With India currently in the eye of a horrific storm, we decided the best way to provide you with an update was to share the conversation Friends of SBT had yesterday with Salaam Baalak Trust Founder, Sanjoy Roy.
“It feels apocalyptic,” was his opening comment. “Every image you’re seeing in the UK is not 1,000th of what people in the street are seeing.”
Talking to us from his Delhi home, in one of the most difficult weeks since he co-founded SBT more than 30 years ago, Sanjoy shared what is happening right now.
“In Delhi, the capital of India, what can I say? It’s just grim. There is no end in sight. They are saying that 14th or 15th of May is when numbers will peak before starting to come down, but that’s more than two weeks away. Every minute we are trying to organise someone’s oxygen, or hospital bed, or medication. Today there are no beds.”
“110 of our children and staff are ill right now, primarily in the residential care homes. Most of them are moving towards getting better but this has increased from 17 sick children just ten days ago, and the number affected in the outreach centres will be much higher. One of our female staff members came out of hospital today, still with low oxygen levels, and very, very sadly a male colleague passed away this morning.”
With obvious emotion in his voice, Sanjoy went on to explain that his colleague leaves behind a wife and three children, aged 4, 6 & 8 years old, and made it clear that SBT will find ways to extend help to this family. The charity is also exploring ways to support the alumni of SBT - the former beneficiaries who left the shelter homes when they became adults and who may no longer have access to safe shelter, food and support.
“When people from SBT have gotten ill we have had resources, we could help find them a bed, for example. We are, by and large, able to help get tests for our children, we now have a doctor on-call 24/7 and we have bought one oxygen concentrator, for which we had to pay a ridiculously inflated price. There are a lot of people who don’t have this access, people sleeping outside hospital gates, hoping for a miracle, and they are dying.”
We asked Sanjoy about the overwhelming oxygen shortage that’s been widely reported in the international media.
“It’s true that India produces enough oxygen. But we’ve not been able to transport it between where it is produced and where it is needed, there is currently a 7-day lag. We are hailed as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ and were distributing medicines to other countries, but there wasn’t enough effort to build the capacity here, so now there is a real shortage of medicines.”
Giving us a glimpse of some anti-viral tablet boxes, Sanjoy explains he has had to have them flown in from Amritsar, a city in the north of the country, for the children at Salaam Baalak Trust.
“Apart from people who are ill, there is also starvation. Everything is shut down, money has disappeared. People were just getting over the impact of the first lockdown. Everyone had used their savings and starvation is going to become the next big crisis. We are seeing from rural areas and from the urban poor more and more requests to feed young people.”
Before the pandemic, Salaam Baalak Trust’s sole focus was on supporting children. This shifted during the first lockdown when more than 10,000 families of street children were also provided with food by the charity. Sanjoy expands on this.
“We had already extended outside of feeding children; as part our food programme we were running a central kitchen to feed families. It’s fallen apart because so many people are ill. Staff are ill… the transportation has stopped… the farm we source from has dried up, the harvests stopped. We are trying to crack that code and I hope in the next one or two days to be able to do that, to get it back up again. Once our kids are secure, we will continue to share any surplus, particularly with people in the minority places, those on the fringes of the city.”
We concluded the conversation by asking what Friends of SBT, and all those outside India, can do to help.
“We can’t ask for medicine as you can’t sent it out as just a package and as much as we would love more oxygen concentrators of the right kind, I don’t see that happening with the export and clearance rules. I wish I had something more substantial to ask for right now, but money really does help. For medicine, for oxygen, for food, for staff.”
As you’re someone who has witnessed the incredible work of SBT first-hand, we hope you’ll share this important conversation and donate to our urgent appeal if you can.
Wherever in the world you’re reading this from, please stay safe and continue to hold India in your thoughts.