Helping the helpless during lockdown

Small-scale relief efforts in Nepal target the neediest during the COVID-19 crisis

Workers at Kavach who usually produce motorcycle clothing prepare personal protective gears as part of their COVID-19 fundraising. Photo: KAVACH

  •   Raj Kumar Mahato launched the Covid-19 relief campaign of BHORE with Rs200,000 from his own pocket, but doesn’t know where the charity will find money to continue providing essential items for the ultra-poor.
  •  Nita Raut has spent all but Rs4,500 of the Rs78,000 she raised and says she will donate her own salary if necessary to provide food to Kathmandu’s poorest.
  • Sano Paila, an NGO, is dipping into its savings to continue relief work in the eastern Terai.

Budgets of small organisations providing relief to Nepal’s needy are being squeezed dry as the lockdown continues, but all of them say they are determined to keep working.

Kathmandu-based Sano Paila has raised only US$1,000 of its $10,000-15,000 fundraising goal, Head of Operations Jai Sah says via email. “But we are getting immense support from our board members and the local community in continuing the activities,” Sah writes.

With its team of 25-30, Sano Paila is responding mainly in Birganj, Janakpur and Parsa district: serving cooked meals to daily wage earners and other vulnerable people, running an integrated Help Desk in Parsa with Nepal Police, disinfecting hospitals, police stations and other public areas, and supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 testing booths.

Hiteri Foundation’s team of three has been providing hot meals and family food packs to daily wage workers and people living on the streets in Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley, Project Head Kusun Tamang explains. “This week we have started running out of funds, but there may be donors. As long as we have the resources we will keep going,” he says on the phone. “What we are doing is not even fulfilling a fraction of the need. The first week we thought ‘Ok, people don’t look desperate.’ But from this week more and more stories are coming out of people going hungry.”

Mahato from Hetauda-based BHORE says demand has been growing since 21 March, the day the agency started providing essentials to over 400 ultra-poor families in Province 1, 2 and 3.

It also raises awareness on Covid-19, providing technical support, and advocating with governments to provide services and technical support.

“I am not blaming government but ultimately it is supposed to protect If it started to do very effective and transparent distribution of relief then there would be no need for organisations like ours,” Tamang says.

Deepak Chapagain from Volunteer Corps Nepal points out that many average Nepalis he encounters do not trust any level of government. They feel that those who lack access to political parties will be shut out of official relief distribution.

VCN includes more than 3,000 trained local volunteers and a wider network of 8,000-plus people in 77 districts. It was on the ground in pre-lockdown days in Kathmandu, mooting the idea for traffic police to hold up small signs displaying Covid-19 information. Since then VCN has provided food to more than 5,000 people in Kathmandu Valley and to others leaving on foot.

The organisation raised more than $2,000 from online sales of the recent release from UK-based singer Yuval Gurung, who was in Nepal when the lockdown started, but it is not enough, Chapagain says. “Things will get worse in the days ahead and even government and international organisations are not responding on the ground, so we volunteer organisations have to be more active.”

Nita Raut had been providing food for daily wage workers, the homeless and others in Kathmandu even before this crisis. Usually Nepalis here and abroad learn about her work from the media or the foundation’s Facebook page, she notes via phone.

“I will help I have funds. If that is not enough I can use my own money,” says Raut, adding that she normally diverts 20% of her salary to run the foundation.

It’s not only individual NGOs that are filling the gap. Some private businesses are also playing a role, including KAVACH, which designs and manufactures motorcycle riding gear. Co-founder Arabinda Subedi says he and his partner began brainstorming on how to help soon after Covid-19 arrived. They decided to repurpose the company’s production to make PPEs, which are in short supply for medical staff and other frontline workers.

So far the company has made 2,500 PPEs, and has plans to scale up if necessary by using facilities at nearby factories. “Yes, as we are repurposing our production unit to PPEs although we are not yet clear how long we can afford to do this,” Subedi says.

One positive point made by most of these organisations is that they are working closely with local authorities, including police. Initially, officials in some places were resistant but all are now cooperating with the relief efforts.

List of organisations providing support during lockdown, by Nepal Coronavirus Response Group 

Marty Logan


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