On a mission to deliver emergency food rations to one very needy family and two very vulnerable elderly women.
This was a difficult day.
First we went to Maya’s home – a shelter down a dark alley between the busy road and the sewage canal. Maya has no toilet facilities, no running water and no means of support other than begging and rag picking. She says she thinks she is about 75. Her husband died just four months ago. She has three daughters but they have their own families and she doesn’t see them – one occasionally visits and give her a hundred rupees or so. She used to do embroidery but her eyes are too weak now. She showed us her glasses which, she said, no longer work.
Then we crossed the road to see Loki. She is over 80 and lives in a space behind a larger building. We clambered through the dark over a high step and slippery mud to reach her. To collect water or use a toilet she has to cross the road. We asked if she has a ration card – she said without even the 2 rupees for subsidised rice she can’t access the benefit. Would she leave and go into an old age home? we asked (not sure if that is even possible). She said no – she wants to stay here with her memories of her husband. Recently she fell over and has hurt her leg – which makes it even more difficult to cross the road. Reminded that she would get free medical attention at the hospital, she said “How can I get to the hospital? I have no money”. She has two sons but they don’t help. I asked about the neighbours. Can they help? They have their own difficulties and their own families to worry about, my colleagues tell me. Because the water is only on for a few hours a day, there is a lot of conflict over access.
Finally we visit Sakina’s shelter. She has four children. There were two teenage girls and their small brother at home. The boy was clearly very unwell and wrapped in a blanket. The girls explain that their mother is out selling aloo chat (spiced potatoes). She will earn about 50p a day. Her husband is dead and she is desperate as she cannot earn enough to feed the family. How terrible she must have felt leaving her little boy at home sick while she went out to work. I hope she was pleased to find the food parcel when she got home. Maybe she can take a few days off.
I don’t know what to say. Life is so cruel here that compassion seems to be absent. I hear myself suggesting that we encourage the young people from the after school coaching classes to get involved. Good idea, say my colleagues brightly… The rations we delivered today were welcome but solve just a small part of the wider problem. I didn’t expect huge smiles of gratitude – and we didn’t get them. Despair squats in every shelter we visit.