Global citizenship in the era of Covid-19

By Katy Chadwick

Katy Chadwick volunteered with the Deep Griha Society (DGS) in India in 2009 – the same year as the swine flu outbreak. Here, Katy reflects on her own experience of coming face to face with swine flu, the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic on DGS, and what it means to be a ‘global citizen’ in the era of Covid-19.

In 2009, I volunteered with Deep Griha Society – a community development organisation that works on child development, health, education and livelihood skills initiatives to support low-income families and marginalised communities in Pune, India and surrounding rural areas. Since starting as a one room clinic in 1975, they have grown to an organisation with more than 120 staff, reaching more than 50,000 people. 

During my time with Deep Griha Society, I worked to support several initiatives; campaigning to raise awareness about HIV, supporting the community to access testing and care services, as well as spread messages about living positively with HIV. My memories of my time in Pune are of the incredible networks of community support, with many of those who now work for Deep Griha being former ‘beneficiaries’ themselves. I remember candlelit rallies to commemorate those who had lost their lives to HIV/AIDS, street performances and dances to raise awareness, and the power of the ‘DISHA’ women – a group of women who would go door to door in their local communities to provide information and advice on HIV, practical help with food and support the health needs of people living with HIV.  That same year was also the swine flu pandemic in Pune, and after experiencing flu like symptoms, a fever and visiting the local hospital for a test, I unwittingly ended up on the front page of the Pune Mirror next to a story about Swine flu, and the foreigners who were testing for it. During a lockdown clear-out, I recently came across that newspaper story, and have been reflecting on the current crisis as well as past pandemics, and the challenges that organisations like Deep Griha Society are facing.

Members of DGS attend an event in Pune. Photo credit: Katy Chadwick

For those of us that reside in the Global North, previous disease outbreaks may have had little impact on our daily lives and it was perhaps easy to forget about them. Covid-19 however has challenged our assumptions of where crisis happens. Infection and mortality rates have so far seen their highest levels in the Global North, and in the UK, where I am writing from, we have seen the highest death rate in Europe. This doesn’t however mean that we are all facing equal challenges – in the UK we benefit from a free healthcare system, and many of us will be experiencing social distancing and ‘lockdown’ in relative comfort.

In developing countries, pandemics such as SARS, swine flu and ebola have had far reaching impacts for communities and families affected, but have not caused the sort of global shutdown, or led to the same fatality rates, that  we’re experiencing with the current Covid-19 pandemic. This outbreak has impacted us all and changed our daily lives perhaps more than anything in our lifetimes. It has also, perhaps, got us thinking about what it now means to be a ‘global citizen’.  

The impact of Covid-19 on Deep Griha Society

Deep Griha Society is based in the city of Pune in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The Maharashtran Government recently announced an extension to its lockdown and have reported more than 35,000 cases and over 1200 deaths as a result of Covid-19. Lockdown has meant community members and Deep Griha staff have been unable to move about Pune without gaining permission from the police first, and faced difficulties getting even the most basic supplies – this is particularly worrying since many families are low income and rely on their daily wage to support their families’ basic needs.

The communities that Deep Griha works with are primarily daily wage earners, housemaids, and small-to-micro business owners—who have all been heavily impacted by the lockdown.” Ashlesha Onawale, Director of Deep Griha Society

In many of the communities that Deep Griha supports, living spaces are small, and neighbours live close to one another, sharing facilities such as running water and toilets – conditions which are making ‘social distancing’ practically impossible. This means that any outbreaks of Covid-19 will be more difficult to contain.

People queue to buy basic necessities during lockdown in Pune, India. Credit: Shutterstock

On being a ‘global citizen

For me, being a ‘global citizen’ during this pandemic means recognising both we are all in this together and that we are impacted differently. We must care about the health and well-being of our local and global communities. Here in London, I have been involved with our local mutual aid group, who are providing a network of neighbourhood support for those who are self-isolating, including providing hot meals and other essentials to anyone impacted by the current situation. It has been inspiring to see how my local community here in Leytonstone has come together in this time of crisis, with so many local groups and individuals doing everything they can to ensure that the most vulnerable have a safety net through food bank initiatives, hot meal schemes, domestic violence shelters and local community support networks. This community solidarity needs to extend further outwards too, to support all of those who will be most impacted by the crisis, including the communities that Deep Griha supports in Pune.

Deep Griha Society have set up a fundraising campaign to help them adapt their programmes and respond to the Covid-19 crisis by providing essential packages to community members who need them most, as well as adapting education and skills programmes to be accessible online. This will support them to:

  • Distribute food parcels and other essentials (such as soap and sanitary towels) to community members and families most in need
  • Ensure front line community staff are protected when carrying out community work by providing protective equipment
  • Keep in touch with those who normally benefit from Deep Griha services, including information on health services, mental health support, and information about domestic violence support services
  • Continue to run remote, and online learning sessions for children and young people through the Deep Griha Academy and TechSmart programmes, and upgrade technology that children and young people have access to so that more children can benefit
  • Support the administrative and staff costs of Deep Griha Society ensuring they have the means they need to continue through this crisis, and to continue paying staff wages at this difficult time

An example of what support can provide:

  • £5 provides a basic supply of sanitary items for one family for one month (soap, cleaning products, sanitary towels)
  • £15 provides a basic food package (rice, tea, spices, wheat, pulses, nuts, sugar, oil) for one family for one month
  • £20 provides all essentials – including a basic food package, vegetables, soap, sanitary towels and package distribution – for one family for one month
  • £40 provides essentials packages for two families
  • £100 provides a substantial contribution to the administrative and staff costs of Deep Griha at this difficult time, providing for their longer term sustainability
  • £160 provides funds to buy a tablet for a child or young person to access online learning opportunities provided by Deep Griha Academy, TechSmart, and others.

Deep Griha are a small organisation entirely reliant on public donations and grants. To donate to their campaign visit: givey.com/dgscovid19. For more information on getting involved see ‘Friends of Deep Griha’: https://deepgriha.org/friends-of-deep-griha/

Katy Chadwick is a committee member for ‘Friends of Deep Griha Society UK

About Deep Griha Society

Deep Griha Society (DGS) began as a small dispensary in 1975 to address the health and welfare needs of financially deprived communities in Pune city. The scope of DGS evolved over the years to keep up with the changing needs of the communities it worked with. A 120-member team works towards community development through child development, educational, healthcare and livelihood skills training initiatives. 75% of this team come from the communities that DGS works with. This makes DGS a primary family welfare service provider in three urban centres, and it also runs programmes out of two rural centres, benefitting over 50,000 people. 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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