3rd morning there were 300 in a Function Hall in an area accessible to us. The police had arranged someone to sponsor lunch for the 300, but asked us to supply some snacks for breakfast. By the time our volunteers returned with breakfast (ORS drinks, fruit and Nutritive biscuit packs) the number had swelled to 600 who shared what had been brought. By noon this number had grown to 1500 and so when lunch for 300 arrived, the police returned it unopened feeling that the ensuing rush could lead to a dangerous situation. The police were doing registrations as fast as possible and were encouraging people to leave once that had happened. People showing the supplies they have received, standing in front of a Hill of Hope Foundation van. Many just drifted onto roadsides as they had nowhere to go. We arranged another 1200 ORS and Snack Packs and supplied to those who were remaining. About 300 have remained in the area over the past week, either on roadsides or at the Function Hall, and so our focus has been to provide breakfasts as necessary, nutrition drinks for the children, and one good hot meal for them each day.

Nutrition for the children

A child.

A week has passed but the programme for Migrant workers to return home has largely stalled.

  1. The Central Govt. runs the railways and has only made a few trains available in the week, when 40 a day were requested.

  2. The states to which they are returning have created problems – one refusing to allow the trains to enter their state, another requiring our state to test and give a safe health certificate to all travellers before they board the train for their state. Our state has now completed the mammoth task of registering all 500,000 persons from other states seeking to return home but has no capacity to quickly do such massive testing.

  3. Many northern states to which they are returning have inadequate facilities to care for the returnees during the 14 or 21 day quarantine which is necessary for all interstate travellers. Reports of the atrocious conditions have caused some to cancel their plans to return.

So the Shunem kitchen has become a hive of activity from 4.30 am each day as hundreds of meals are prepared and packed.

Volunteers packing meals and ration packs while wearing masks, gloves and aprons.
Personal protective items such as masks, gloves etc. are worn in preparation and packing areas. All packets distributed are labelled with our contact details should there be need to trace the source of the materials and packs.
Elderly people seated in the dining hall, chairs well apart from one another.
Daily readings have moved from the lounge to the dining hall to allow social distancing.

In the other areas of Shunem, with the aged in care, strict “no visitor” rules, social distancing and heightened sanitation rules are in place.

The supply of rations (groceries – cooking oil, pulses, rice, flour, etc) to local daily labourer and needy families has continued, together with nutrition drink to the children and elderly. Although the Central Govt has extended national lockdown to May 18th, our State lock down, except in a few “green zones”, is extended to May 31st.

Distribution occurring in Sarenga, West Bengal

These extensions have brought many more families into the “severe hardship” category in local and interstate areas. A further 400 families in Krishna Dt, Andhra Pradesh have been helped with ration packs, while in West Bengal we have been able to supply 500 ration packs to the four villages as requested in the local administration’s letter that reached us the day of our last update, and also the 200 packs of infant food they had asked for.

A volunteer in West Bengal handing supplies to a woman.

In our area of work in West Bengal, 65 widows have been identified as especially vulnerable and we are now committed to supplying them one good hot meal each day. Our local volunteer husband and wife team are doing a wonderful job in this regard. With lost employment, wage cuts etc., over 150 families associated with the Christadelphian Fellowship in various areas, have also needed direct assistance.

And so another two weeks have passed in Lockdown, and over 3000 meals and snacks, 1600 ration packs and around 200 nutrition packs have been provided from the Hyderabad centre in Telangana State. Other work has continued in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal.

We pray this has helped some to climb out of the prevailing despair and live with a sense of hope.

Tim Galbraith
For Hill of Hope Foundation,
Hyderabad, India
12th May 2020