Alwarpet resident forms task force of Hindi-speaking volunteers to help migrant workers

It is March 24. The first lockdown has just been announced. For the next couple of days, Ravin Carr, a resident of Desika Road, Alwarpet, closely watches media coverage on what is happening in the country.

Soon he sees reports of migrant workers coming out and walking towards their homes. He knows that he must help but he hasn’t done this before. He doesn’t know who to contact or how to help. He starts talking to friends, acquaintances and government officials to find out what these workers needed the most. He is told that these workers, having lost their livelihood, first needed food, water and a place to rest.

He starts looking at global models on how communities feed the poor and how big kitchens can be roped in to provide food to these workers. He makes a lot of cold calls and manages to convince a few local hotels to provide food at reasonably low rates. On April 12, he receives a call from the officials in the state government who want to know if he would be willing to provide food to people housed at shelters in the city from April 15.

Ravin says, “As soon as I got the green signal from the government, I contacted my relatives, some of whom were abroad, and in a couple of days I was able to raise enough to fund the operations for two weeks”.

Ravin and his group of volunteers were a given a list of 12 shelters in Zone 9 (Teynampet) and he started providing lunch and dinner to the homeless, destitute and migrant workers housed there. 1400 meals were rolled out every day.

Ravin then created the brand ‘Feed Chennai’ and started collaborating with other NGO’s like IRCDUC (Information and resource center for deprived urban communities) and Pudiya Dor. Funds were raised and the operations continued.

In mid-May, Ravin and his group got an SOS from Gummudipoondi, migrant workers had started walking and they needed help. More than 2000 loaves of bread and water bottles were distributed to them. And that is when he realised that many of these workers did not know the local language and they often were unable to understand what the civic officials and police officers were telling them. This caused a lot of distrust and frustration.

To break down the language barrier, Ravin and three of his friends who knew Hindi formed the Chennai Migrant Task Force. They slowly started convincing the workers to go to the shelters and helped them with details about what documentation was needed and when they would be sent home. When he realised that he needed more volunteers fast he contacted the Armed Forces Veterans Association who also pitched in.

The group now has 45 volunteers. Ravin says the task force has two objectives, one to prevent the workers from leaving and another to help stranded workers. “We want to identify the workers before they become desperate and start leaving their homes. Once they left their homes, it would be too late to turn back but if we could somehow convince them to stay at their homes, they would be safe. Secondly, the workers who are stranded at bus and train stations are fed three meals a day”.

The group continues to provide 1400 meals to the homeless and migrant workers all over Chennai everyday and plans to do so as long as there is a need. To donate to this cause call 9150199099.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/FeedChennai/ and https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-feed-chennai for details.

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