“During these times, Karunalaya staff came to us, to hear about our situation. They told us not to be afraid, and I was encouraged by their advice. This comforted us very much.” As we launch our autumn Don’t Stop Now! Appeal, read about one young 14 year-old girl and her family in India who are receiving support from our partner Karunalaya. Amos’ On Her Terms Lead Karin Joseph writes.
Barracks Road in Chennai, India. About one third of India’s 1.25 billion population live in cities, with numbers rising every year as tens of thousands of people leave villages to seek better prospects. Many end up in over-crowded communities such as Barracks Road.
Gowri is 14. She lives on Barracks Road, a street in Chennai, India, with her parents and brother. Her family has lived on the streets for three generations. Her mother is the only breadwinner for the family, earning just £20 per month as a housemaid.
Gowri shared with our partner Karunalaya how hard life has become since the Coronavirus pandemic struck. “Due to Covid-19, my parents are suffering from the loss of employment. Because of this, we’re struggling for daily meals.”
Gowri was going to school before the Coronavirus hit, but now they are closed. There are daily lessons online but it’s hard for Gowri to access them: “my brother takes the mobile phone whenever he goes out so it makes it difficult for me to attend the online classes.”
Home: An Indian family sit outside their ‘house’ on the pavement on Barracks Road, Chennai. The homes on Barracks Road are low shacks with metal roofs covered in tarpaulin. Cooking pots, utensils and shelves spill out with clothes lines hanging on nearby walls.
In pavement-dwelling communities, it’s a challenge to wash with privacy as people often share a water pump in the street with many other families; their only bathroom access are public toilets which are locked most of the time. For teenage girls, having their period each month compounds this challenge. For these girls, it’s difficult to freshen up daily, Gowri says, but before, when her parents left for work she could wash inside their small house. “But now, because of this pandemic, my father is in the house all the time, so it is very difficult for me to take a bath during my menstruation time”.
Gowri was going to school before the Coronavirus hit, but now they are closed. There are daily lessons online but it’s hard for Gowri to access them.
The pressure on families in pavement-dwelling communities due to loss of income is building up, and affecting children too. “Every day there’s a quarrel between my parents, so I’m not able to concentrate on my studies”, says Gowri. “Since I’m preparing for my 10th public examination, I’m afraid of how to manage and study amidst this situation.”
The fear of the virus spreading in her community is also on Gowri’s mind. “We are not able to follow social distancing in our neighbourhood during this Covid-19. We are also not washing our hands properly, because the place we live in is very small and the water is not sufficient.”
Gowri’s father had symptoms of Coronavirus recently. He went to the hospital for a check-up and she feared the result. “Moreover, they pasted the Covid-19 sticker on the walls of our house”, she said, which made her uncomfortable. Thankfully, his test was negative, but fear of the virus continues.
“We are not able to follow social distancing in our neighbourhood during this Covid-19. We are also not washing our hands properly, because the place we live in is very small and the water is not sufficient.”
“During these times, Karunalaya staff came to us, to hear about our situation. They told us not to be afraid, and I was encouraged by their advice. This comforted us very much.” Gowri’s family received relief supplies that Karunalaya were providing to families on the streets who had lost all their income due to Covid-19.
“When my mother came back after her domestic work, she used to bring some food for us — only then were we able to eat. Until she came, we were hungry but during this situation, we were able to eat daily thanks to Karunalaya’s supplies”.
Generations: Tamil Nadu is India’s most urbanised state, with hundreds of migrants making their way to cities from villages every day in search of jobs. Generations end up on the streets, unable to afford even the cheapest housing. Most remain there for decades, under the constant threat of eviction.
As well as the emotional support and encouragement provided by Karunalaya to the street communities they know so well, this relief work has been a lifeline for so many families. “If Karunalaya would not have helped us, we would have struggled for food. We would have sold our household items or been compelled to borrow from others. I couldn’t imagine what would have been our situation if Karunalaya was not among us.”
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Coronavirus is threatening the progress of young women and girls like Gowri. Please continue to give them your support. Please click here to give to our Don’t Stop Now! Appeal.