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Offering shelter, engaging in activities: How people are helping children with COVID-positive parents

While state governments have set up care centres for children with COVID-positive parents, some other people are also trying, in their own capacities, to take care of them

Written by Disha Roy Choudhury | New Delhi |
May 20, 2021 12:30:46 pm
Rouble Nagi Art FoundationChildren participating in activities at care centres set up by Rouble Nagi Art Foundation. (Source: PR handout)

With both parents testing COVID-positive, many children in the country have been left with nobody to take care of them at home, rendering them helpless while also impacting their mental health. Rouble Nagi, whose foundation is dedicated to empowering underprivileged children, found some such kids showing “signs of anxiety or difficulty in sleeping and concentrating”. This prompted the Rouble Nagi Art Foundation to convert its balwadis into COVID care centres as shelters for these children, till their parents recover from COVID-19.

Across nine centres in the country in Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Rajasthan and others, many children from the slums, between the ages of seven to 15, have been provided a temporary home, along with food and education. Every child with one or both COVID-positive parents takes the RT-PCR test before they are brought in. “The children are well acquainted with us as they are frequent students of our balwadis in the slum. The space we have created as our Covid Care Centre offers reassurance and comfort,” Nagi tells indianexpress.com.

SOS Children’s Villages India — which places kids from underserved communities under family-like care — has, meanwhile, extended services to rope in those whose families have been affected by the virus and need short-term care — the duration can range from a fortnight to three months. They are quarantined in separate facilities and looked after by experienced caregivers.

sos children's village Children with a caregiver at SOS (Source: PR handout)

“We are extending care to children in our 32 children’s villages across 22 states,” says Sumanta Kar, secretary general, SOS Children’s Villages of India. The organisation has been receiving seven to eight COVID-related calls daily since they made the announcement in the last week of April. “All these children are brought under care through Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act. Thus far, 55 children in need have been brought to us SOS families in the last three weeks under our Short Term Care facilities across the country. They are in the age group of seven to 14 years.”

Not just short-term, SOS Children’s Villages are also taking in children who may have lost their parents to COVID-19. They are placed under long-term care with trained childcare professionals also known as SOS mothers. Usually, SOS mothers raise three to five generations of children. “At any given time, each mother raises about seven to eight children, girls and boys, who live and grow together as siblings. The children remain in her fold till they reach about 23 years of age. There are about 12-15 Family Homes in a village,” adds Kar.

For any child, being away from familial relationships is not easy, especially in the pandemic, when many of them are still trying to fathom the severity of the disease as they yearn for their parents’ assurance. As a mother to a seven-year-old, Akhila Krishnamurthy from Chennai could very well empathise with the situation when she heard from relatives and friends about COVID-affected children. The 41-year-old founder of Aalaap, an organisation that works with arts and artistes across the world, came up with an initiative to keep children virtually engaged while in home isolation or waiting for parents to test COVID-negative.

“We started this initiative literally two weeks ago after I heard a whole host of stories from my mother on friends, cousin’s friends, friend’s cousins and sisters or brothers who were either in hospital and their children were isolated by virtue of that. That sent a chill down my spine. I wanted to do something – virtually – to be able to access these children and offer them some respite of happiness, hear them out, engage with them sensitively and meaningfully and keep them engaged,” Krishnamurthy expresses.

Currently, the team has over 50 volunteers including professional dancers, musicians, storytellers, shloka and mantra chanters, yoga instructors, among others. “The sessions begin with an ice-breaker and once the child warms up, we introduce the activity. Each session is about 40 minutes or so. We’ve had sessions where the children have loved their instructor and have requested repeat sessions, too,” says the arts entrepreneur.

The response has been heartwarming, she adds, having been successful in helping children overcome their resistance and shyness to interact. “We have been getting enquiries through friends, and other leads and people who are working in a similar space who are sharing leads with us.”

The idea is to ensure as much normalcy as possible. Rouble Nagi Art Foundation, for instance, has established a daily routine for children to provide “a sense of control, predictability, calm, and well-being”. They are engaged in various activities like music, art, board games, along with studying English and Math. “We also connect them, at times, virtually with their parents, which gives them confidence. They are taught to write notes, make cards and write letters which they can take home with them when they go back. The good sign is many of them have gone back home as their parents have recovered. We had 25 children and now have less than 20 in each center. The numbers are reducing as parents have recovered. This is a very positive sign,” Nagi says.

In case of Children’s Villages, too, caregivers not only take care of the physical needs of the child but also their mental and emotional needs. “Children who come under the SOS Children’s Villages get all the warmth and care a child needs. Our trained and qualified social workers engage children in various psycho-social modules developed by SOS Children’s Villages of India these aspects help them quickly adapt and settle down in SOS care,” Kar affirms.

Children at the care centres, meanwhile, are taught to maintain COVID-19-appropriate behaviour. “We teach them Covid-appropriate behaviour using flashcards so that when they go back they know how to take care of themselves — practise daily good hygiene and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Social distancing is maintained, masks are worn at all times, and hands washed frequently. We teach them to always sneeze or cough into their elbow; children are fast learners,” Nagi stresses.

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