In April, at a time when India was facing a humanitarian crisis amid a second wave of Covid-19 and news headlines were showing devastating scenes of a lack of hospital beds and oxygen, we shared a video report from SBT co-founder Sanjoy Roy. The response was overwhelming, including offers of practical help, financial aid and messages of support. Now that the headlines have moved on, Friends of SBT spoke to Sanjoy who provided an update on what is happening in Delhi and how the pandemic continues to impact the children and staff at Salaam Baalak Trust.
“It’s 180 degrees, in terms of what it was then, and how it is now. In Delhi today, cases are down to 27 new cases, so the situation appears much more in control,” Sanjoy Roy told us. “In India we have crossed 900 million vaccinations, from our population of 1.3 billion, so about 75% of eligible Indians have received their first dose. The research is on as to whether children will be vaccinated, there is a sense that they will first open up 14 years plus although I suspect that that is still sometime away.”
With the government currently rolling out around 4.5 million doses per day, free covid testing facilities operating around the city and all SBT staff now double vaccinated, the narrative certainly seems more positive. But, Sanjoy continues by explaining that the aftermath of the crisis is only beginning to be felt: “The Covid crisis was an enormous challenge - there was such panic in the system - and we see that it is being handled much better by the government now. It is the impact of Covid we are seeing now. The number of cases Salaam Baalak Trust is looking after has increased phenomenally; children are running away in larger numbers from their relatives or from their homes. There’s obviously been a great deal of mental abuse, and in some cases physical abuse, and we’re seeing the impact of this abuse and trauma because of the lockdown situation in semi-urban or in rural areas. And, of course, the legacy of extreme poverty that seems to have become the phenomena since Covid-19.” “If we compare our inflow of young people in August 2019 to this August, we are seeing a 44% increase in the number of kids who have run away. The largest numbers are still coming from the state of Uttar Pradesh, many children are still coming from Haryana, and for the first time we are seeing increased numbers of children coming in from the Punjab – a state which has severe issues of drug abuse in some its villages. The number of children with disabilities coming in has also increased, perhaps because they have been abandoned or because their parents are finding they are unable to afford medical costs. It has been becoming more and more difficult, obviously.”
“We have limited capacity in our shelter homes, but when a child is sent to us, we just can’t say no. The whole team muck in and make it happen. We are just trying to deal with the pressure that the kids are facing being locked in for so long, and the mental anxiety of how people are living here. Schools remain closed, so there is a loss of routine and learning online is complicated, there are resource constraints and problems with connectivity. Many of our children were already impacted by mental health issues and now we have this potential where you have had the virus, or have suffered loss, and the mental health impact of that. So yes, it’s an interesting time and we are working on new protocols for both our children and staff.”
In April this year, for the first time, SBT began to provide food and assistance to wider families on the street, not solely children. Whilst the city is slowly starting to open up again, those families still don’t have access to livelihoods, so the charity’s wider food programme continues for now. Similarly the emergency telephone helpline run by SBT, Childline, continues to serve the higher demand from young people with issues around mental health, including suicide calls and those with no money for medical bills.
Sanjoy explains a new approach for supporting some of the alumni of SBT, many of whom have also lost their livelihoods, “One of our new projects is a micro-credit scheme organisation to help some of the young people who were beneficiaries of SBT to kick start their new businesses, innovations and ideas. But for the girls, who would typically be working in service industries – hospitality, restaurants, beauty salons – most of them have lost their livelihoods so we are continuing our subsidy programmes and have set up an alumni fund where we provide 3,000 rupees per person, per month. It’s enabling the young people helping each other; we created an alumni team who monitor this programme, deciding who gets the money and if it’s a loan or a subsidy. Often they have raised money between themselves, without dipping into the fund as much as we thought they would. It’s great to see.”
“Human beings are so resilient that it is just amazing. Everybody seems to wish to move on. The million dollar question is - when you don’t deal with loss and you don’t have closures in the way that we understand closures - what is that impact on the psyche? In the short term or in the long term, what is the impact on young people and also their caregivers feeling?
“It’s such a complex situation that the world is grappling with but human resilience is so enormous that you just take the next step - everybody just gets on with it. Not getting on with it seems like a luxury and people here don’t have that financial or physical choice. We’ve seen that the less people have, the more willing they are to help each other.”