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Together: Stronger than ever!

Gaëlle Muraca, Life Project Center Malwani, Mumbai, Inde

I am Gaelle, catalyst since 5 years and half for LP4Y, initially based in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state as Coordinator of the Green Village projects. I was about to end my mission and go for a solidarity bike tour when the coronavirus, the lockdown and co decided to change all my plans as everyone around the world. Expecting a “kind of crisis”, I asked LP4Y to extend my contract for 2 months thinking I would be much more useful here in India than confined in France. And, finally, less than 1 week later, I was called by John with the proposal to cross India the following day early morning in order to help the Youth of the Life Project Center of Malwani in Mumbai that was closed since 2 days already.

My travel and arrival until Malwani was indeed very “unique” as it was the last day where the planes were allowed to fly, Mumbai was already in full lockdown, no transportation were allowed,.... I spent like 5 hours in the airport of Raipur watching the screen with blinking “cancelled”, “delayed”, green, red, yellow… The day before, I was talking about it with Albane, my co-catalysts of Raipur, and it let me time to realize again that, definitively, the best way to avoid anger, anxiety and stress is just to accept what Life offers to you, on a plate or with a slap… When you have no expectation and you fully “let it go”, everything happening is welcomed like a new experience, a way for more discovery, a challenge, something you have to learn. It is exactly what happened in my mind, in 3 weeks all my “plans” were canceled… But I was quite peaceful and a bit curious about the “next”, very convinced it was the best place I could be : nearby the Youth and the community needing help.

Here we go. The first day already I met 2 of my future (I will name them later) pillars: Saddam and Ashish, 2 STARS, alumni of the very first promotion of Youth in 2017. I started with this meeting to feel the situation: Ashish had an accident in his job, he burned all his elbow with a steel plate freshly cut, everybody in his family lost their job since 2 weeks so no more money to pay the doctor, the medicines and, for sure, no food also. I started to asked my first question about the basic human needs to visualize more: “No coach, we have no more water in Ambujwodi” and “No coach, I don’t have ration card, my family is registered in Borivali where we lived before but after we were moved here…” and “No coach, nobody give food to the community right now… I don’t know the actions existing, it is too fresh, we don’t know, we are not informed, we helped a bit each others in the neighbourhood but nobody has really something to share so it is difficult”.

The following day, I met the 20 youth currently “in training”. The plan was to give them their allowance they did not get, to understand deeper the current situation in the slums where they live and to explain them the coming “training online” starting next week. At the end of the day I realized even more how deeply difficult was the life during this lockdown for the communities… No one member of the families still have a job. They were forced to stop or lost their jobs. Some of them had “small savings” the lockdown being applied since already 2 weeks, the savings are already used since long time. Due to the lack of revenues, all the families are suffering from hunger, no drinkable water, no access to basic hygiene currently compulsory like soap and mask and… water. Yes… the employees in charge of the water supply left so the communities of the slums do not have water anymore or they have only 4 minutes a day… for 6 to 14 persons.

I started to connect with all the former Youth to be able to listen to them, know about their own situation and help them if I could with some financial support… As soon as I started, I received huge amounts of messages from early morning to late night, from drop out youth and STARS asking for help. All those discussions with the STARS confirmed and deepened what I discovered in only 4 days: no more job, no more revenue, no food, no water, they all went back in few weeks in totally indecent ways of living. I also got to know some disgusting details: more than 90% of them even did not get any salary for their last weeks or months they worked before the lockdown… Trying to get some news of their employers who do not answer to them anymore.

At this moment I was between the excitement of meeting this very new community, those youth, hearing their stories, meeting and getting warmly welcomed by the few neighbors and grocery owners I could met in my 2 “outtings” in the week, the happiness to be here for them, I felt at the very right place being able to bring them a bit of help in their distress. But, the pressure was growing, the coming week was becoming more and more blurred : indeed, all the ATMs around were out of cash and my cashbox was almost empty. I had to prioritize the youth currently in training… So, I had to stop helping the STARS until I find another solution or reach to get cash again. The same 2 STARS, Saddam and Ashish, gave me the idea to write a request letter to the local government to help us to get food ration for the STARS meanwhile I find a way to get funds again. On their side, they did a survey in their slum to do a list of the “urgent families” to help with young children who were in crucial situation. So they came in the center, we took all the 98 names of the youth of Malwani and they called during 3 hours them one by one to get their address and be able to make a detailed list. The letter was sent at 6PM, I even found his cellphone number and called him. No answer so I sent a text message to request to take in account my letter. The day after he called me, he received my letter, he will try to do something !! Wahouuu it gave me a lot of energy !! It works !

But, in only a few days, the whole situation changed again, the “poverty” became thick and very perceptible even if I was going out very few times in the week. People were knocking at my door to get help, asking for food, then asking for money, then asking for clothes… They were reading “NGO” on the door, so they were trying… 5, 10 families came everyday staring at me, looking at the kitchen in the back, sometimes not even talking, just putting their hands a bit higher to make me understand... From the 2 beggars I met the week before in the street, I met this time 10 to 15 persons sitting on the floor the head looking at the ground and the hand waiting for some help: families, old persons, disabled ones, children, mother with babies, asking for food, for money, daring at you with shame in their eyes… I was going for shopping to get my “crisis stock of food” as LP4Y guidelines recommended the day before but it broke my heart and I could not buy anything, I observed this unbelievable change that happened in only 4 days, I just walked in this street full of people who became beggars from one week to the other. I went back home with a heavy heart, I was feeling ashamed to have enough food to eat, me alone in my huge center, with water to take shower, clean water to drink, electricity… I could not help them or, if I would do, it was starting to step in something I would not be able to control later. I had to keep my mind fresh : I am alone, I am already not able to help all the youth so I need to focus, to stay safe and to find external help, mobilize around me as I have done since 5 years in LP4Y: “Together we can”. We are not an NGO specialized in crisis situations, but some other NGOs or organisms are, so let’s call them, explain them…The local government answered my call but no actions have come out of this since already 1 week so I had to try others and others until I find.

How could I stay waiting for action? I had to provoke it. I read every minute messages from more and more STARS asking for help telling me how they felt in need, abandoned, angry and isolated, their children were getting sick because of the unsafe water they were using for hygiene and to drink: fever, diarrhea, skin diseases... Begging food, eating the old chapati given to the animals by the neighbors to feed their children. No ! Definitively NO! Instead of breaking me down it actually gave me a kind of incredible strength and huge energy : I must find a solution, I must do it, go go GO!!! So, I started to map, to call, to send email, whatsapp messages to all the organizations’ names I could find or hear about. They all wanted to help but no one could really do, or they were too far, or they did not have funds yet, or they were scared of the police… but, they gave me contacts, they spread my request to their own network and their own network spread away again… I found a first temporary solution with a foundation giving cooked food, but the STARS going to catch it were blocked by the police. So, I wrote a letter of derogation, but it did not work. So, the STARS got the idea to use the old uniforms of the Youth to show they were part of a real action. Then, I made some new ideas… with tape to make like “lamination” because we have no more lamination paper. Jugaad as we say in India. And it worked !!! I continued the mobilization early morning to late night… until this 10PM call the day of my birthday on 9th of April ! My birthday gift : a woman who got my contact by a contact of a contact of a contact… Her name is Purvi, she is from AIMS Foundation. She can deliver food ration for 70 families in 3 days!!!! Oooooh… Magic happening!

3 days after, the STARS have organized a small team with even some uncles and fathers of the community who wanted to help, they went to face the police checkpoints, convincing them to let them pass to get food for their own community. It took hours but they reached ! Then, they spent their full night without sleeping to weight and sort the hundreds and hundreds kilos of rice, lentils, sugar, oils and flour. They called me at 7am exhausted but happy and proud of this first achievement that will soon feed many families. Then, they started delivering the food to the former youth house by house, family by family. At 9PM, they finally sent me a voice note and hundreds of pictures : they did it, they were going to sleep now but they did it!!! Yehaaaaaaa!

I had tears in the eyes, my heart was beating so loud, I was so proud of them like little soldiers of their community… I called them to tell them that they were incredible and then I let crazy happy messages to all the co-catalysts, former co-catalysts, friends and my relatives who were living this with me at distance and supporting me since 2 weeks, I spread my Joy, I shout of Happiness by phone and I felt a lot of gratitude in me: THANK YOU Universe, God or whoever, just Thank You ! I went to sleep and for the first time since I arrived I did not do any nightmares. WE DID IT !!!!


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