Pandemic Heroes: These volunteers have provided more than 30,000 meals, 2,000 masks and legal counselling to the underprivileged

Volunteers at Pranyas Development Foundation, as well as its founder Rahul Sharma, are on their feet to help the underprivileged and the healthcare workers, who are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic has put the entire world at risk, and the number of positive cases keeps increasing by the day. India has been seeing another problem as collateral damage with the marginalised sections of the society.

Most of the migrant workers and daily wage labourers have been rendered jobless, and are taking the road back to their homes, driven by desperation. Many even lost their lives walking hundreds of kilometres.

The government has organised special ‘Shramik Trains’ for the movement of these migrant workers. However, their means of income have been severely compromised, forcing them to go hungry and unable to obtain a square meal.

Volunteers of Pranyas Foundation distributing food

NGOs and individuals have been working throughout the lockdown to ensure that these migrant workers get enough food, rations, and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic.

One such group is Pranyas Foundation, founded by IIT Bombay alumnus Rahul Sharma. Rahul and his team of volunteers have distributed more than 30,000 meals so far.

Pranyas Development Foundation

Rahul Sharma always dreamt of helping at least one crore people in his lifetime, ever since his school days. He wanted to make a change in the life of underprivileged women and children, who lack the necessary resources to be productive and become a valued asset to the country.

His friend, Anshuman Amaresh, being a corporate lawyer, wanted to use his skills to be the legal voice of the underprivileged. Realising Rahul’s dream, he co-founded Pranyas Development Foundation in an effort to eradicate hunger, and to ensure that everybody enjoys equal rights and opportunities.

“At this time of global inequality, where the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, we are trying to build a bridge of trust between those who can help and those who need help,” Rahul tells SocialStory.

The organisation, based primarily in Delhi, works for the empowerment of women and children, and also for the enforcement of human rights for the different sections of the society.

Creating awareness alongside distribution of meals

Pranyas Development Foundation is a Section VIII company that started their journey with barely a couple of volunteers in 2018, and now works with 1,200+ volunteers across India to conduct several career counselling campaigns, facilitate books and clothes donation drives, distribution stationeries to kids living in the slums, and host legal awareness camps.

The organisation has also taken full educational responsibility of about 250 children so far, and has conducted many classes for these children in Indore, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Gwalior.

The COVID-19 battle

Ever since the lockdown was imposed in the last week of March, Rahul and Anshuman, along with the energetic members of Pranyas Foundation, were quick to map out those affected by the pandemic.

“We had to share inspirational videos to our volunteers to keep them motivated so that fear of coronavirus affecting them remains out of the mental circuit,” says Rahul. “Our volunteers risked their lives to feed the poor, deliver essential goods to needy, distribute protective gears, and spread awareness.”

The volunteers of Pranyas have been visiting villages and districts in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, along with Delhi. They mark the places according to the needs of the people, and focus more on the areas where the impact of the pandemic is the greatest. 

They have made temporary kitchens at various locations, from where they carry and stock all the cooked meals for the entire day to circulate and distribute. Keeping the social distancing protocol in mind, the food is been prepared in a secured and sanitised environment. 

Distribution of masks and creating awareness in slum areas.

The team has distributed more than 32,000 meals and 2,000 masks and sanitisers so far, while practising safety measures. Along with that, food ration kits were also distributed with the help of the local stores in Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, and Gwalior to about 150 families.

“Those who are making our homes, those who are pivotal in running our cities are literally starving to death, and are walking hopelessly on the roads. At the same time, this crisis has also reflected why the civil society organisations and the collective actions of citizens, is central to the smooth functioning of our country,” says Anshuman.

They had also executed several awareness campaigns in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Gwalior, and Bengaluru, where they distributed food and masks in a controlled manner, and also conducted door-to-door awareness campaigns to avoid crowd gatherings.

In times where many workers are being laid off due to the lockdown, the team is also providing legal support to marginalised labourers through a group of lawyers, as well as by the volunteers of Pranyas Foundation, to protect them from the atrocities of the employers and landlords during this hard time.

Volunteers of Pranyas Foundation distributing food

The team is also working on its initiative to distribute 1,000-10,000 PPE kits to doctors and medical staffs all across India, including 5,000 masks and face shields. This initiative is supported by social clubs of eight IIMs, seven IITs, two BITS, and three other prestigious colleges.

The efforts are funded through the crowdfunding website, Milaap. People can donate money for the distribution of food, or the distribution of masks, or can make a donation to the other causes of the NGO.

Plans for the future

“In our COVID-19 Relief Camp, our food and safety kit distribution will continue across various cities in India,” says Rahul.

“We are also promoting online education among underprivileged kids and providing all the necessary resources to continue their education,” he adds.

The number of health workers affected by COVID-19 is increasing exponentially. The team will be providing immense support to help frontline healthcare workers.

With the help of local authorities, the team will also try to generate job opportunities for labourers in their home states itself so they get a source of income and can get back on their feet.

“People cutting across political and regional lines have come together and stood rock solid behind those who are economically less fortunate. These are the moments when we shall cherish the fraternity of our countrymen which is not just mentioned in the preamble of our constitution but is also in the temperament of every individual,” says Anshuman
Edited by Kanishk Singh