Working class struggles to cope during Sindh's lockdown

Updated March 25, 2020

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Volunteers distribute ration packs in Nazimabad before the lockdown was imposed.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Volunteers distribute ration packs in Nazimabad before the lockdown was imposed.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Standing near the bus stop with his big platter of coconut slices, the poor seller waited for someone to buy from him. The roasted corncob seller still stood at his usual place near the school but with all schools closed there was no one to buy from him. There were not even children playing cricket on the roads who may have bought something from him. The painter with his trays, rollers and paintbrushes and the mason with his trowels and hammer did arrive to sit at their normal positions under the Gizri flyover once or twice, but they were asked to go away and clear the place by the men in uniform.

With the lockdown in place and no work other than essential services taking place anywhere, the worst hit are those who depend on the day-to-day earnings of their breadwinners. For them it is even worse than being hand-to-mouth now. Their lives have come to a standstill.

That is where organisations such as the Saylani Welfare Trust, JDC Welfare Organisation, Alamgir Welfare Trust and the Robin Hood Army come in. They are risking their own lives and doing all they can to help run kitchens in poor households.

“Earlier, we used to serve lunch and dinner to more than 100,000 people at our centres but now, since we cannot have so many people gathering in one place because of the coronavirus threat, we have wrapped up our dastarkhwan to deliver essentials such as flour, rice, cooking oil, pulses and sugar to the people,” said Arsalan Ahmed Siddiqui, head of news and public relations at Saylani.

With daily wagers’ life at standstill, charities adopt new strategies to feed the poor

Asked where do they find the people and how they know their addresses, Mr Siddiqui said that they refer to their records. “We have so many people who have registered with us for various services,” he said. “Some register for free medicines, some suffer from thalassaemia and need regular blood transfusions and some others are registered for help in education. Since we have their addresses, we are taking ration bags to them first,” he said, adding that they also supply to whoever else approaches them via their helplines at this time of need.

“Our founder Maulana Bashir Farooqui Qadri had also approached Sindh’s chief minister and governor to seek their support and was promised funds but until those funds come through, we have approached flour, rice and cooking oil merchants to help us also. All our donation lines are also open. You can also donate money online or through Easypaisa,” he said.

During the coronavirus threat Saylani has also started a call-a-doctor service where there are doctors present 24/7 to speak to callers after listening to their symptoms and advise them accordingly. They have also started an online education system for children who may be getting bored after being made to stay at home. “We are providing online lessons in Seerat-un-Nabi, coronavirus awareness and even algorithms and phone apps’ development,” he said.

Meanwhile, JDC Welfare Organisation is keeping its doors open also to anyone who comes to them for food. At both their centres in Federal B Area and Numaish Chowrangi, they have food prepared from noon till evening for distribution.

“We are giving food to people who come here with their pots and dishes. If they don’t have anything to carry the food in, we give it to them in plastic bags. No one leaves hungry from here,” said a JDC volunteer. He also said that they are looking for more male volunteers as Ramazan is close.

People line up for help at Numaish on Tuesday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
People line up for help at Numaish on Tuesday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Mohammad Jawad at Alamgir Welfare Trust said that earlier they used to prepare the food and also distribute it right there at their centre in Bahadurabad only, but that has had to change under present circumstances. “We are cooking bigger amounts of biryani and meat and potato curry, which we are packing in bags for two and we are taking these to katchi abadis, twice in 24 hours, for lunch and for dinner,” he said.

“After distribution of food there first, we are also heading with the bags to marketplaces such as Boulton Market, Saddar, etc. We have Shehzore trucks and Suzuki pickups with megaphones to announce our arrival so that the people can come out and take the food packets from us,” he said.

A typical ration bag being distributed by the Robin Hood Army has 10kg four, two kilograms of rice, two kilos of ghee, one kilo mixed pulses and one kilo of masoor lentils with Rs100 worth of soap.

Robin Sameer Beg, who heads operations in Pakistan, said that he knew of daily wagers and earners who are now finding it very hard to earn a living. “They are no longer able to feed themselves or their dependents, therefore they need such ration bags to survive,” he said. In the last four days, the Robin Hood Army has fed some 2,000 families. They do not accept monetary donations, only food supplies or items. Therefore, some young volunteers are now taking donations from people and buying the necessary food items to give to them so that they are able to make their ration bags before delivering them to the needy.

The Central Brooks Memorial Church in Saddar has also come forward to help daily-wagers in the Christian community. Father Shahid Anwer at the church has appealed to inform them about anyone affected by the lockdown who may be in need of help. “They may approach us with their CNIC and church card,” he said, adding that they will also be glad to receive donations for the purpose.

Dawn also approached the Edhi Foundation and Chhipa Welfare Association to learn about their food and ration distribution operations at this time. Saad Edhi of Edhi Foundation informed that they have for now suspended food distribution and are concentrating more on providing health services. Chhipa also said that in order to avoid people gathering at one place, they have also wrapped up their dastarkhwan for the time being but their ambulance services were working as usual.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2020