In the last few months, as India made headlines around the world, many people locally had fevers and other flu-like symptoms, including some of our children and team members. However, testing is minimal in the villages due to the stigma attached to positive tests, so it is unclear how many cases there actually were. Many families live together in small houses comprising of only one or two rooms, so isolating is impossible. The hospitals in our local area were full and intensive care beds were difficult to get, and so we experienced a few Covid related deaths within Auroville and the local villages. In Auroville, we have had approximately 100 positive cases in the last wave. Fortunately, cases in India and within Auroville and the local villages are now low, and we hope it is not too much longer until we can reopen fully again.
Many Indians have faced extreme challenges during lockdown, and our children’s families are no exception. As a large proportion of people in India live from what they earn daily, many have had no income and are struggling. Some have been able to pick up work when restrictions have relaxed, but many have lost their jobs and could be facing another period of limited or no income. 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 the 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 so we have noticed a sharp drop in the health of our children. Without access to healthy lunches and nutritious snacks at Deepam, we have already had three children who have had to receive blood transfusions due to dangerously low haemoglobin levels (below 4mg).
Deepam has never been closed this long in 29 years and we are doing our best to meet the needs of our children while navigating the complexities of the ever-changing situation. We have reopened our vocational training centre and restarted the work on the farm for our older students, and we have restarted some therapies for the children and babies. Our team is in touch with all our students, and we have been delivering food and medications to those who need it. We have also been able to restart our healthy lunches that the students benefit from. Our work and schedule has changed regularly over the last year to balance local Covid requirements and our children’s needs, but we continue to work hard to support our children in any way we can.
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 twelve students and all the team members working on the farm 2-3 mornings a week. The farm work, like Deepam’s other work, has fluctuated depending on the situation (including monsoon season, illness and Covid precautions), however 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 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.
Some parents are doing exercises with their children at home