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News from Kolkata during COVID19 lockdown crisis

I was last in Kolkata in January. One woman who has become a friend over the years is Razia. She lives with her disabled husband and 3 children in a shelter beside the Topsia nullah (a stinking open sewer or canal). She is illiterate and terribly poor but determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Her daughter has just taken her class 10 exams and has great ambitions to continue her education. I always drop in to see Razia when I’m in Topsia and if don’t find her, she’ll come and find me. It’s an odd sort of friendship but one I value. She is the human face of Tiljala SHED’s work. So I was very shocked to be send some footage of a delegation from Topsia, who had come to visit Shafkat at home to explain how desperate the community is for food. There was Razia. I shouldn’t be surprised – she is a community leader in the Topsia canalside squatters and would absolutely stand up for her neighbours. 

The Indian Government announced an immediate 21-day lock down on 24th March 2020, when there were only 500 reported cases of the disease in a population of 1.3 billion. It was hailed as “early, far-sighted and courageous … better than waiting for another 3 or 4 weeks” by WHO’s David Nabarro on April 3rd. An Oxford University research group counted India’s lockdown as the most stringent in the world, scoring it 100 out of 100 on their tracker. It remains too early to know how successful India’s lock down has been in combating the pandemic.

So, whilst the virus is a distant though very real fear, the immediate issue for India’s most vulnerable communities is hunger.  I have been receiving first-hand news from Shafkat at Tiljala SHED and from other staff members and volunteers.The lockdown means that all Tiljala SHED’s programmes have been suspended. The office is closed and the majority of staff are staying at home. The 600 children we normally bring into our centres every day are at home in their huts with their parents. These parents, rag pickers, maidservants, daily labourers, rickshaw wallahs, factory workers, piece workers, are all without work. Without a day’s work there is no day’s pay and therefore no food.  In desperation, hundreds of people are coming to Tiljala SHED to ask for help. Over the years we have run an emergency food programme to help out a few of the most vulnerable families of all. But our main programmes have always been about education and empowerment – helping the poorest to lift themselves out of poverty. But in a time of crisis like this lock down, Tiljala SHED becomes a refuge for the desperate and relief of hunger has become our main concern.

We were hugely helped last week by a delivery of food rations from Kolkata Gives Foundation. Our staff (the ones who live in the community) distributed coupons to the neediest and invited them to come and collect bags of rice, daal, oil, onions and potatoes. 600 families received enough to last them a week.  But it isn’t enough. We don’t know if there will be any more such deliveries.The food distribution is difficult because of the need for social distancing and the very real risk of the coronavirus spreading dramatically in these very densely populated areas. Our staff and volunteers are putting themselves in the way of harm not only from the virus but also from the crowds of hungry and desperate people. Shafkat reports that he has had to call in the police on a number of occasions to calm things down. We are fortunate that he has a friend in the police force who has promised to send in support whenever it is needed.

Many agencies are making use of the fact that even the poorest of the poor in India often have bank accounts – thanks to an earlier government initiative to allow even the poorest to open zero balance bank accounts. And this is how we hope to support our beneficiaries over the next few weeks. Shafkat reckons that a cash transfer of about Rs1500 (about £17) per household of 6 people per month, should help get them through this crisis. It falls well short of what a family would normally eat but it will certainly help. For those who don’t have bank accounts we will continue to distribute rations, but individually. We estimate there may be as many as 3000 families in need and we cannot know how long this will last.
I have been using various channels to appeal for help. I hope this hasn’t caused any confusion – especially as I am going to add another!

About my Fundraising
Over the past 5 years I have been raising funds for Tiljala SHED exclusively through GlobalGiving, a US based crowdfunding platform. It has been highly effective and has led to donations from well beyond my own network.  However, since last July GlobalGiving has been unable to remit funds to any of its Indian partners owing to a problem with the Home Ministry in Delhi. This means that funds have been accumulating in the US until such time as another route has been found.

In order to provide a “fiscal sponsor” to act as a conduit for Global Giving funds, I have set up a new UK charitable trust, The ShantyTrust. This trust is principally a partner to Tiljala SHED – and its most important function to start with is to remit $20,000 of stuck funds. I am delighted that those funds have arrived and will be in India as soon as possible. All future funds raised through Global Giving will now come to Shanty Trust on behalf of Tiljala SHED. I am also looking forward to raising funds directly for Shanty Trust as this gives more flexibility in terms of timing and also the purpose of the funds.

Meanwhile, Tiljala SHED was recently invited to join GiveIndia, India’s foremost crowdfunding platform. This is great news as we can raise funds in Indian rupees, US dollars and GB pounds on the same platform. I have been promoting this on Facebook recently.In addition to this Global Giving enables me to create appeals so if you have been a supporter at any time through Global Giving you may have received an appeal from me last week.Both these two campaigns are going very well and I thank you all for such swift and generous response. I am very pleased that Tiljala SHED will be receiving generous funds from supporters all over the world.

Thank you very much
If you’d like to make a donation through one of these platforms, you’ll find the details below. All donations, however delivered, will go to Tiljala SHED’s COVID19 Emergency Fund.

How to Donate

  1. We can accept tax efficient donations in USD, INR and GBP though the GiveIndia link.
  2. The Shanty Trust CAF link is only tax efficient in GBP 
  3. Global Giving accepts many currencies but I only know they are tax efficient for USD and GBP
  4. Funds can be remitted directly to Tiljala SHED for organisations and other entities for which Gift Aid etc do not apply

Tiljala SHED’s Bank details are as follows:

Union Bank of India
Dr S M Avenue Branch
33/1 Dr SM Avenue
Kolkata 700 014
West Bengal
India

A/C No: 301402010007078

SWIFT/BIC Code: UBININBBOCL

Branch Code: 530140

IFSC CODE: UBIN0530140

MICR CODE: 700026008

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