In those exhausting occasions, actor directs aid in village


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Deepak Sominath More is the sarpanch of Pimpalgaon Pandhari near Aurangabad. Currently, a major part of his day involves ensuring a complete lockdown and isolation in his village. He says, “Four of us are on duty at various times of the day ensuring that no one enters the village and we keep a record of the villagers who have to step out for essential, unavoidable reasons.”

Along with other villagers, he has also undertaken sanitation drives twice in less than a month, spraying disinfectants, especially around stagnant water puddles. He has gone about explaining basic hygiene practices to the residents.

A group of young volunteers has been mobilised to ensure that essential supplies reach the villagers’ doorsteps, especially the homes of the elderly and they don’t have to step out for any reason.

Significantly, Mr. More has helped identify 25 to 30 daily wage earners in the village who are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and helped provide them with rations. All this with the backing of Nabhangan Foundation, an NGO set up by actor Rajshri Deshpande, best known for her performance in the web series Sacred Games and the Malayalam film S Durga.

“Villages are majorly dependent on everyday jobs. Farming happens for about four months and the rest of the eight months, they join nearby factories as labour or travel to some metropolitan city,” she says. That has now come to a halt, turning the procurement of daily bread into a major struggle.

All possible help

Her aim is to help Pimpalgaon Pandhari and other villages in every possible way. “The situation can get tricky in villages. If even one resident tests COVID-19 positive, it can get very difficult to handle things. Entire villages can get wiped out,” she says.

Ms. Deshpande had adopted Pimpalgaon Pandhari five years ago and has been working towards building the infrastructure of a primary school for children. With the last leg of work on the school building stopped in the wake of the lockdown, she has diverted the NGO’s mandate and corpus to the more immediate task: work for the COVID-19-afflicted people in rural and marginal communities, amongst daily wage earners and migrant labourers.

All this with just a handful of foot soldiers in Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad and Pimpalgaon Pandhari, while she herself is stuck in Madakampoil in Kannur, Kerala, where she had gone for treatment before the lockdown came into force. Ms. Deshpande has been mobilising and procuring supplies though online transactions.

Besides Mr. More on the ground, there is Rushikesh Jaiswal who is supplying food and rations to the slum areas in Aurangabad. Vicky Shinde, a transgender activist in Worli Koliwada, has been distributing rations and medicines to the members of the community in Mumbai.

On Monday morning, when The Hindu called her, Ms. Deshpande was busy sourcing PPE kits for two hospitals in Jalna and one in Aurangabad, and also trying to ensure a reasonable supply of sanitisers and masks in the small village clinics in and around Aurangabad.

Empowering villagers

The idea behind Nabhangan Foundation has been to empower the villagers by involving them in community work and getting them a stake in the developmental projects meant for them.

The NGO is riding the model of community building, self-reliance and self-sufficiency to fight COVID-19 as well. “Motivating and managing social capital is the first and most difficult part of the process,” says Ms. Deshpande.

It is a gargantuan task, considering basic things like soap and water are luxuries in the villages. “They don’t even have enough water to drink. The awareness about washing hands is not there like it is in the cities. Washing hands once in the morning is what they know,” she says. Yet, they are willing to learn. For instance, the village women are keen on knowing how to make face masks.

‘Every rupee counts’

For now, Ms. Deshpande’s focus is about not using money ad hoc, but channelising it in the best possible way, routing it to wherever the charity is needed the most. “We have been researching, planning and calculating what’s needed the most, where and how much. I am responsible for every single rupee and it should go in alleviating the problems of the most needy,” she says.

Once the lockdown is over, she intends to work on sustainable livelihood solutions for labourers and daily wage earners in the village. On April 10, she, along with a group of other members of various NGOs and charities, will fast for the day, in a Gandhian attempt to focus on the plight of labourers and daily wage earners. “The amount of food we have in a day can feed many of them over many days,” she says.


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