“In a way, by volunteering to help my community, I actually fared better than the rest of the residents of Bapu Dham Colony. At least I had a purpose and was motivated to go out everyday. Otherwise I would have been mentally and physically disturbed like everyone else,” says Shiv Thakur, a 27-year-old resident of Bapu Dham Colony, who is a part of a team of young men who volunteered to help residents get through the challenging time, when the whole colony remained sealed as COVID-19 containment zone. Ironically, now, when most of the colony has opened up, Thakur is quarantined at home for the next 12 days. He was exposed to a COVID-19 patient as he helped him reach GMSH 16 on Friday.
Although there are many frontline workers including healthcare workers and policemen involved in assisting the residents of Bapu Dham colony, a working class neighborhood which has reported the most number of COVID-19 cases in the city till now, it is this team of volunteers who are most committed to the well-being of the residents. “From the beginning, I realised it was a good idea for us to volunteer and help out residents because we are the most invested in their well-being, and we are a part of this community. Anything that affects them affects us, and that is why we are dedicated to help them round the clock,” says Thakur.
Indeed, the community volunteer has been on continuous day-and-night duty, answering calls of each and every resident who contact him, even through the night. “We have a team of volunteers for every pocket. Everyone in my lane has my number. We are the ones who distribute rations, bring emergency supplies to them or go to hospitals with them, if need be,” says the 27-year-old.
Since the colony became a containment zone, many residents struggled to get treatment for non-COVID ailments. Not only were they not allowed to leave their houses to seek medical treatment at hospitals, even when they managed to reach hospitals outside the containment zone, they faced belittling stigma and were often refused timely treatment by medical professionals who feared contracting COVID-19 from them. “They began treating residents from Bapu Dham colony as ‘untouchables’, as if we were some kind of terrorists. No one wanted to come close to us. Thus, the volunteers had to be the ones to carry these patients till the barrier or get after medical officials to take these patients to hospitals,” says Thakur, who has also taken patients to hospitals for emergency treatment on many occasions.
“But the biggest challenge for us was to distribute ration in the colony, while wearing PPE kits in the heat,” he says. At least twice in the past two months, Thakur and other volunteers from his locality distributed ration to the residents. “Healthcare workers or MC workers from outside hesitated to come close to some of these houses, so we decided we will distribute the rations. We subsequently realised how hard it is to perform physical labour in these kits,” he says. After spending a whole morning and afternoon distributing rations in houses where COVID-19 patients had been detected, many of the volunteers fainted due to dehydration and exhaustion. “But we had to do it, no one else would go near those houses, and they would have starved,” says Thakur.
Beyond distributing basic ration to these families, the volunteers also ran errands and bought extra supplies for families in the neighborhood with their own money. “Most of these people are starving and without money. They need more than just a few kilos of dal and flour. They have children who need milk. They have aged family members who need medicines. Often, we had to buy supplies for them out of our own pocket,” says Thakur.
Even before the pandemic, Thakur worked for an NGO that creates awareness on sanitation practices in slums and colonies through awareness campaigns and street plays. He says, it is being home quarantined which has been the most challenging time for him. “I have always been out and about, productive, with a goal in my mind. Now, I just feel anxious and worried. I worry if I have the disease. Only now, I can truly understand what my neighbours have been going through all this while. They have faced too much already. They deserve some respite,” he says.
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