As the second wave of Coronavirus spread across India, it reached remote parts of rural India as well. The spread put tremendous strain on an already weak healthcare system and led to the loss of lives and livelihoods. Large swathes of rural populations – many of whom had returned from the cities due to the outbreak of Coronavirus – found themselves without a steady source of earning and dipping into their fast-depleting savings.
While the Government and several non-Government organisations are taking steps to address the challenges people face, providing relief in terms of essentials such as ration and medicines remains a priority and a challenge.
To augment the distribution of relief material, CII and CII Foundation are working very closely with the CII Foundation Woman Exemplars to reach out to the underprivileged and the marginalised – the last mile as it were.
For the CII Foundation Woman Exemplars, who are grassroots women leaders who have overcome social and economic challenges to emerge as role models or exemplars in their communities, it is easier to reach out to the last mile. Through their work in driving social transformation in their communities, they have built trust and have access to some of the most vulnerable communities, such as the Dalits, Musahars, and de-notified tribes. The pandemic has impacted these vulnerable populations disproportionately, and the woman exemplars have gone beyond their call of duty to generate resources to help the communities in these difficult times.
In fact, it is the understanding of the community and the complexity of the impact of Covid on these populations that led to the development of the Covid Resilience project in 3 locations across the county. Supported by CLP India, the projects aim to prepare communities to deal with crises and become more resilient. The projects are being led by Mana Mandlekar in Madhya Pradesh, Rama Sharma in Rajasthan and Deepa Pawar in Maharashtra.
Madhya Pradesh: Woman Exemplar Mana Mandlekar transforms adolescent children into agents of change in 20 villages of the Harda District. The children participate in their usual self-defence classes. However, an element of awareness has been added so that they can share the information with the community members around Covid- appropriate behaviour, Government schemes and programs, thereby increasing their resilience towards disasters of various magnitudes.
Rajasthan: Woman exemplar Rama Sharma is helping reduce the number of school dropouts from the Banjara Muslim communities of Tonk District. Since this is a migrant community frequently on the move, continuity in education for the children is challenging. Covid has added to the problem since livelihoods have been impacted. With support from the CII Foundation, Rama is also working towards creating a cadre of second-rung leaders in the communities, restrengthening their systems and making the community resilient.
Maharashtra: Woman Exemplar Deepa Pawar is strengthening the Notified and De-notified tribal communities in the Thane District of Maharashtra. The interventions in these communities focuses on equipping the community leaders through capacity building in disaster management. This is being achieved through training on Leadership, Disaster Management, Emergency Response and Prevention activities, guided and monitored by the CII Foundation.
Today, there are around100+ Woman Exemplars across India reaching out to the marginalised and the poorest of the poor with relief material. So far the women have been able to reach almost 50,000 people across the country providing them with Ration and basic health and hgygiene material that will sustain them for a month.
The focus now is to leverage the strength of Woman Exemplars and their network to create greater awareness about Covid-appropriate behaviour such as masking up and maintaining social distancing. The Exemplars will receive support by way of communication material and information to help them disseminate the information. The Exemplars will also address vaccine hesitancy, quite common in many parts of rural India especially, to dispel myths and false notions surrounding it. They will encourage people to get vaccinated by sharing reliable information on the process and the need for vaccinations. The thrust of all the endeavours will be to help the people cope better with the challenges posed by the second wave of Covid and prepare them for a possible third wave.