This article was published on nepalitimes.com on 24 April as Helping the helpless during lockdown. It features six organisations that are providing food and other essential items, mainly to the poorest of the poor. I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, more groups in Nepal also contributing in this way. It is a bright spot in a gloomy situation as the country is far from prepared for a major outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Raj Kumar Mahato launched the Covid-19 relief campaign of BHORE with Rs200,000 from his own pocket but doesn’t know where the NGO 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 and Sano Paila, an NGO, is dipping into its savings to continue relief work in the eastern Terai.
Budgets of small organisations providing relief to needy people in Nepal 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, forcing it to withdraw money from the NGO’s reserve fund. At the same time, “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 in four ways, mainly in the cities of Birgunj, Janakpur and in 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 by phone. “This week we’ve started running out of funds but some people told me that they will be donating. As long as we have the resources we’ll keep going.”
People going hungry
Tamang adds: “I actually feel what we’re doing is definitely 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 who are going hungry. These are not just daily wage workers but for example, people in the film industry and others with very low wages.”
Mahato from Hetauda-based BHORE says that demand has continued growing since 21 March, the day the NGO started providing food and non-food essentials to “ultra poor” families in province 1, 2 and 3. To date BHORE has helped 400 families, he says in a phone interview.
BHORE is also doing awareness-raising on Covid-19, providing technical support, and advocating with governments to provide services and providing technical support, says Mahato, who feels that governments are not reaching the most vulnerable and needy Nepalis. “I’m not blaming government but ultimately it is the guardian of the citizens. If it started to do very effective and transparent distribution of materials then there would be no need for distribution of materials from organisations like ours.”
“Even government and international organisations are not responding on the ground so we volunteer organisations have to be very active in this scenario”
Deepak Chapagain from Volunteer Corps Nepal points out that many of the average Nepalis his organisation 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, Chapagain says in an interview. 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 living in Kathmandu Valley and to others leaving on foot for home villages.
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’s not enough, Chapagain says. “We are predicting the scenario 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 very active in this scenario.”
Via her foundation, Nita Raut has been providing food for daily wage workers, the homeless and others in Kathmandu for three years. Usually donors, Nepalis who are in-country or overseas, learn about her work from the media or the foundation’s Facebook page, she notes via phone.
Donating own salary
To date Raut has provided food rations to 14 families, 15 porters and 1 orphanage, which is estimated to last a month. “If they contact me again I will help them if I have funds. If that’s 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 individuals NGOs that are filling the gaps. 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.