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Hill of Hope relief response to COVID-19, update four

Another month has slipped by under lockdown, though with the easing of some restrictions, life has become more settled for many. The ‘migrant’ labourers from other states were finally able to head home on special trains or buses, or completed epic journeys on foot. The arrival of the rains in many areas during the first week of June has reduced the temperatures from 40°C (105°F) to the low 30s so it is more pleasant for all.

People in West Bengal holding food supplies they have received.

But as the ‘lockdown’ weeks stretch into months, and India’s daily new cases of COVID-19 hit record heights each day (22,000 yesterday), the local communities are facing new challenges. India has no unemployment benefit or social security safety net for those who are without any income. Daily labourers and workers who were put off their jobs because of closures or downturns, have now been off work for three months without income. After an initial ₹1,500/- (US$20) there has been no further monetary relief. Those who are in rented accommodation, which is the majority of urban dwellers, are in a critical situation. While scraping by through garnering food here and there, and from some NGO and Govt food ration handouts, finding the ₹4,000/- to ₹7,000/- a month for rent is impossible.

Hill of Hope focus throughout June has been in six areas:

  1. Providing rations and general assistance to families in Leprosy Colonies whose income is normally from daily labour or begging, and who now have the added burden of children home from schools and hostels.

  2. Providing daily meals to those in particularly vulnerable situations, such as widows.

  3. Providing poor farmers with Seed Packs so they can plant their fields now that the monsoon has arrived.

  4. Providing rental assistance to those facing severe struggles due to unemployment.

  5. Providing assistance in cases of general and medical emergencies. Govt resources are stretched with COVID-19, and other matters ignored, so that Govt hospitals are refusing even accident cases and forcing people to use private medical facilities.

  6. Regular food ration supplies to non-income or low income households.

FOCUS ONE – Leprosy Colonies

  1. Nalgonda – In our last report we had mentioned the needs of the Leprosy Colony at Nalgonda. Another visit during June gave us opportunity to provide another hot meal to 100 families (about 400 people) and supply basic rations and oral hygiene supplies.

    People gathered around a distribution point, with large pots and sacks of rations being measured out.
    Nalgonda - measuring out the rations

    This colony is home to about 25 of our Shunem Home and Nithsdale School children, so Nithsdale teachers also joined our team and held classes and distributed subject wise folders to the children. As a result of contact with the authorities concerning drainage problems which were noted on a previous visit, it was pleasing to see repair work being undertaken by the Govt authority.

    Shunem and Nithsdale staff with some of the children at Nalgonda
  2. Borabanda – A second visit to this area earlier this week followed the pattern of the Nalgonda one with rations and oral hygiene kits being distributed, and the 26 Shunem/Nithsdale children in this colony being given project folders for School work.

    The excitement of the children on receiving a visit from the Shunem staff and their teachers from Nithsdale was a joy to see and testifies to the very positive associations and mental images the children have of Shunem Home and Nithsdale School.

FOCUS TWO – Daily Meals

Tuphan Biswas preparing a meal in a large cooking pot over an open fire.

The daily meals prepared and distributed to 60 poor widows in Sarenga area of West Bengal continue as a vital service which is much appreciated by the local Panchayat (Council).

We are most grateful to Tuphan Biswas and family for their diligence in daily preparing and distributing these meals, almost 2000 every month. Hot meals and nutrition drinks were also distributed in several locations in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh at the time of ration distribution.

Some of the 60 poor widows in Sarenga, gathered for a meal.

FOCUS THREE – Seed supply to Farmers

A dozen Indians holding bags of seed.
Bags of precious seed

The monsoon rains have had a good start in most areas, but their arrival means the time for farmers to sow seed in their small fields in non-irrigation areas where crops are solely rain watered; for that seed is needed. Many small farmers, with only a few hundred yards of land, work as daily labourers much of the year, and with the lockdown this year have no work and hence no cash to buy seed. In co-operation with the local Govt authority, we have been able to supply 6 kilos (about 13 lbs) of high quality, certified rice seed to each of 300 poor marginal farmers in the dry western regions of West Bengal. Timely supply is vital as, without irrigation, the crop must come to maturity before the monsoon is over.

FOCUS FOUR – Rental Assistance

To date we have been able to provide rental assistance to 36 families who would otherwise face eviction. We are grateful to some landlords who have reduced rental amounts due to the current troubles, but for many this is difficult to do as rental of a portion of their property to others may constitute their primary source of income, or be the sole means of repaying a mortgage on the property.

FOCUS FIVE – Emergency Assistance

  1. Accidents - Although the world is naturally currently focused on COVID-19 and its fall-out, and Govt resources are primarily diverted to these needs; accidents and disasters still occur with their usual regular frequency. A young man from one of our known families was knocked down by a speeding vehicle and suffered a badly mangled leg and many superficial injuries. The Govt hospital would not take the case as they were focused on COVID-19 cases, and asked them to go to a private medical facility. The costs were far beyond the family to pay, so Hill of Hope helped out. We are very grateful for a significant discount the hospital gave us when settling the bill. The young man is now at home and making good progress. In another ‘hit and run’ case the father of two of our former Shunem boys, Sandeep and Sudhaker, suffered back and other injuries. Once again the Govt hospital refused admission saying they were full. A private medical facility had to be used and Hill of Hope was able to cover the medical costs.

  2. Fire - A more dramatic event was the fire that ravaged 12 village homes on June 8th, completely destroying everything as the homes were village construction of timber, bamboo and thatch.

    Homes totally destroyed by fire.
    A family receiving rations amidst the ruins of their home.
    Distributing essential supplies in the midst of charred ruins

    It started with the explosion of a gas cylinder, and resulted in one death. Members of a Christadelphian group in a nearby village visited the families, provided some essentials, and US$100 for each family to set up emergency shelters. Hill of Hope made a contribution to this, but much more needs to be done. Once again the COVID-19 programs in these areas have diverted all Govt funding and personnel so that there has been no quick official response, and from experience we know that any future help will be slow in coming.

  3. Funerals – At the best of times funerals are sad events, and cost money. With various restrictions in place because of COVID-19 lockdown, these become sadder and more costly. We have had the sad opportunity to assist with the costs of four funerals during this time, when normally such costs would be met by the family or local church.

FOCUS SIX – General ration distribution

Workers bundling rations up for distribution.
Getting ready for distribution

Tamil Nadu has been the most ravaged of the southern states in India, and has had the most restrictive lockdowns. Volunteers in the Madurai area identified a nearby village with 50 families in dire need of help. We were able to supply fortnightly ration kits on two occasions, each containing: Rice - 12 kilos (about 26 lbs), Dal - 2kg, Wheat Rawa - 2kg, Wheat Flour - 1kg, Cooking oil 2 litres, Sugar - 2kg, Salt - 1kg, Dettol Soap - 4 bars, Mixed Spices pack.

In Chennai we were able to supply smaller packs in the Pullapuram area to 30 families. Locally we continue to supply ration packs whenever pockets of need are drawn to our attention.

A group of people in West Bengal with ration sacks on their shoulders, holding a banner reading “Hill of Hope Foundation, Kismatpur, Hyderabad - 500086”.
Volunteers keen to show the village that their benefactors come from 1,600km away.

With thanks to all our supporters, volunteers and donors.

Tim Galbraith,
July 3rd, 2020.