Lockdown Voices speaks to a key functionary of M Venkatarangaiya Foundation (popularly known as M V Foundation or MVF) on the impact of COVID-19 lockdown at the “Residential Bridge Course Camp” they run in Hyderabad, Telengana
Lockdown Voices: Thank you for finding time to talk to us. M V Foundation is a stalwart of social service in India. What are the key areas that the foundation is active in?
M V Foundation: M V Foundation works towards protecting children’s right to education, their rights in society, family and school; protect them from being forced into child labour. MVF also protects adolescent girls from child marriage, domestic violence, dominant patriarchy and ensures their right to education.
LV: What specifically does Residential Bridge Course Camp take care of?
MVF: The bridge course camp is a transition camp for older children who have been out of school for long periods of time and wish to rejoin school. It provides accelerated learning and brings the learning levels of these children up to an age appropriate class level. These children are then mainstreamed in to Government schools and hostels.
LV: How did the lockdown affect the camp?
MVF: With the announcement of lockdown due to COVID-19, the Telangana State Government closed down all its hostels and residential schools and sent the students back home. As part of the Government order, M V Foundation was also instructed to do the same. We were faced with a dilemma because several of our children are orphans, children of single parent, children from very difficult families etc. Some of them are children referred to us by the Child Welfare Committee. They were rescued from begging and sent to our camp for shelter. We were able to send most of the girls from the residential camp to their homes, except for 20 of them who had no place to go. So we had to take care of them.
LV: But didn’t you face administrative challenges in keeping the camp running during this time?
MVF: We had to find a way. Besides the girls already in the camp, over 60 children, who were former students and now in hostels and residential programs of the Government, needed shelter as they too were homeless. The foundation decided to keep them in the camp. We gave them study facilities, psychological comfort and ensured their well-being. We informed the Government about this (keeping the camp running) and got approval for the same.
LV: You indeed gave a life-line to your 60 ex-students. How did you establish contact with them?
MVF: MVF follows up with all children who have been mainstreamed from the Bridge Course Camp till they complete their education up to whatever level they wish to study. So we were in regular touch with them. We knew these children did not have anywhere else to go.
LV: So, most of the children currently in the camp during the lockdown are homeless?
MVF: Many are. There are also some who have homes, but do not want to go there. Like Sonia [name changed]. Her father was an auto driver and her mother a domestic help. She studied till class 4 and had to drop out as her mother became mentally ill. When she was 10 years old, her mother nearly sold her off for 500 rupees. Thankfully her elder brother intervened, and her aunt brought her to our camp. Sonia has been staying in the camp since then and has reached Group A (students with higher potential). She does not want to go home, as she is scared her mother may again try to sell her off.
LV: Really hard to imagine the trauma the children have been through. Have you seen any negative effect of the lockdown on their psyche?
MVF: They were under considerable duress till it was clear that the camp would continue running. Under normal circumstances these children would have been planning for their future education and applying to colleges. The camp staff are doing their best to keep all the children engaged in studies, games, reading story books and also yoga. They are being counselled to be positive and not get anxious about their future.
LV: The staff must also be under considerable stress as they will get pulled between taking care of the camp children and their own families. How are they coping with this?
MVF: All the staff of the bridge course camp live in the camp with the children and visit their families once in a while. They have the resilience to cope with any situation and protect the children, even if it means being away from their own families for long periods of time. The work we do requires personal sacrifice, and people who join us are ready for it.
LV: How are you ensuring the health and safety of both children and staff?
MVF: We ensure that protocols of social distancing is maintained within the camp. No person from the camp is allowed to go out and the girls are in complete isolation. No outsider is allowed in. Those who provide supplies wash their hands and leave the supplies at the entrance. We make sure they children get adequate play time and exercise.
LV: The lockdown must also have caused additional cost burden. How are you managing that?
MVF: Most of the funders have come forward to additionally fund the relief activities on account of the lockdown. Many individual donors have also contributed to our effort. At the end of the day, if the will is there, a way comes out.
LV: Thank you M V Foundation team for giving us a glimpse of the outstanding work you are doing. On behalf of our readers, we wish you the very best in your endeavours. Please stay safe!
The functionary from MVF did not want his identity to be revealed and mentioned that they are all silent workers.
Cover image credit: M V Foundation
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