These are challenging times. Covid-19 and the many repeat lockdown restrictions have exacerbated hunger and poverty around the World.
Our World is falling apart!
Never did we imagine an invisible tiny-little virus would wreak havoc across the World! Eighteen months on, the Pandemic has plunged communities deeper into hunger, livelihood, and health crisis.
What do you do when life comes to a grinding halt, that too, so unexpectedly? The World as we know is falling apart! Businesses, Work, Education, Health systems, social networks – You name it!
The need for favourable Compassion
Almost definitely, the poor and the vulnerable need respite from the harsh effects of COVID-19. Let’s be clear. There is no quick fix. It is going to be a long hard slog.
Thankfully, the acute human and social consequences of the Pandemic are all too visible. This sense of what is going on around us must invite favourable Compassion.
The power of one
Bigger problems and wider deprivations remain. But, be that it may be, we can make a significant difference in people’s lives. The ‘power of one’ need not be underestimated.
Many people need immediate relief as they take their first steps towards getting their lives back on track. There are so many needy individuals and families within our reach. So, we don’t have to look somewhere else.
The lives of most people have been anything but shambles. So, many are unable to bear the weight of mounting distress, hunger and uncertainty. How can we help as individuals?
Pranitha, a social activist, says,” We can easily provide rations or cooked meals to needy families. Rev. Tennison Peter, a Methodist minister, agrees. He adds, “We can immediately arrange rations for the family month-on-month until they find means to sustain themselves”.
Selwine, a Development Consultant, says: “Even a small amount of money will be enough to feed a family for two weeks. We need to be generous and be willing to share with needy families”.
Ending the debt-trap
The economic downturn has caused job losses and disrupted incomes. And as if all that were not enough, people have had to bear the high cost of COVID care. As a result, the poor are in danger of an endless cycle of debt repayments.
While it is essential to help people survive the crisis, Selwine feels that it is also important to help people escape debt. Therefore, he advises: “Christian families can provide regular financial assistance for at least one another family for 2 – 3 months”.
Pranitha points to the need to cover medical expenses to save families from the debt trap. She says, “Individuals can help in raising finances towards the medical expenses of needy families”.
Reversing the downward spiral
The informal sector has been hit badly. Street vendors, push-cart vendors, small businesses, and home repairs and maintenance service providers require our support.
Vijay Benjamin, a Professional, says, “We have stopped buying vegetables from big stores. Instead, we buy them from push-cart vendors. We think it is important to support small/home businesses and help them tide over the crisis”.
And then, we can make available small amounts as interest-free loans. For instance, a friend of mine helped an Uber cab driver with cash enough to change the bald tyres so that he could get back to work again.
There are many ways to help. Vijay says: “We can help with information relating to alternate ways of employment to those who have lost jobs”. Sometimes, a push is all one needs to re-start work.
Building Support Networks
Many young families have lost their father/mother or both in some cases to COVID-19. Their pain is too huge for our hearts to grasp. Worse still, if the deceased happens to be the sole breadwinner.
Pranitha says, “We need to identify struggling families and help in their children’s education”. Vijay agrees: “Support for school fees will be a significant relief to those having school going kids”.
He adds, “While one person may not be able to pay the full amount, we can even do this as a group of friends or families”.
Rev. Tennison says: “If anything, it is a huge opportunity for the Church to be involved in post-COVID relief. The Church – as a larger family of families – can easily be a support network for individuals and families in the neighbourhood.”
Mental Health and well being
Mental health is an issue. Job loss, empty pockets and glimpses of hungry family members can be ‘doubly’ painful, for the physical suffering and its mental variant scar differently. There is nothing more cruel than having to face this ordeal daily.
Pranitha says, “You can call and check on a nearby family to know how they are doing and offer help through your networks.”
Rev. Tennison says, “People require encouragement and comfort. I have made calls to COVID patients and their family members to provide hope and comfort. Our love and care can help families cope with their loss and bereavement”.
Towards a ‘touchy-feely’ expression of faith
A possible third wave is not far off. I don’t have to tell you it is only going to get worse! If anything, it will further devastate our incomes, livelihoods and food security.
Our responses must be rooted in love, inspired by faith, and fuelled by Compassion. Faith must permeate life in a tangible way. If it flows as a loving service, its impact can be profound.
Agreed, the propensity to despair is strong. But, such feelings of hopelessness need not break our courage and resilience. On the contrary, a clutch of small initiatives can make a huge difference.
A small gesture by each of us can make a huge collective impact. A cup of cold water, or in our case – a bag of dry rations, a small cash gift, a word of encouragement, relevant data & information – can provide the much-needed relief. Are we ready and willing?
Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.