Kindred souls

Posted by Aditya Sen and Lockdown Voices, New Delhi

Covid-19 has played havoc with human life. But, it has been one of the greatest unifiers – bonding people through selfless love and compassion. In these unusual times, an initiative Project Delhi, led by youngsters, Aditya Sen and Ankita Gulati is reinforcing this spirit and making a difference to hundreds everyday in Delhi NCR.

Lockdown Voices was able to interview Aditya in the midst of his hectic schedule:

Lockdown Voices: Aditya, thank you for finding time for the readers of Lockdown Voices. What does Project Delhi exactly do and what motivated you to be a part of this initiative?
Aditya Sen: Project Delhi reaches out to Persons with Disabilities [PwD], for providing them ration and medicines. Working in this area for the last three years, mostly in isolation, this was an opportunity [for me] to serve the community I advocate for.

LV: Indeed, a much required intervention for an often forgotten community. But when and how did Project Delhi begin?
AS: On 22nd March 2020, I turned 29. The Prime Minister requested a junta curfew. I had just returned from a family trip after quitting my job and was trying to take a note of the situation. We all are aware of the story of the virus since then. On 10th April, a very dear friend Ankita Gulati calls me and shares the proposal of Project Delhi.  With Ankita, Merry Barua and her Action for Autism [AFA] team, Vineet Saiwala and Nipun Malhotra on board, we started Project Delhi (along with a few other very compassionate souls). 

LV: Good ideas often die pre-maturely due to lack of monetary support. How did you get financial aid for this project?
AS: Coming to finance part, initially we contributed ourselves to kick start the initiative. In the meantime Ankita set up a Milaap [crowdfunding] account redirecting it to AFA. Then, Nipun, Vineet, Ankita, Merry and I reached out to our contacts, and the funds started flowing in. Fortunately, we had Vineet who got Big Bazaar [Indian retail chain] to help us with the grocery, so we knew we could reach out to them. 

LV: Any other significant challenges?
AS: Initially, the challenge was the thought of working with volunteers whom we did not know in person. We also had problems getting e-pass for the vehicles. Ensuring on ground delivery and having a volunteer to support our beloved Driver-ji – who did not hesitate to do this for us even at the age of 65. Merry reached out to her volunteers at AFA and they were phenomenal.  Also, making maps of the city literally to be able to reach every house. It felt more like a census work. Sukriti, another volunteer spent sleepless night to ensure the mapping was done correctly to ensure smooth on ground movement and continuously guided the on-ground team on call. However, streamlining the process was a challenge as we didn’t have any experience in running a voluntary initiative of this scale. Another group of compassionate volunteers joined the initiative and together we were able to reach out to more than hundred and fifty beneficiaries in two weeks. Trust me, I had never counted the numbers until we came together on a call to discuss the progress. 

LV: Wonderful beginning! But how did you reach out to persons with disabilities, as many of them are not present in the social media?
AS: The word about Project Delhi spread through our circles initially, as we are all from the area of disability, and are connected with the agencies and authorities. Project Delhi is listed in the state helpline number for Delhi. We also got local NGOs on-board who worked in specific locations across the city. They shared list of people in the area who needed help. We catered to the request coming in through them. Post that, word of mouth also ensured people calling in to our helpline. Nipun looped in the media and our visibility was even more highlighted. Once we had the campaign going, we had a volunteer create a social media handle to increase outreach. This continues till date.

LV: Looks like Project Delhi is becoming a big enterprise. What are the areas that you specifically take care of?
AS: I look into operations, finance, volunteer coordination and procurement. Of course taking calls from the beneficiaries. Technically, everything [like a typical startup].

LV: Could you share your experience of taking calls from the beneficiaries?
AS: When I was entrusted with the responsibility of operations, my number suddenly became a hotline number. Initially, I started receiving calls from different states as well. On an average fifty calls a day from all around Delhi NCR with diverse set of requests. The far cry of people has troubled me deeply, and I hardly have been able to keep off my phone since then.

LV: What are the key achievements of Project Delhi so far ?
AS: As per 6th May’s update… In the last 25 days, we have reached close to 300 beneficiaries, more than 120 families in major parts of Delhi NCR with still many more to go. The requests we have addressed, have gone beyond food & medicine distribution, and really stretched our limits.

LV: It is clear that you and your team are putting your heart and soul to this project. What has been your greatest personal return?
AS: In times of social distancing, receiving an invitation for a cup of tea from people I haven’t met in person. I feel, strangers are people whom we haven’t met yet and fortunately my count of strangers has reduced during this time. 

LV: Thank you, Aditya. On behalf of all the readers and contributors of Lockdown Voices, we wish you and your team the best with Project Delhi. We look forward to sharing some of your unique experiences and stories with our readers soon.

Please check the facebook page of Project Delhi for more details on their work and plans.

Aditya Sen, completed his graduation and chartered accountancy degree from Bangalore, after which he started working with Ernst and Young as a consultant. After three years of working as a consultant, he realised that the world of numbers and excel sheets was not for him and decided to take a huge leap by shifting to a different field altogether – the world of academics. He worked as a Deputy Programme Manager at the Office of Learning Support, Ashoka University, Haryana assisting and guiding students with disabilities. He also writes poetry on the side, does some music and writes for children, (he is published with Scholastic India). When he is not working with his kids or writing poetry, you will find him backpacking across the country, making new friends in strangers and capturing the world around him through his camera lenses (also preaching and practising inclusion in diversity).

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