In the face of global crises, the poor and vulnerable always suffer the most. Globally, the majority of the poor and vulnerable are women and children. Women face rape, perpetual abuse, and violence in the face of war, political instability, and global pandemics like COVID-19. I am seeing this first-hand through our field training centers in rural India, where most villagers rely on daily wages to meet their basic needs.
We also work in states such as Bihar, where there is extensive corruption, lack of rule of law, and systemic violence against women. Through many disheartening calls and reports from our field staff, these are some of the ways that we are witnessing our trainees and villagers suffering the most:
- Increase in robbery and violent crimes.
- Increase in harassment towards women living in and working in the red-light district since there is limited law enforcement at night. These women experience sleepless nights because they are scared of being raped or having their belongings stolen.
- Increase in police brutality towards villagers who are trying to get their basic needs met, such as secure potable water and food.
- Increase in domestic violence as men are staying at home and channeling all of their frustrations against their spouse and children.
- Price of goods skyrocketing because these depressed regions are agriculture- based with a limited supply chain to non-perishable food and water.
- Those most vulnerable to modern slavery will face increasingly desperate situations, potentially leading them to embark on risky migration or exploitative employment opportunities.
As the co-founder of Nomi Network, a workforce development and training agency for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking in Asia, I have witnessed brutal crimes against women in broad daylight pre-COVID-19. During my time living in Bihar, I have seen it all. I remember one summer evening as we were driving back to our compound after picking up water and supplies, a truck with a wooden frame full of makeup-covered young girls drove right by us. These hopeless girls were being moved into a brothel. As they sped right by, there was nothing I could do other than lock eyes in complete sadness with the men who were guarding them. As I walked through villages, I was constantly bombarded with a thick haze of smoke from burnt trash. In some rural communities, where the most marginalized women live, their villages have become a dump where locals dispose of their trash. In the winter months, the villagers burn the trash to stay warm in their homes, ultimately leading to several women I knew contracting lung infections and tuberculosis from all the toxins released from this trash. I have not been back to Bihar since COVID-19, but I can only imagine what it is like there now.
What brings me hope are the thousands of women we have trained in India and Cambodia, living in communities that on average make less than $2 per day, but now have savings that can cover their familial household expenses for up to three months. This is especially critical in India, where a mandated shutdown led to 21 days of shelter life, with no ability to go out and secure basic necessities like potable water and food. With the shutdown, many migrant workers succumbed to walking hundreds of miles by foot to get back to their villages.
Currently in India, we continue to serve vulnerable communities by utilizing our assets; our front line staff, curriculum, and lastly, one of our most appreciated assets as it positioned us well to provide immediate relief; our existing digital learning application supported by Vodafone and UBS. We have also been able to leverage the hygiene modules of our training to stop the spread of coronavirus, making it publicly available to other non-profits and vulnerable communities. In most cases, rural villages are the last to receive information and resources, but we are proud to say that our frontline trainers have faithfully distributed the knowledge to our trainees.
As hospital beds become more scarce in America, the communities we serve throughout India’s most impoverished states are even less prepared for a viral outbreak. For example, in Bihar, a state of 103 million people, there is only one testing center. Besides providing access to hygiene practices, hand-washing resources, and basic needs, we are also launching a plan to stop the spread in as many villages as possible throughout India. Imagine living in a dense community without running water, electricity, or health care. The consequences can be devastating.
Donors Helping to Stop the Spread
As the leader of a non-profit during this challenging time, I am especially grateful for our donor community that is frequently asking for situational reports on the countries that we serve. For example, supporters like LyLy, who express extreme care for the wellbeing of our trainees and team. She called me to show her genuine concern for our networks in these vulnerable areas. She then shared that she would be sending a large contribution to Nomi Network through her personal funds. Furthermore, supporters like Chelsea, who is balancing the stock market and making concessions to still issue funding months before the traditional timeline of disbursement. She also prayed for me during our check-in call, which meant more to me than she will ever know. We also have supporters like Emily, who was among the first-time movers to designate a COVID-19 fund and to release these funds on top of providing multi-year operational support. Lastly, PIMCO, one of our most valued partners, has played an integral role in our India programs, and has mobilized employees to volunteer. As a result, we are moving forward in strength and compassion.
These are individuals who are standing in solidarity with non-profits like Nomi Network, and who are on the frontline of this tidal wave that will be hitting the most vulnerable communities in the next weeks or months. In the face of lawlessness and chaos, our trainees are extremely moved by the support they are receiving from thousands of miles away. Because of our fearless trainees and supporters stepping up to the plate, I am confident that we will overcome the many challenges ahead in this difficult time.
If you are interested in receiving our COVID-19 situational reports for India and Cambodia, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our page for daily updates www.nominetwork.org/stopthespread