Deepa George“We have not had any supply of vegetables or even milk or bread ever since the lockdown was imposed. Our panchayat has been so disorganised,” lamented a resident of Moira and continues, “If it wasn’t for Tony’s help in organising vegetables and fruits for us, I don’t know how we’d continue.” Tony aka Antonio Nazareth - the owner of the very popular restaurant ANDRON in Nachinola, seems to be the superman with no cape. Tired, disheveled and shouting instructions to socially distance, despite his hoarse voice is the man behind the makeshift bazaar in the Andron parking space. Impressive management with lines drawn out, to enable people to maintain distance to clear communication on his WhatsApp group that informed everyone to wear masks or cover their mouths to making vegetables and fruits available at reasonable market rates and not the inflated rates that seem to be the norm, his community team is well in place and everyone seems to know their role. He plainly demonstrates that with a well thought out plan and clear communication, people will follow instructions. It’s really not that difficult. Explains Tony, “We got into action the day the lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister. Saddam Khatri, my neighbour, is a vegetable supplier and wholesaler. Together, we decided to supply the people of our village. Thankfully, our Panchayat supported us and through the collector, we got the transport pass. I still don’t have a volunteer pass but cops have been largely helpful when you explain your intent clearly.” Given the situation even in Moira, which is just a few kilometers away from Nachinola, it wasn’t long before people started trudging from other villages, including as far as Porvorim. It is obvious that villages with active ward members and support from Panchayats seem to fare better than those where politics seems to stall efficiency. Tony chuckles, “COVID has taught us that there is no religion or caste; insider or outsider. We are all social animals on this planet and we’ve got to combat this together.” With financial help coming in from neighbours and the community, Tony has been able to give away free rice, flour, sugar, and oil to the needy people. Devidas Netardekar, and his team, has a volunteer pass ensuring delivery of medicines in the region while Dilip Kerkar and Samson Lobo help in making the parcels and managing the market. Thrilled at the blessings and appreciation they have received this past week, Tony also declares, “In normal circumstances, I am happy running my restaurant and have absolutely no interest in politics,” almost reading the mind of his villagers. Sharing this sentiment is Vijaya Josephine Pais, the creator of Offbeat Goa - a community online portal that brings the Goan community together as a resourceful medium to help each other and create awareness. “When the lockdown began, I decided to not post on any events but use this medium to reach out to everyone in Goa. I soon realised that there were many people especially the elderly who weren’t getting any help. A conversation and meeting with like-minded people who run sustainable businesses in Goa resulted in a citizen movement of sorts. She added, “We reached out for citizen volunteers and we soon had over 200 people with different skill sets offering help in delivery, technical support, website support, and apps creation.” Trying to stay positive, Pais, is miffed at the government’s handling of the overall situation. “We were told that volunteer passes will be issued to local teams but now these passes have been given only to panchayat members. Also, some initiatives have taken a political hue and instances of overcharging have come to light,” she adds disappointedly. This experience perhaps led to the well planned and detailed initiative that then took shape with a citizen-led dedicated COVID 19 Humanitarian Helpline number 080-4719-2600 being established. Detailing the intent, Sanjiv Khandelwal who leads the initiative, shares, “ This is a citizen’s movement that empowers people and we have plans on the ground for delivery across Goa. The quality of our volunteer team, the processes in place and the technology that supports it is the best in class. Besides the lines are manned by multilingual volunteers enabling them to address people across strata.” Having worked on multiple startups in his professional capacity, he was able to foresee issues. He adds, “This isn’t the time to blame the government but a time for civil society to stand together. In the first instance of a peacetime curfew, it is evident that government officials are overwhelmed. Despite that, I have found a lot of them have supported us wholeheartedly. The work done by the Commissioner and the CCP, Sanjit Rodrigues in these hard times is inspirational.” Giving us a semblance of the work involved, Khandelwal continues, “Food distribution is done by the Councillors. Our focus is on the SOS calls from the elderly and daily wage earners and deliveries to the relief camps. We have delivered over 300 meals to the Peddem camp in Mapusa and to over 120 migrant workers in Betim. We will soon be getting permits for our vans to service Panjim, Margao and other parts of Salcette. We also have 110 ‘local champs’ reaching out to local people to provide local solutions. “This is just the beginning, there’s lots to be done.” he trails. Puja Mitra, who in her professional avatar runs Terra Conscious- an eco-conscious travel initiative had also volunteered her time and expertise towards the COVID 19 Humanitarian citizen movement in Goa. A chance encounter with a stranded Muslim couple whom she volunteered to drop to the relief camp at Peddem Sports Ground ended up with her providing help along with other coordinators; namely Gabriella D'Cruz, Ishita Godinho, Roshan Gonsalves and many other individual citizens and businesses such as Aditya Tavora of Navtara who then came together to assist the Deputy Collector Mamu Hage, Bardez Collectorate, in managing the camp and providing supplementary assistance to the people housed there.
“In this unprecedented situation, where urgent and consistent humanitarian aid is needed, it is important that citizens, corporates and local businesses come together to support the government's response efforts. We hope to assist in creating a Standard Operating Procedure that could help as a template for other relief camps, with emphasis on women and children in terms of health and safety. At this point, the focus is also on getting stocks from wholesalers and getting citizens and businesses to donate even toys, bed-sheets, medicines, sanitary and hygiene products, and dry food rations to this relief camp,” proffers Puja Mitra
With physical distancing the norm these days, one of the better fallouts from this crisis is that social connection is gaining ground. In crisis situations, people cover each others’ back and that in itself is a learning we ought to cherish. May the need to stand by each other be our new normal even when we return to life as usual.