In response to a new global challenge, on the day after Good Friday, eight VisionSpring India team members formed a convoy to deliver food kits to 100 of Delhi’s most vulnerable families. 18 days earlier, the Indian government had issued a strict stay at home order to over one billion people in response to COVID-19. Prior to the shutdown, the VisionSpring India team had already started working from home to prepare a response in support of health care partners and low-income stakeholder communities. We understood that we had to pivot from providing eyeglasses for clear vision to responding to the global pandemic that could sweep through India’s crowded slums.
In addition to sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital partners and designing handwashing stations for truck drivers along supply chains, VisionSpring India arranged to distribute the greatest necessity: food. With supply chains stretched due to the lockdown and rubbish pickers, street sweepers, and fruit sellers unable to earn a few rupees a day, hunger was going to hurt people before COVID-19 could knock at their doors.
After securing 87 curfew passes for team members to move freely in lockdown zones, the next step was training on safety practices in the field –keeping at a 6-foot distance, handwashing, sanitizing, wearing gloves and masks and goggles. On Friday, 75 team members joined a 3-hour virtual training, designed and conducted by VisionSpring’s Monitoring and Evaluation team, Susan Bergson and Dr. Sonia Pant.
On April 10, a team of eight volunteers from the Vision Access team traveled in a convoy of four VisionSpring vans, moving through Delhi’s empty streets to pick up prearranged food kits and distribute them. They were unsure if they could make it through checkpoints or whether the food would be there when they arrived as promised. They brought small kits with masks and soap to hand out to whoever needed them in case they failed to get to the food.
After traveling through 13 government checkpoints, they successfully reached the food kits: each one contained 10 kg of rice, 5 kg of lentils, sugar, masala, and cooking oil. The convoy drove to a slum in Dwarka Sector 8 in Noida, near the site of the original VisionSpring warehouse. Veteran team member, Ravinder, knew the area well.
As soon as the team arrived at the slum, the residents’ need for assistance was immediately apparent. A crowd formed around the van in anticipation. Trained in social distancing rules, the team retreated to enlist local police to help them with crowd control. Returning with two police officers, residents were told to stay at their homes and bags would be distributed door to door. By the afternoon, 100 families received essential food kits.
Asking residents what their primary concern was during the COVID-19 crisis, all responded that they were worried about finding and buying food. A rickshaw driver had no work or income since the lockdown, and he told the team he was worried about feeding his family. Similarly, a maid told the team that the family who she worked for told her to stop coming to their home for fear of the virus, and no longer took her calls. A trash picker said that he was prohibited from making his daily trek to the garbage pile. No income, no food. Even if they had a few rupees, shops were closed, and the ones that remained open had empty shelves. The team’s distribution of food was essential.
Most knew about coronavirus, but the team observed few wearing masks and no one said they had hand sanitizers. The VisionSpring India team finished the day with a feeling of pride and satisfaction, letting us know what they accomplished and that they were safe. The energy was contagious: six more employees emailed in the evening to say they wanted to volunteer on the field team!
We went into the day keeping one of our core values in mind: approach with a beginner’s mindset. Having iterated our approach, starting from Monday, April 12, VisionSpring India will aim to distribute 7,000 kits of food over the course of the week. Furthermore, after observing that police and petrol-pump workers were not wearing masks, the team plans to bring extra supplies to distribute to all people they encounter.
Additionally, on Saturday team members also gathered at the warehouse to sort boxes of newly procured face masks and hand sanitizers. The first shipment to four partners will go out the door early this week, with another 8-12 orders in the pipeline, containing protective goggles, pulse oximeters, thermometers, face shields and handwashing stations!
We are so proud and inspired by our India team, and the leadership of Rajan, Ravinder and Narender. Our WhatsApps are flowing with messages of appreciation. We will keep responding to this COVID-19 moment with purpose and determination.