By Jill Ferguson
One of the silver linings of the Coronavirus crisis in Goa has been the outpouring of citizen engagement over the last one month. Goa has changed, and changed for the better. Since the moment the lockdown was announced, an ad hoc coalition of groups has come together in Goa. In the digital age, such outpourings of engagement are often amorphous and slippery things. For that reason, they are very hard to document and often go unrecognized. Even as 100s or 1000s of people may have been active, the average person has no idea, and remains disheartened. As a member of one of the volunteer initiatives that have been working tirelessly since the crisis began, my purpose here is to give you many reasons to be inspired by your fellow residents of Goa. Groups of citizens have behaved in ways that highlight what is best in community and village life, re-invigorating both. Whatsapp groups across the state have been created amongst housing societies and villages so neighbors can support one another and share information in a timely manner. We are witnessing people sharing veggies from their gardens, placing bulk orders as communities to reduce the need for people to shop individually and risk exposure, and generally supporting their neighbors in acts small and big.
There are innumerable new groups that have sprung up in recent days, and existing groups that have become massively re-energized. But some of these include Goa Humanitarian Helpline, GiveforGoa, Goa Outreach, Live Happy, Terra Conscious, Indian Red Cross Society and JCI, Konkan Development Society, Aastha Society, Anti Hunger Squad, Farhan Rasheed Foundation Self Help Group, the Humano Welfare Trust, Humanitarian Relief Society Goa, and ActforGoa.org. Apologies if I’ve left off a group that you are part of! A comprehensive database of who is doing what is a real need at this moment.
ActforGoa is the network it launched in November 2019, after two years’ worth of facilitated group discussions with students, colleges, activists, lawyers, filmmakers and others about what kind of civil society Goa needs. As soon as the lockdown was announced, ActforGoa started by helping to research, compile, verify, and share relevant information to help people get through self-isolation safely. So far, since the Covid crisis began in Goa, we have worked with over 60 volunteers across various groups and in different organizations. We’ve identified four verticals where volunteers will be needed over the next 12-18 months, to ensure a lack of talented people-power is never a problem. Much of the civil society response has been focused on providing rations to the needy. There was an overwhelming response from citizens, volunteer groups, and organizations to feed migrants and other at-risk communities, and also to contribute donations to these efforts. The groups coordinated well: we mapped where all these various migrant communities are, in hopes of reducing duplication and redundancies; we verified the number of people in each location and the amount of food required; we organized ourselves according to geography, so that one group was in charge of each specific village, but we all spoke with each other; we shared best practices. Though there is no hard data, I would venture to guess that at least 20,000+ people have been fed in the last couple of weeks by various volunteer organizations and networks across the state.
One lesson from past disasters in India, such as the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, the riots of 2002, or the Tsunami of 2004, is that effective coordination between citizen groups and the government is crucial in disaster management. To this day the government is still finding it difficult to find ways to streamline the verification process, and reduce the amount of redundancy and overlap that is happening.
The government has set up two helplines, one for North Goa and one for South Goa, for people needing food These numbers are operational, though hardly flawless. If someone calls, the operator will take down their details, including their location and the number of people in their household/locality, and register them for the service. Food is supposed to arrive within 3-5 days. Many civil society groups have been passing on information about this helpline as they do our own distribution, and ActforGoa \ will be monitoring the functioning of this helpline.
The government is, as we all know, mandated to identify and support these various communities initially with food supplies and later with longer term financial and vocational support in the means of a stipend. Some people think there are probably as many as 100,000 migrants who come to Goa seasonally for work, so the task ahead is extremely complex. It is important that the government takes full responsibility for supporting these communities as the crisis evolves or deepens. Civil society stands ready to work collaboratively with the government in the next phase of the crisis.
Several long term questions remain - will this energy sustain into the future? Will the groups that have come up in response to the Covid crisis continue to work, and to collaborate, on other critical issues, as the Covid crisis passes? Will any of them formalize into NGOs that can play a watch-dog role and carry out vital research and work on a large scale? Will the government recognize the critical role civil society is currently playing in this crisis, and support it? Will corporations step in and help fund, through CSR, civil society for its critical role in disaster preparedness? Will online citizen platforms emerge that can enable any willing citizen to take action on issues they care about?
We believe the answer to all of the above questions can be a strong ‘yes!’, and we’re committed to working towards these goals. Are you able to help during the Covid crisis? If so, please visit https://actforgoa.org/volunteer/ . Also see our Covid Response Page, https://actforgoa.org/covid-19-goa/, which lists the names and current needs of many of the volunteer groups mentioned here. You may have ideas for other projects that need to be started or things you’d like to do. If so, shoot us an email at [email protected] and we’ll try to help you launch it, and make connections for you. Jill Ferguson is one of the founding members of ActforGoa.org. She works as a sustainable business start up and operating systems consultant for a number of different industries across the world. Jill has a Masters in Peace and Justice Studies from the Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. She is currently volunteering full-time on Covid relief.