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Three stories of impact from India

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A few months ago, we ran a campaign for creating COVID-resilient communities. Since then, our 550,000 trained local leaders on the ground have been in constant motion: assessing and re-assessing the ever-evolving challenges, and leveraging their collective leadership, resilience and resources to design and deliver local solutions for a COVID-safe future.

Given good news stories are something we’re all aching to hear about at the moment, we’d like to share with you 3 of the thousands of stories of courageous leaders creating impact in India right now.

How Women Leaders In India Are Building A COVID-Safe Future.

Elected women trained by The Hunger Project in India like Gudiya, Kamla and Mamta have been working hand-in-hand with accredited health workers on the village frontlines. Together they’ve delivered essential healthcare – vaccinations, iron and calcium tablets, accurate information – deep into rural and remote villages.

1. Gudiya Cares For The Next Generation.

Because of elected woman leader Gudiya and her close partnership with healthcare worker Anita, extremely malnourished children are receiving iron and calcium tablets in Madyha Pradesh. They go door-to-door visiting families for health checks and motivating people to get vaccinated. Anita estimates that in the past year she has screened more than 1,500 people for COVID-19.

2. Kamla Leads From The Front.

Because of elected woman leader Kamla, 82 people got their first vaccination in the space of just 2 days in rural Bihar.

“When the vaccination drive started, so did the rumour mill about how vaccines increased the chances of infection or that they made men impotent. We knew we had to spare no effort to sensitise people. I took the vaccine first to show people how it helps us, not harms us.” – Kamla, an elected woman trained by THP who balances her public duty with her responsibilities as an accredited healthcare worker.

3. Mamta Busts Harmful Myths.

Because of elected woman Mamta and her unique relationship with health worker Guaramma, myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 are busted on a daily basis in Karnataka. Visiting 20-30 houses a day, they share accurate healthcare information so people can protect themselves and their communities.

You can become a Changemaker.

You can play your part in standing up against the status quo by unleashing this kind of practical, community-minded leadership that is required for us to create COVID-resilient communities around the world. If you are inspired by what you’ve read here, take action, make an impact and give now or monthly to further our work.

July updates on the COVID-19 situation in our Program Countries 

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More than 18 months after COVID-19 emerged as a once in a lifetime, worldwide challenge, the pandemic is still an ongoing concern in all our Program Countries across Africa, India and Bangladesh, as well as in our offices in Australia. 

The Hunger Project Australia is in regular communication with our teams on the ground, delivering updates from our communities and Village Partners.  

We strive to share with our community in Australia up-to-date and above all accurate information about the current situation on the village frontlines.  

Africa 

Across the continent, Africa is currently experiencing a third wave of COVID-19. New weekly cases have now exceeded the peak of the second wave which began in January of this year. While the vaccine rollout did start in some African countries, only 2% of the continent’s adult population has been fully vaccinated. 

To date, 23 countries in Africa are experiencing this surge of COVID cases, including our Program Countries of Uganda, Zambia, Senegal and Malawi. 

Uganda is so far one of the worst-affected countries during this third wave, and they are currently in a national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID. Rural communities are being impacted but it is hard to tell what the full depth of the situation is because testing numbers in rural areas are lower than rates in the cities.  

Zambia has re-introduced COVID-19 restrictions after the rise in daily cases, peaking at over 3,000 cases a day in mid-July. This has included the closure of schools, limits on some public gatherings, and mask-wearing and social distancing on public transport. So far the virus has been contained in the cities and has not reached rural areas; because of this, our Epicentre work can continue with strict COVID-safe measures in place.  

Senegal is one of the more recent countries to begin experiencing the third wave. The team at The Hunger Project Senegal are working remotely now and have been a leading voice in a vaccine-promotion campaign.  

Cases in Malawi have started to increase, and the government has re-introduced restrictions, including a nightly curfew, limits on public gatherings, international border restrictions, mandatory mask-wearing, and restrictions on workplaces.  

Benin is still reporting very few COVID cases and thus far is not experiencing a third wave yet.  

Similarly, cases are still low in Ghana– though there has been a slight daily increase in cases in Ghana over the past couple of weeks.  

South Asia 

India has moved past the peak in cases that was seen in April and May, and COVID-19 case numbers and deaths are now declining. There are still a number of cases and deaths across the country, but the rate of spread has decreased immensely. Vaccination rates are increasing but there are fears of another wave of infections if vaccinations aren’t delivered out into rural areas. 

Bangladesh has unfortunately experienced its own second wave, with cases reaching a high of over 13,000 cases a day in the past week alone. To curb the spread of cases, the country instituted its most strict, military-enforced lockdown, only allowing people to leave their houses for emergencies and to buy essential items, with all public transport, non-essential shops, and offices closed. Lockdown is scheduled to be lifted in time for the country’s second-largest religious festival, Eid al-Adha, which takes place from 20 July – July 22. There are concerns that this could lead to a huge increase in cases. 

You can keep up to date with The Hunger Project on social media or sign up to our email newsletters. You can also give now to The Hunger Project’s work in building stronger communities across Africa, India and Bangladesh.  

The 5 nuggets of gold from our conversation with Ruchi Yadav

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On 22 June, 2021 we recorded an insightful and thought-provoking conversation with THP-India’s Ruchi Yadav. We got so much out of hearing Ruchi share about the harsh realities of life in India right now, and how THP’s unique approach to shifting mindsets and partnering with local leaders is proving successful in protecting the most vulnerable people during the pandemic. 

1. There is a human tragedy unfolding in India in the form of a shadow pandemic hidden behind the health crisis: 9,000 children have lost at least one parent to COVID-19 or have been abandoned, and are at risk of child trafficking, child labour and illegal adoption; hunger levels have increased and are forcing families to make desperate decisions like selling their teenage daughters into marriage for just $270-550; family violence is rife and home is no longer the safe place it’s supposed to be, especially for women and girls; 5 million schools were shut down at one point and girls are not likely to be allowed to return.

2. The Hunger Project doesn’t parachute into communities and then exit; the 8,000 elected women leaders across India currently in our training program are from the communities, live there, and will continue living there long after the pandemic. The elected women are putting into practice what they have learned with The Hunger Project, adopting a ‘solution’ not ‘scarcity’ mindset to be motivated and charged instead of paralysed in the face of this challenge. 

3. “How do we reach the unreachable and make the voices of the invisible, visible?” These are some of the guiding questions that are driving Ruchi Yadav and the THP India team in shaping their strategy to confront new challenges and create long-term solutions in the context of the continuously shifting landscape. 

4. The THP India team is constantly innovating and adapting to changing circumstances and some of their future plans include: delivering remedial classes for girls who have missed out on school; piloting livelihood programs for families dealing with hunger; and finding creative ways to get people vaccinated like bringing the vaccinations door to door on the backs of motorbikes out to the most remote and mountainous areas. This is in addition to their ongoing guiding and mentoring of elected women as frontline workers to share accurate health messages, combat misinformation, run vaccination drives, and lead prevention measures against the spread of COVID-19. 

5. To stay motivated, Ruchi thinks about her future self asking her past self, “During the pandemic, what did I do?”She says what she is doing now – partnering with elected women across India to deal powerfully with the pandemic – is her legacy. 

Take action – Create a COVID-safe future for everyone

 Ruchi said the Australian community is “the wind beneath [THP-India’s] work” so let’s show our support to Ruchi, her team and the elected women leaders – as well as all our staff and village partners across the world – as they navigate the pandemic with strength and persistence to create COVID-resilient communities.  

How? Invest in The Hunger Project’s end of financial year campaign before 30 June or start a conversation with us. [Note: for a limited time you can double your impact thanks to our partner Academy Face and Body, and all donations over $2 are tax-deductible.] 

Don’t forget you can watch the whole webinar now.

 

Meet Kaushalya Bisht

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Sustainability, Interconnectedness, Decentralisation.

Kaushalya Bisht is an Elected Women Representative from Uttarakhand, India, a remote region at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Hunger Project worked with her to develop the skills she needs to make change for her community as a representative through our SWEEP program (Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes). As part of this program, The Hunger Project trains Elected Women to read, write, speak and lead the political agenda to improve education, health, and nutrition in their villages.

Uttarakhand is the only state in India where village communities come together to protect and nurture their forests by forming forest councils. The forests are a lifeline for women. They provide wood for them to build their houses, dry wood for fires and fodder for their cattle. Ensuring the sustainability of the forests is crucial for survival in the village.

However, in Kaushalya’s village, they hadn’t held elections for the forest council in 15 years.

“We formed a collective of 30 women and decided to revive the forest elections,” Kaushalya said.

“My team of women patrolled the forests. We didn’t allow anyone to cut down the trees. Together, we planted 100,000 trees. We take care of the forests like we do our own children.”

During her term as an Elected Women Representative, Kaushalya made 45,000 kg of paddy seeds available to the farmers and distributed 300 tree samplings to encourage the people in her village to grow trees. For the women in her village, 80% of their farms are across the other side of the river, which means the women have to walk a long distance to their farms. Kaushalya secured the building of a bridge by taking the matter to her village council. She also took action to prevent soil erosion by building 11 check dams (small dams built to reduce water flow velocity) by the river.

“I want my village to continue thriving.”

Kaushalya continues to shape a legacy of protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable change for future generations in her community.

Invest in women like Kaushalya to bring transformation to villages in India here.

 

Why Women are Key to Ending Hunger

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By Rita Sarin, Global Vice President and Country Director of The Hunger Project India.

As a development practitioner working in the field of social development for over 40 years, I am convinced that women-focussed and women-centred strategies are key to ending hunger, poverty and inequity across the globe.

Why do I say so? Let us unpack this.

A major part of my work has been with the elected women representatives to village councils in India and this work has proven that when more women occupy decision-making positions, a mindset of concern and inclusive development for all starts; where women look out for the last person in their communities. Equipped with the right skills, knowledge and processes so they can access systems, women leaders not only become articulate in their vision, thoughts and action but they also strive to leave no stone unturned in achieving the ‘last mile delivery’. By adopting inclusive and equitable development strategies, women leaders tackle the issues of extreme hunger and poverty in their communities, as well as help create and sustain an equal and just society.

Why is it that women leaders adapt certain strategies over their male counterparts?

We all know that women have always centred their actions and lives around their families and communities. As primary caregivers they have always taken actions to meet the basic nutritional needs and health of their families. Therefore, there cannot be a more potent and direct relationship between women’s thoughts, concerns and actions and the wellbeing of their family/community.

Our work has shown that whenever women are in decision-making positions, their first action is to address hunger, malnutrition, hygiene and sanitation in their families and communities, followed by safe drinking water and education. These are the basic needs for any community to survive and develop. Be it food security and nutrition, health, education, sanitation, and now, awareness and support for COVID-19, women leaders are the frontline workers and will remain so no matter what.

Let me state unequivocally that when you empower a woman, the whole village and community develops. If you do not invest in her skills and capacities as the changemaker, generations will suffer from hunger and malnutrition, as is evident today.

To quote one woman leader “We do not allow even our neighbour’s child to sleep without food”. Therefore, the narrative of investing in women to end hunger is as clear as existence itself!

Animators Rise To The COVID-19 Challenge

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Many of you have been curious to hear about how your fellow Animators and Elected Women have been responding to the pandemic. You know better than most people the kinds of challenges they are facing – lack of access to clean water and sanitation, illiteracy and misinformation, long distances from health facilities and more. All this, on top of still dealing with the daily challenge of overcoming your own hunger and poverty. 

We are so proud to say that they have really stepped up to the challenge! 

What we have noticed so clearly is that rather than having a victim mindset or waiting for help to come from outside – which would be so easy to do under the circumstances – due to the years of mindset shift training with THP they have instead adopted a leader mindset and are empowered to take action. 

In fact, we have already seen the 500,000 Animators we’ve trained to date quickly mobilise and respond to COVID-19 with ingenuity and strength at the local level! 

 

Animators Rising To The Challenge – In Numbers

  • 3,326 Tippy Taps installed in villages to bring simple handwashing stations close to the homes of people. Animators have led the education and training in how to properly use them   

A Tippy Tap in Benin.

  • 8,000 Elected Women and 3,600 Adolescent Girls trained by THP formed phone trees and What’s App groups to deliver accurate, easy-to-understand health information to 500,000 people 
  • 9,400 community members participated in specially designed Water, Sanitation and Hygiene workshops so they are personally equipped to prevent the spread 
  • 913 Animators newly trained in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene best practice 
  • 81,414 face masks made and distributed – ‘sewing armies’ have been set up in some areas to learn from one another and keep collectively strong while giving back 

Sewing armies have been set up in Uttarakhand, India to produce face masks to protect against COVID-19.

  • 71,912 kgs of soap and 19,096 kgs of hand sanitiser distributed to people so they can protect themselves and their families 
  • 91 operational health units in action receiving patients for testing and treatment where possible. Animators are mobilising people to get tested if they are showing signs (where testing is available) 
  • 52,399 food rations distributed to those who have been identified by Elected Women as on the brink of absolute destitution. Although THP usually has aNo handouts’ policy, this new idea was put forward by Elected Women who saw the dire need in their villages 
  • 174,797 families receiving community philanthropy (goods and cash), mobilised by Animators in Bangladesh 
  • 87,334 public health leaflets distributed. These have often been translated into local languages or the information is shown in pictures, so that as many people as possible can understand them 

Thousands of pamphlets have been distributed as part of THPB’s information campaign.

 

And these are just the highlights…! We hope you feel as proud as we do to stand alongside our Animators and Elected Women across Africa, India and Bangladesh as they rise to the challenge to reach the 16.5 million people living in THP communities globally. 

 

Want to dive in more? If you’re wondering what the impact of COVID-19 looks like in India for example, we highly recommend watching this episode of Foreign Correspondent which shows how what started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis. 

Take Action. If you’re interested and able to, we’d love to partner with you on our COVID-19 response through our Stay In, Reach Out campaign. Go to www.thp.org.au/stayinreachout for more information. 

Life Under Lockdown — On the ‘village frontlines’ in India

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We hope you got a lot out of our discussion last night with Ruchi Yadav and Rachel Akehurst uncovering what life under lockdown in India is like, and how Elected Women are leveraging their years of leadership training with us on the village frontlines.

“We have to be aware of the different layers of the pandemic. It’s a sum of different sub-crises…. I’ve been ignited by this…We’ve said, let’s do something about this.” — Ruchi Yadav, The Hunger Project India. 

For those of you who weren’t able to join us, you can catch up via our recording here [run time 58 minutes].

Our 7 key takeaways from the call:

  • What started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis in India: because of the lockdown, many daily wage earners have completely lost their income and with that, their capacity to support themselves and their families. A staggering 140 million migrant workers are travelling from cities back to their rural villages, taking COVID-19 with them.
  • 12 million people in India could be pushed into poverty because of this pandemic – if we don’t act now.
  • The years of training by THP has directly prepared Elected Women to ask themselves ‘what can I do right now?’ (rather than waiting for instruction) and mobilise into immediate action as frontline leaders in this crisis.
  • Elected Women are uniquely placed to respond to specific local needs because they’re already on the ground, they’ve built up trusting relationships over time, and they can identify the most vulnerable people in their communities.
  • Through their established distribution network, they can easily and effectively reach every person in the villages they serve: 8,000 Elected Women together with 3,600 teenage girls have already reached an incredible 500,000 people with accurate health information and resources.
  • THP’s approach has meant we could quickly respond to the greatest need identified by Elected Women, and in an act of partnership we pivoted to extend a lifeline and deliver food parcels to 5,000 families living on the margins.
  • Even in the face of a global pandemic, one of our core principles of Human Dignity has remained at the heart of all our decision-making and actions.

“What did you do when COVID-19 hit? What was your personal legacy?” — Ruchi Yadav, The Hunger Project India. 

 

On the call, Ruchi Yadav alongside our CEO Melanie Noden invited us all to think about how we can leverage the resources we have available to us to connect with others. While staying in to protect yourself and your family, you can still reach out to keep 16.5 million people safe. If you are in a position to, please reach out and invest in our global ‘Stay In, Reach Out’ campaign.

 

Thank you to everyone who has given so far.

As you know, we’re already in action on the ground using these funds to rapidly respond to COVID-19.

In the last few days, a number of generous investors have offered to continue matching dollar for dollar your contributions. This means you still have time to DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT! If you haven’t yet, we invite you to take advantage of this extended matching period and give the equivalent of what you would spend on the things you can’t do right now – like having a beer at the pub, an overnight stay up the coast, or your weekly commute.

An update on our response to COVID-19.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges for the continuation and progress of The Hunger Project’s work throughout Africa, India and Bangladesh. Our innovative and integrated model of community-led development means that communities are empowered with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt and shift to challenging contexts and events with continued support and capacity building from The Hunger Project.

In working to build community resilience, leadership and ownership, our community partners are equipped to continue leading the way in implementing preventative measures to decrease the spread of the virus while supporting households to continue income-generating activities where possible, maintain food and water supply, and follow the advice and guidelines given by their governments.

Africa

  • Health clinics are remaining open. THP-trained Health Animators (local volunteer leaders) are working in partnership with the health clinics to disseminate information household-by-household. Clinics are also continuing to prioritise treatment of those who have serious health conditions and those who are HIV positive.
  • Rural banks are remaining operational where possible during this time with additional sanitation, safety and security measures in place.
  • Across each of our Epicentres, we are working with Animators and Epicentre Project Officers to continue our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene trainings and workshops. More than ever before, this program is vital to protecting our communities. In Benin for example, 1,200 Tippy Taps have been installed to increase the accessibility of hand washing facilities.

School students in Benin learning how to use Tippy Taps.

India

  • The Hunger Project is committed to working closely during the COVID-19 pandemic with Elected Women Representatives (EWR’s) across the 6 states where we already work. A task force has been established to get in touch remotely with every single EWR, as well as the Adolescent Girls Program participants, to spread awareness about keeping safe from COVID-19 and ensure no one is left behind. So far, they have reach 500,000 people!
  • The main priority is for every last person in The Hunger Project’s communities to have accurate information and understand what to do in the current situation.
  • EWR’s are active in monitoring the distribution of government entitlements, overseeing quarantine efforts and ensuring people are observing lockdown rules and sanitation.

EWR’s rallying to spread accurate information about COVID-19 to their communities. 

Bangladesh

The Hunger Project’s model of community-led development means that it is in a unique position where work is implemented by volunteers on the ground in villages. Volunteers are working to:

  • Mobilise thousands of community members via raising awareness with factual and accurate information on COVID-19
  • Provide sensitisation training on washing hands, good hygiene and social distancing – including the provision of soap where possible (pictured)
  • Ensure that people who are eligible for government support are connected to these benefits, and that people who are ineligible are instead connected with other locally available philanthropy funds

Providing soap to community members in Bangladesh. 

 

On the campaign trail in India.

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Rajasthan recently wrapped up the local council election season in January 2020. Women stepped out to exercise their rights as equal citizens, both as candidates (old and new) and informed voters. The participation of women in the election process continues to steadily rise.
It is mandated by law in India that one-third of all seats for village council leaders be held by women. However, the majority of these women are unprepared to participate due to a lifetime of subjugation, illiteracy, and very little experience in public, let alone leading a life in the public eye. In addition, the people in power often don’t want them to lead.
The Hunger Project works with these Elected Women Representatives to enable them to leverage their positions to create change in their communities. As part of this initiative, we work with women in the pre-election stage, identifying potential leaders and working with them on campaigns, community engagement and training.

Local council candidates taking a break after voting. Image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Now, an increasing amount of women are running for positions in the council.

There is conflict, camaraderie and candour, there is some anger for being ignored all these years, and there is hope. These women candidates are reclaiming their right to be heard and a seat at the table. This increased awareness about the potential of women to lead has helped many candidates journey through a hostile terrain of election campaigning. 

Women waiting in line to vote. Image credit: Sujata Khanna 
As The Hunger Project India supported women candidates on their campaign trail across three councils, they realised that for many who participated in the electoral process, it wasn’t about winning or losing. Instead, it was about challenging gendered stereotypes that have defined what women can or cannot do for too long, and questioning caste hierarchies and unequal power.
Candidate Shahida Bano said, “They want to show us our ‘place’, we will continue to show up. We refuse to be overlooked.”   
How does our strategy of training Elected Women Representatives in India actually enable transformation in communities? Meet Sunita.
Feature image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Meet Kaushalya Bisht, an elected woman saving the forests in India

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Kaushalya Bisht is a council President in Uttarakhand. After training with The Hunger Project, she is now leveraging public office to refocus attention on the issue of preserving the forests.  

“In the mountains, forests are a lifeline for women. The wood from the forest is what we use to build our houses and for firewood. The fodder for our cattle also comes from the forest. We formed a collective of 30 women and decided to revive the forest council elections. We look after the forest like our own children.” 

Deforestation and climate change are endangering the forests. Kaushalya passionately speaks about access to forest resources, equity, and justice. She is setting up forest councils to protect the forest for generations to come. This is her story:

Video credit: The Hunger Project India, Black Ticket Films.