The past year has been a period of one of the greatest challenges the world has ever faced. It may be a time to fight, a time to question, a time to mourn, but there is always one thing we can hold on to: hope.
How shall I thank the many Asha friends who have supported us during these hardest of times, even while you yourselves are going through so much uncertainty and are hurting? The Asha family is thinking of you all and remembering you in our prayers during these unprecedented and deeply uncertain circumstances. I can imagine that many of you are suffering different kinds of hardships. We empathize with you and hold you in our thoughts every day.
The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating in our slum communities. Most slum residents are daily wage earners, earning daily and spending daily. They are too poor to have any savings. The Prime Minister of India announced a complete national lockdown from midnight of March 24, 2020. This sent our slums into economic and financial shock. The police patrols were severe, and residents were beaten if they dared to step out of their homes.
Social distancing was impossible with 6 to 7 people living in one room of about 50 to 60 square feet. There was no money to buy soap to wash hands. The public toilet blocks became filthy because the sanitation workers stopped coming for fear of COVID-19. There was garbage everywhere and a terrible stench in the air. The sense of despair was everywhere. The little kids were frightened. All schools were closed. Public transport was shut down, so our Asha centers had to be shut down as well.
As the situation evolved, I saw that all the food containers in the homes were empty. No one had food. No one had money. The very poor had not a single rupee. The government began distributing rice and lentils at various locations in the city. People had to stand in a long line and wait for hours before they could get a bowl of rice and lentils. The elderly, the disabled, women with little children would get crushed in the massive crowds that fell upon the food as soon as it arrived.