Faced with the fears of the pandemic, returnee migrants are facing discrimination at the hands of their own community members in the villages. Read how Aide et Action’s Virtual Community Volunteer Network is working rigorously to help the communities overcome COVID fears and promote inclusiveness.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic followed by a nation-wide lockdown has caused widespread concern and fear among the vulnerable migrant workers and their families including children. Fear of pandemic and hunger resulted in a massive reverse migration where thousands of families have returned to their villages under the most challenging circumstances. The plight of migrant workers increased further upon their arrival in their villages. They had to face discrimination and ostracisation at the hands of the villagers who suspected them to be potential carriers of the coronavirus disease.
A great opportunity for mutual aid
To address these challenges, Aide et Action created a Virtual Community Volunteer Network covering 190 villages in 36 Gram Panchayats of Balangir, Bargarh, and Nuapada districts in Odisha. “When I was approached to volunteer to help my co-villagers with COVID related information, I readily agreed. I thought this is a good opportunity for me to do some productive work during the lockdown period,” says Kabita Patel, a 19-year-old Virtual Volunteer from Banmal, Bargarh.
Presently there are 500 volunteers in the network. The volunteers received training in batches on their basic roles during and post lockdown through teleconferences. They were given basic orientation on COVID-19 messages developed by the Government, social distancing norms, identification of issues faced by the left-behind family members of migrant workers, and the community in the targeted villages. The network also played an active role in identifying and assisting 10000 migrant workers stranded in other states and helped them for safe repatriation.
Guarantee peace and inclusion
Given the children’s increased protection risks during the crisis, the volunteers were oriented to keep a vigil on violation of child protection issues. The volunteers focused on identifying children who are at higher risks of sexual violence and abuse particularly girls. They also focused on addressing issues of child labor due to loss of income in the household and increased risk of child marriage.
With conflicts and stigma associated with the COVID-19 creating bitterness among villagers, the volunteer network has set up peace committees for instant dispute resolution. There are several instances where the peace committees have successfully intervened and resolved community issues related to COVID. “We were facing immense challenges dealing with stigma related to the coronavirus and increasing rivalry among villagers but after setting up peace committees we were able to address the issues and promote inclusiveness among the community members,”says Prahllad Padhan, VCVN Sanatika, Balangir. “For example, we intervened to convince a migrant woman worker to submit to an institutional quarantine and thus put an end to the social boycott of her village.”
As of now, the network was able to link 2500 returnee migrant workers to rural wage employment scheme, 6700 households linked to Public Distribution System, 4960 children linked to Mid-Day Meal scheme and 5200 children were linked to Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) services.