We had hoped that we would be running at full capacity by now, but instead we’re back in strict lockdown and, with heavy hearts, we had to close the activities we had been able to restart at Deepam again on the 22nd April. Tamil Nadu has imposed full lockdown, and only the most essential services are allowed to operate. For two weeks no shops were allowed to open at all, and we were expected to buy food off government food vans. It is particularly difficult to close Deepam this time because we saw how our children suffered without our care last time, and they were just beginning to regain the health and development they had lost.
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 this wave so far. However, cases in India and within Auroville and the local villages are dropping, and we hope it is not too much longer until we can start slowly reopening 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. The vocational training centre has also closed and the work on the farm that our older students were engaging in has paused for now. Our team is in touch with all our children, and we deliver food and medications on a weekly basis to those who need it. We hope it will not be too long until we can provide even just the healthy lunches and most essential therapy sessions at Deepam again. 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.
Help at Deepam during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic
Work experience on an organic farm – *temporarily paused*
During lockdown our team member Leo has 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 and now have four students attending twice 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 limited by not being able to use our school bus due to Covid restrictions, so we rely on parents for transport which many are not able to provide. We hope that in the future we will be able to offer this valuable experience to any of our students who may benefit from it.
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