COVID-19 exists and cyclone hasn’t stopped us

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“The more we get together, the happier we’ll be”- Nirupama (name changed) learned this in school while she was 12 years old. Today after 10 years she could actually realize the true meaning of these words. While sitting in a temporary shelter, shivering in cold she felt helpless with no drinking water and food –a group of people came with hot khichri (An Indian dish consisting chiefly of rice and split pulses) – just ready to serve while another group gave them a bottle of drinking water. Moreover, her ART drugs which she had lost at the time of evacuation was handed over to her within two days of the devastating cyclone by Vihaan programme outreach workers.

This is only a small picture. Despite all challenges, a group of people of West Bengal have not stopped caring for others.

picture-1-1While the Coronavirus crisis was spreading rapidly, the landfall of super cyclone Amphan shattered the people of West Bengal. On 20th May 2020, people of West Bengal were eagerly waiting for the end to a dreadful night of power cuts and rage of strong winds. The super cyclone Amphan tore through several districts of West Bengal leaving a trail of death and enormous destruction. South 24 parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, North 24 parganas, East Medinipore, and many more districts were affected severely.

But we believe in working together even if COVID-19 exists!

So maintaining all precautionary measures Tinku Roy and her team extend their hand to help others in need. Tinku works as an Outreach Worker in a Community Service Center for People Living with HIV (PLHIV). Community Service Center is a platform for the PLHIV (people living with HIV and AIDS) from where they can fight for their rights and against all kinds of discrimination. Prerana, Subhecha, Deepshikha, Jeebandeep are the few names of this kind of Community Service Center who works in 23 districts of West Bengal.

There is already a challenging situation due to lockdown as there is no public transportation to reach out to the health facilities and hard to reach areas. PLHIVs were already facing problems in coming out from their houses but on top of that, the Amphan Cyclone damaged all the area resulting in fallen trees, fallen electricity poles, broken roads, broken small bridges, and heavy pillars were lying on the roadside due to breaking of footpath and crossings.

picture-2Malati (name changed) a PLHIV from Hooghly said, “I don’t know where are we going to live? The storm smashed has our home and blew the roof off.’’

Harish from Howrah PLHIV community lost his van-rickshaw which was the only source of his income. He even tied the rickshaw with iron belt and ropes, but it did not help, the cyclone damaged it so badly that it cannot be repaired.

The cyclone ruined the lives of lakhs of people who were already in the face of a major financial crisis due to the nationwide lockdown.

Rupa’s mother told her not to open the window as the rain was very heavy. She knew that the cyclone named Amphan was coming. Rupa’s mother was ready with candles and a full bucket of water stored in the bathroom in power cut. But she could not imagine that even after four days of the cyclone, the power supply in their area was not resumed. They ran out of drinking water. Rupa is 14 years old and she knows that she can manage, but what about her younger brother! He is only 8 months old and is afraid as there is no light. They cannot even talk with their relatives for help as there is no mobile network. Frustrated, agitated Rupa’s father tried to get out of the house to collect some baby food but everywhere roads were blocked with uprooted trees and electric poles. They were sitting helplessly until the Care & Support Centre (CSC) people reached them with food, clean water, and medical help.

“As a CSC, we have to ensure the betterment of the quality of life for PLHIV and other marginalized & vulnerable population of society,” said Mr Khitish Mondol, the Director of Jeebandeep CSC.

The CSC team from Kolkata, South & North 24 parganas and Howrah distributed dry food rations to the Amphan affected people. Subhecha CSC in Murshidabab also distributed nutritional items to the children along with other NGOs.

Tinku, Jyotikana or Jaya – they all work in these CSCs since 2005 when the organization was formed to create a stigma and discrimination-free society. Even within this Amphan and COVID-19 situation, they continue to distribute ART medicines, go to the field for home visits, and are taking care of the PLHIV community. Till now, they have supported hundreds of PLHIV to get their ART medicines who missed their doses for last month or 10-15 days.

Vihaan programme of Alliance India enhances treatment adherence and retention in HIV care for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in India. The programme serves nearly 1.4 million PLHIV through its 319 Care and Support Centres spread across 28 states and 4 union territories in India.

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