India: Beyond The Statistics of COVID-19

Every day, thousands of people in India die from the virus

Since mid-April the coronavirus has ravaged India leaving hospitals overwhelmed, children hungry and people to die in makeshift beds by the side of the street.

In some areas, people have been perishing faster than crematoriums can tend to their bodies, and the smoky streets of places like New Delhi testify to the make-shift funeral pyres that have been appearing by the roadsides.

As of mid-June, 380,000 people have died as a result of the virus in India.

There are currently seven Common Goal partner community organisations in India – with each facing unprecedented challenges during this time.

Here are just four of the organisations who have been fighting to keep their operations running in some capacity – and helping those most in need in their communities.

Slum Soccer, Nagpur, Maharashtra

Before the Coronavirus, Slum Soccer in the region of Maharashtra opened its doors to homeless children and young people, immigrants, and all who they felt could improve their lives through the beautiful game.

One of their regular undertakings is the ‘DeafKidz Goal!’ programme – a programme set up by the organisation to assist hearing-impaired and deaf young people in improving their life skills – but there are many more.

Their impact to date has seen an average of more than 50,000 young people empowered in some capacity each year since the organisation first opened more than ten years ago.

Just last October, Common Goal heard the story of a former participant turned football coach Vikas Mesham – who with the help of Slum Soccer managed to beat addiction and find redemption through football.

Slum Soccer had been doing all it can to keep its services open to children, young people and the communities at large in some capacity over the last year and a quarter, handing out food supplies and hygiene packages.

But with the drastic escalation of the coronavirus in their vicinity, just staying at home and keeping safe and well has become the priority.

“We have been so busy because most of our programmes were school-based but COVID-19 changed everything,” said Pankaj Mahajan, a programme coordinator at the organisation.

“My mother and my brother were both infected, but thankfully they have made a full recovery.

“We are working with our participants virtually but it is not so engaging, effective and sustaining. Our participants do not have access to internet and do not have android phones. Our community coaches are helping them by going to their homes and providing access.

“The Covid rate has begun to decreasing now in my state and city though.”

Youth Football Club Rurka Kalan, Jalandhar district of Punjab

YFC Rurka Kalan services are geared towards utilising sport for development with an emphasis on quality education, young leadership development and as seen in our FOOTBALL4GOOD & Photography piece last year centred on female empowerment.

Now, however, the Jalandhar district of Punjab has suffered tremendously from the coronavirus and the services at YFC Rurka Kalan have changed with it.

“In our area the situation is critical, the infections are rising day by day,” said Gurmangal Dass, founder and President of YFC Rurka Kalan.

“As far as India is concerned, big cities are severely hit by infections, there are no beds in hospitals, medicines, ventilators and oxygen cylinders are not available. People are dying due to inadequate medical support in time.

“In rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana and Punjab people have no medical advice or support so it is their luck if they could survive the virus attack.

“We are currently operating with 30 percent staff with some people working from home. We have implemented COVID protocols in our organisation.”

Throughout the lockdown YFC Rurka Kalan has been providing food and hygienic support to locals but with the current situation Gurmangal says the organisation, and indeed the country, is not suitably prepared for the nightmare that has swept the nation.

“The services are proving inadequate as those services were designed for a different scenario when there was full lockdown and supplying food was the main priority,” he added.

“Our resources have been drained off due to prolonged pandemic and so are our capacities. We are in a process to set up a 15-bed COVID treatment facility in our village with the provision of Oxygen Concentrators and other medical support.”

Magic Bus, Mumbai and Various Locations Around the Country

Since 1999, Magic Bus has transformed the lives of 1 million children and 35,000 young people in India.

Offering, among others, football based education services the organisation has managed to lift the average age of school leavers significantly in those who take part in Magic Bus programmes.

In India, 30% of girls still get married below the age of 18. One of the many cornerstones of Magic Bus is to ensure that these children, equipped with a secondary education and aspirations for a better career, will seek out skill-based training to get a job, empowering them towards being able to make their own life decisions.

Now Magic Bus director of communications Sharmila Subramaniam fears as to what the Coronavirus will mean for the children of India in the long term.

“In this hour of global calamity, the children, young people and their communities need the ability to cope with this crisis,” she said.

“For over two decades, through its life skills education Magic Bus has been building resilience among its children to help them face struggles and hardship at every stage of life.

“Now more than ever, resilience is what is needed to help deal with the crisis and Magic Bus’s emergency COVID-19 second wave responses are purposed towards saving lives and building resilience among communities, families and children.

“Since recovery of family and youth incomes continues to remain need of the hour, we have expanded our Livelihood programme avenues to reach out to young people and adults, many of whom are first time job seekers, out of work as well as under employed due to pandemic induced lockdowns.

“The team reached out to over 10,000 households across 100 villages in Gujarat to create awareness and guide them on the process of taking the vaccine. As a result, 11,131 people have successfully been vaccinated till date.”

OSCAR foundation, Mumbai

Prior to the pandemic the OSCAR foundation utilised the power of football to improve the lives of young people within their locality.

One of their three programmes is the Football and Life Skills Programme which delivers structured sessions using football-oriented games designed to teach children essential life skills such as leadership, team work and the importance of education.

In addition to that, young participants are educated on pertinent social issues such as gender equality, child marriage, child labour, addiction, hygiene, and the environment.

Naturally, the pandemic has changed that.

“While the health aspect of the pandemic is under control in Mumbai as opposed to other areas in the country, the economic consequences of introducing lockdown like restrictions are severe,” said Arvind Premanand, Communications Manager at OSCAR.

“Many families have lost their source of income and do not have money to purchase essential food supplies. Therefore, we are currently assisting families by providing food kits.

“We have also distributed art supplies and footballs to children to encourage them to stay home and not loiter on the streets. As of now, our football and education programmes are not operating on the ground.

“We continue to train young leaders online and are also taking their assistance to mobilise relief efforts.” 

While the organisation has been able to adapt to the coronavirus situation and provide new services to areas of Mumbai to an extent it has proved more difficult as the virus has progressed.

“Our intervention has always revolved around ensuring children stay in school and pursue their education,” said Arvind.

“Football and life skills sessions serve as an incentive for children to complete their education. In 2020, we were suddenly faced with a situation where these children and their families were struggling to purchase basic food supplies like rice, wheat, oil and pulses.

“Our primary intervention is on the football pitch where we provide an opportunity for children to play football and teach them life skills in the process. We have not been able to conduct these sessions since March 2020.”