How Kanya’s Chance is coping with Covid-19 in India

September 17, 2020
Author: Harit Patel

25th March 2020 changed the daily schedules of Indians dramatically. A sudden lockdown had been announced which caught the billion and a half citizens off-guard. With only 500 cases nationwide, few had prepared for or expected a lockdown. Suddenly, millions of daily wage workers were left with neither a livelihood nor unemployment benefits. They were at the mercy of the skimpy social services. Of the over 5 million infected so far, the majority have been adults. However the children have suffered as well.

Kanya’s Chance works with about 1100 schoolgirls in ten schools of Gujarat. One of our aims has been to reduce school absenteeism among school girls. By providing sanitary napkins, menstrual hygiene education and constant mentorship, we have tried to build a safety net to help mitigate the problem. The lockdown instituted by the government due to the Coronavirus helped us gain an insight into the costs the schoolgirls incurred as a result of involuntary absenteeism.

Firstly, schools play a central role in the lives of our young across the world. The social distancing restrictions have been important in controlling the spread of Coronavirus. Schools, where children from possibly hundreds of households mix, and teachers, including those from at-risk older age-groups, were naturally among the first places to close down and last to open. Currently, in India, they are expected to open well past October. That means six months of missed school. A marked contrast to students in rural areas are the school kids in urban areas, who have been able to benefit from online classes, the technological affinity of their parents, inexpensive high speed internet, and better trained teachers. They have effortlessly glided into online classrooms and online exams. However, both the cohorts, urban internet and rural internetless ones, would be competing later. Initially the competition would be for university places, but then also for limited jobs and opportunities. How long will the losses of the lockdown haunt the rural underprivileged?

More importantly, schools are also a focal point for social services. A federal programme provides a nutritious and balanced lunch free-of-cost for all schoolchildren. Freshly prepared in the school premises, this is often the most significant meal for several schoolchildren. The missed 5 months might not have led to a calorie deficit given the free cereals and cooking oil dished out to the families, but almost certainly led to micronutrient deficiencies. Anemia among our Kanya’s Chance schoolgirls is already rampant, and would very likely increase this year. This is especially concerning for menstruating girls. Additionally, all school girls are provided with free bicycles in Grade 9. This not only helps them commute to the schools, but also provides them with mobility and a certain hard to achieve independence.

Furthermore, several social programs benefiting the young are naturally based around schools. Our local partner Rotary Club Anand Round Town (RoCART) conducts various educational campaigns (Sanitation, Nutrition, Career orientation) that benefit schoolchildren. Our other local partner Tribhuvandas Foundation provides milk to schoolchildren in areas where protein deficiency is widespread. We ourselves provide sanitary napkins to schoolgirls, and have been hard pressed to find solutions to provide for our schoolgirls.

Finally, the easing of the lockdown has allowed Kanya’s Chance to resume its activities. Periods do not stop for a lockdown and we have been frustrated since April, given we were not able to fulfil our promise to the schoolgirls to provide them with the required sanitary napkins. Since June we were able to deliver the sanitary napkins to their schools and, with the help of the teachers, the girls were invited to the schools in lots, so they could collect their sanitary napkins. In some of the smaller villages, the teachers handed over the sanitary napkins to girls at their homes. Social distancing and masks (or at least mouth-nose coverings) were encouraged during distribution. The girls would also be provided with additional “back-up” sanitary napkins, in case a distribution could not take place in a particular month. However, we have not been able to add schoolgirls to our program who might have started menstruating during the lockdown period. Hopefully, working along with the teachers and our local partners, we can quickly enroll these girls into our program.

In conclusion, the schoolgirls have paid an enormous indirect cost due to this ongoing pandemic. Periods do not stop during calamities and economic downturns. Thus, in times when a lot of aid efforts are focused on dealing with the pandemic, and rightly so, the suffering of our younglings should not be overlooked. Your solidarity with these schoolgirls in Gujarat, India, allows us to empower them. They need us now more than they ever did before this global pandemic changed so much of their lives.