CURRENT NEWS:

November 2021

Finally, after 20 months of various layers of lockdown, schools are allowed to be open again! It has been a challenging time including two strict lockdowns of a few months each where we could not have students at Deepam at all, and more relaxed periods where we could run vocational training and the most essential therapies. Thankfully, a light that emerged from Covid was our farm project, which has been able to run for most of the past 15 months (see below). 
 
Covid-19 has been a real challenge in India. Despite only having two waves here (so far!), the peaks were high, hospital beds scarce and lockdowns strict. The stigma associated with positive tests means that we will never know the real number of cases, but with many families living together in small houses comprising of only one or two rooms, and Covid-like symptoms being shared around, it can be assumed that many of our children and their families have had the virus. The restrictions, however, have perhaps been more concerning for our local families. The far reaching impacts of the lockdowns have been an extreme challenge for many people, especially daily wage workers who were not able to earn an income for many months at a time. Some have been able to pick up work again as restrictions have relaxed, but many have lost their jobs entirely. 
 
The Government provides a small amount of rice, dhaal, oil and sugar to most of the poorest households, but no fruit or vegetables. Rising food prices and changes to eating habits (away from traditional healthy millets and herbs towards processed foods) is resulting in many people having poor diets consisting mainly of white polished rice, sugary tea and oily snacks, and we have noticed a sharp drop in the health of our children. Without access to healthy lunches and nutritious snacks at Deepam, we have had three children who have had to receive blood transfusions due to dangerously low haemoglobin levels (below 4mg). 
 
With this backdrop, we have done everything we can to support our students. We have done therapies and vocational work wherever we were able to, we have done regular food and medication home deliveries and we have been in regular contact with all the students and their families to make sure we can meet their needs as best as possible. We have also been using the time with less children present at Deepam to do maintenance work, develop the garden, create a ‘cosy corner’, make and repair resources, and plan and prepare for therapy sessions, as well as doing weekly internal team training to develop and share our skills. It has been valuable to spend this time working together as a team again. 
 
We would like to thank all our friends and donors for your support. We have been touched by your kindness and generosity. Your support has allowed us to continue to pay our eleven employed team members their full salaries, as well as supporting many local families during this difficult time. 

 

Delivering food during COVID-19

 

Work experience on an organic farm 

During the first lockdown our team member Leo initiated a wonderful opportunity for a few of our older students to volunteer on an organic Auroville farm. For many, lockdown has meant staying at home bored and alone. The farm work offers an opportunity for meaningful occupation as well as developing vocational skills and provides a sense of purpose, fulfilment and integration with the wider community. The students also receive fruit and vegetables from the farm, which means they are able to bring good nutritious food home for their families.

We started in August 2020 with two students five mornings a week, which increased to four students attending twice a week before the second lockdown. Now we have fifteen students volunteering on the farm. The farm work, like Deepam’s other work, has fluctuated depending on the situation (including monsoon season, illness and Covid precautions), however we have mostly been able to keep going when schools and vocational training was not allowed. The students are learning well and have become a valued part of the farm community. The progress and enthusiasm are clear to see and it is inspiring to observe our children and young adults, who are typically disregarded in society, contribute so richly to the farm work and social environment. It is a highly rewarding experience for all involved.

 

We are so proud of Dharani who has made incredible progress in many areas and loves handicrafts. She is now 23 years old and came to Deepam for the first time when she was just two years old. She was born with a neurological disorder called Sturge-Weber Syndrome and has severe epilepsy and other complications. Both her parents died of HIV and she has gone through a lot of hardship and trauma in her life. Luckily, she has an older sister who takes good care of her. Over the years, Dharani has received physiotherapy, education, medical and social interventions and (in usual circumstances) attends our vocational training and day care programme. Here is a photo of her embroidery work.

 

 
 
Home visits for our children in different villages
 

Some parents are doing exercises with their children at home