What we do Healthcare Coronavirus diary Welcome to our coronavirus diary, which we are keeping regularly updated with news. We continue to support the most vulnerable children and families in the rural villages where we work. Since the video below was filmed in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, we have distributed emergency dry rations to over 7,000 families who have been affected by the various lockdowns. If you sponsor one of our children and would like to know more about whether they are with us or with family members, please do contact us. Donate now 11 September 2021 At long last, on 1st September we were allowed to open our secondary school and welcome back the children in the four oldest year groups. Apart from a few weeks at the beginning of this year, they have not been at school for 17 months. We hope, if coronavirus cases do not increase, the younger children will be allowed to return soon. The pandemic has been stable in Tamil Nadu and across India for some weeks now. New cases in Tamil Nadu are currently running at around 1,500 a day, with an average of 20 deaths per day. The pace of the vaccination programme has increased over the late summer, with over 180 million doses administered across India in August. This is more than all the G7 nations combined over the same period, according to official reports - six million on average every day in August, compared to 4.3 million in July. However, still only 12.5% of adults in India are fully vaccinated (versus 29.5% across the world). Vaccine hesitancy and the availability of doses are still pressing challenges: we at RTU remain cautious about how the situation might still change in the coming months. 15 August 2021 As the second wave recedes, we are seeing a number of children in urgent need of our help because of their desperate family circumstances. This month our Children's Villages have already welcomed 22 new children. Avila, 10, and her younger sister Abinaya, 8, arrived at RTU last week. Their mother, who is highly educated, with a postgraduate qualification on Chemistry, was forced to flee her abusive husband during lockdown. She took refuge with her children in Holy Cross Deserted Women’s Home in Madurai. The Home has no school facilities, so the Superior Sister referred the children to RTU. The sisters have settled in happily at our Sirumalar Children’s Village, but we we hope their mother will be able to find work soon and the girls will be able to go and live with her again when she is more settled. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for advice from the Government about when we can re-open our schools. To support the local children who would normally be attending, we are continuing to distribute further food rations to their families. Since the beginning of the second wave of Covid-19, which started in May, we have distributed 900 of these grocery packs, each worth Rs. 710. One pack contains dill, pepper, mustard seeds, split Urad dal, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, chickpeas, legumes, cowpeas, red chili powder, sambar powder, tamarind, Moong Dhal, yellow split peas and rice, enough to ensure our pupils receive a nutritious meal every day. 20 July 2021 The Covid-19 wave that engulfed India in May has gradually receded, but in Tamil Nadu alone, over 2.5 million people have been infected with Covid-19 and the virus has cost the lives of almost 34,000 people in our state. We have lost a much-loved member of our own staff to the disease, and illness and bereavement continue to affect many families. Vaccines offer India a vital lifeline and we now have two vaccine clinics in our local villages and 98% of staff and young people over 18 in our care have had their first vaccine. Overall, in our state, 20-25% of adults are fully vaccinated. However, widespread misinformation has spread fear and suspicion of the vaccine programme, while supply shortages and delays in approving licences have drastically slowed the national drive that began in January. Although the improved situation led us to expect some lockdown restrictions to be eased at the end of July, they have recently been extended until 21 August and we have had no news about when our schools can reopen. Our online lessons and educational outreach are ensuring that as many children as possible continue their education, but the long period of school closures means many others who dropped out of the school system during lockdown will never return. They risk becoming a lost generation, destined to repeat the cycle of poverty that we at RTU strive so hard to break. To try to tackle this challenge, some of our teachers made home visits to the students who would usually be attending our four schools. To prepare them for the return to school, they also met with their parents to discuss their progress. This month our teachers also started a new study programme called ‘School at Home’, gathering children together in local villages to give them lessons. The programme started well, but in G. Kallupatti and Genguvarpatti the local education authorities would not allow it to continue and we were forced to stop it after a few days. However, in Bodi our Nirmala Middle School teachers are continuing to provide it. Most people have been able to go back to work and are able to earn money, but many of our children, by order of the Government, are living once again with their families, so we continue to send financial support to their relatives to ensure the children are cared for properly and receive nutritious food. We are also working hard to make sure vital medicines reach those who are HIV+ or otherwise in poor health. Our food distribution programme continues to provide some daily stability for poor and displaced families and other vulnerable groups, while our mobile health clinics regularly take much-needed healthcare, oxygen and medicines to many outlying villages. 7 June 2021 At last the number of new infections of coronavirus are beginning to come down to just under 20,000 cases per day, especially in the large cities like Chennai and Madurai. However, there has been a surge in cases in rural areas and the lack of a health infrastructure is a major hindrance due to lack of testing, vaccine fear and awareness. The state government has put the health service on a war footing to try and bring the number of cases down. The lockdown has been extended again until 14th June but, in the Districts where we work, there is now some easing of restrictions which mean that self-employed people can work until 5 pm, and food shops, electrical shops, vegetable stalls etc. can open until 5 pm. We are continuing our hot meal distribution to the most vulnerable people in the villages where we are based. In one of our target villages 20 families were infected with coronavirus. Our health team distributed medicines and vitamins to the families at the request of the village Panchayat. We have also donated lysol and bleaching powder to use for cleaning the streets to try and help reduce the number of infections. 25 May 2021 Today, a complete and strict lockdown is in place today throughout Tamil Nadu as we now have the highest number of new cases in the whole of India. The lockdown put in place two weeks ago is not having an impact and we now have nearly 35,000 new cases in Tamil Nadu daily. We also have the second highest number of deaths due to coronavirus. Nothing is now allowed to open apart from medical facilities and there will be no transport apart from for water, food and agricultural product distribution. This will severely affect the ability of people in rural villages reliant on daily wage labouring work so we are providing meals to local people. We have been distributing hot, nutritious midday meals with rice, lentils, vegetables and an egg every day from our central kitchen to people facing tremendous food insecurity including elderly people, those who are sick (HIV+, diabetes, cancer, leprosy), widows, deserted families, differently abled people, and people who normally work (daily labourers, construction workers, agricultural labourers, coconut husk peelers, street vendors and Dhobi families). We are very proud of the former children in our care who are nurses working at the frontline in hospitals during this terrible second wave. Here is Nandhini giving vaccinations in the hospital where she is training on her GNM course. 10 May 2021 We are very sad to announce the death of one of our staff members who died on Saturday due to coronavirus. He was a driver in our nutrition department and developed cough-like symptoms. He went to Leonard Hospital on Thursday and was then asked to go to Madurai Government Hospital as his oxygen level had reduced to 86%. There he was given oxygen but it was too late to save him. We are all very shocked by his death and send our deepest condolences to his family. We are now in lockdown again for two weeks as the rates of new infections of coronavirus in Tamil Nadu are rising steeply, particularly in the major cities. Today there are 29,000 new cases compared to 6,000 a month ago. All the schools continue to remain closed and there are travel restrictions in place. Only essential shops without air conditioning are allowed to open until midday with 50% capacity. Street scenes like this in our local town of Batlagundu will change dramatically with the new lockdown. In our village of G.Kallupatti, there are several households now affected. Our mobile health teams continue to go out to the villages to give medicines and treatment, and our women's Self-Help groups have been organising awareness campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of taking up the vaccine. 30 April 2021 Many of you know that, as per our state Government's orders, we have had to send the children in our care back to their native villages to stay with any relatives they may have. Only those who have no relatives are in our care. Here is our latest video message from Father Antony. We will produce another video soon about our work out in the rural villages. 26 April 2021 Whilst most of the world's media is focused on the dire situation facing people and acute shortages in hospitals in Delhi, the southern states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have the highest rates of coronavirus cases in India. The situation in rural areas is worsening because large numbers of migrant workers are returning to their native villages, anxious to avoid being stranded were a complete lockdown again be brought in. Tamil Nadu, where RTU is based, has brought in new restrictions from today so only essential shops are allowed to open. Now places of worship are closed, as are barbers, gyms, cinemas, sports events and facilities, and restaurants and hotels are now only able to open for takeaway food. In our village of G.Kallupatti, two households have recently tested positive and the streets are deserted - people are scared to go out. Disinfecting outside a house under lockdown In our Children's Villages, all our children are safe and we are keeping in touch with the children who have been sent to their native villages. 20 April 2021 Unfortunately, we are now well into our second wave of coronavirus in India with a new mutation identified. Our state of Tamil Nadu has the fourth highest number of cases along with the neighbouring states of Kerala and Karnataka and cases have doubled in the past 10 days. The state of Maharashtra, north of Karnataka has the highest rate, particularly in the capital of Mumbai. We also have the third highest number of recorded deaths. The hospital beds now 75% full in the state capital of Chennai, the Tamil Nadu Government has imposed a night time curfew between 10pm and 4am with a complete lockdown on Sundays, and shops and restaurants and entertainment venues have to operate with 50% less capacity. This will be reviewed at the end of April 2021. All schools, universities and other educational institutions have been closed and online classes are organised for students. This poses huge problems for children who don't have online access. Near to our Nirmala Children's Village, four people in Silmarathupatti village tested positive and the village was in a containment zone. Sindalechery is another village which has had positive cases - three of our teachers live in this village. Unfortunately, we have had to close our schools again which had been open to the four oldest year groups since January and the 12th standard exams for the final year group have been postponed until June. We are continuing to provide food and money to the children in our care who have had to go home to their native villages to stay with any relatives they may have, and our teachers are continuing to teach the children online for those who have access until the school year ends at the end of April. Sadly the return to school was short-lived 12 January 2021 Firstly, we wish all our Tamil friends at home and worldwide a very Happy Pongal which we will be celebrating at RTU this week. We are also delighted Covid-19 case numbers in Tamil Nadu have gradually declined over recent weeks. From a peak last autumn when 1,290 people tragically died with the virus on 15 September, the average number of daily deaths since 1 January is down to single figures, with 6 people dying on 11 January. However, a recent spike in infections in neighbouring Kerala has raised fears of a second wave. Infection rates in Tamil Nadu have begun to increase again slightly in line with Kerala's numbers, which may well lead to an increase in deaths in the next few weeks. However, we are pleased to report that the Covid-19 vaccination programme has reached Tamil Nadu. Over 550,000 doses, split between Covishield (536,500) and Covaxin (20,000) were delivered on 12 January and have already begun to be distributed to 2,000 centres across the state, with the programme scheduled to start immediately. As per central government guidelines, healthcare workers and frontline workers will be the first to receive the vaccine, which will require two doses to achieve full protection. We look forward to the vaccine reaching RTU and the surrounding areas later in the year. At RTU, we continue to distribute dry food rations and provide hardship payments to families in need. By the end of December we had provided 6,364 families with emergency food supplies since the beginning of the pandemic. Our commitment remains to keep this vital support in place for as long as it is needed. Today it has been announced that Tamil Nadu's schools will re-open next Monday, 19th January for 10th and 12th standard only so that they can sit the forthcoming State exams in February and March. We will be working hard to prepare all the students over the next few weeks and will be providing catch-up lessons to help them cope. These exams are very important to the children as their future depends on the outcome of these exams, so they will be very anxious on returning to school. For the rest of the children, the schools remain closed to them but our teachers are still regularly posting educational videos and running online lessons for those children fortunate enough to be able to use internet resources, and to have one-to-one meetings and provide worksheet-based learning for children without digital access. We are very proud of how our teachers have embraced digital tools to ensure continuity for the children's all-important education and how creatively they have deployed these new teaching methods to keep pupils engaged during the long months of the pandemic. At our St Peter’s Higher Secondary School the head teacher, Mr Ragunanthan (pictured below), uploads his lessons to RTU's YouTube channel and has also started regular Zoom classes for the older children. These lessons are also being made available to the children in local Government schools. At our Nirmala Middle school, the head teacher, Mrs Praveena, has been helping children learn how to complete worksheets from their mobile phones, with 80 children being taught in this way. Across our four schools, a total of 750 students also regularly watch regular WhatsApp lessons sent to them by their teachers. The teachers also remain busy keeping their own skills and knowledge up to date and our various training days will help our teachers bring additional depth and insight to their interactions with pupils when the schools re-open for the rest of the children. We are still waiting for confirmation of a date, but we are hoping, if infection rates remain low and under control, that we will be able to welcome students back to their face-to-face classes in the coming weeks. 11 November 2020 128,000 people in India have now tragically died with coronavirus. This number accounts for 10% of total worldwide coronavirus fatalities to date; the number of deaths in India is second only to the United States. Tamil Nadu is currently the fourth worst-affected area in India, with 748,225 cases and 11,387 deaths to date. However, the daily number of new cases in the state is gradually declining, from a peak of almost 7,000 each day in July, to just over 2,000 a day in early November. As the spread of the virus slows, the number of deaths is also falling, but the situation is still very dangerous for the poor people in our area, and the wider effects of the pandemic are still taking their toll on the poorest and most disadvantaged. We hope and pray for an end to the continuing crisis. So far we have provided 5,110 families with emergency food supplies and we are continuing to distribute dry food ration packs and make emergency cash payments to those in the greatest need. In October we supported 190 families in Theni and Dindigul districts and provided ration packs to 460 school pupils and their families. Our staff continue to visit the children who were sent back to live with their relatives in their native villages at the beginning of lockdown. Some of the families are finding it difficult to give the children the care and protection they require, especially in terms of protecting them from coronavirus, and many are struggling to cope, practically and financially. Many children are living with elderly, frail grandparents, or in cramped conditions as part of extended families. It is heart breaking to have to tell their relatives that we are not allowed to bring the children back to RTU until the schools in Tamil Nadu reopen. While we remain hopeful, we know that this is unlikely to be before the new year. Nevertheless, our teachers continue to work hard preparing online content for our students and compiling learning kits for those who do not have access to the internet. This image shows an online lesson in progress, with social distancing being practised: During September, Mr. Siva, a well-regarded author, and Mrs Mahalaskhmi, who specialises in teaching tribal children, spoke to our teachers via Zoom. These virtual sessions provide invaluable context and content for our online lessons and worksheets, which are designed to inspire engagement and creativity while classroom learning is on hold. Training our teachers to deliver online content and lessons in the classrooms also helps increase their confidence and improve their teaching skills. The children living locally that usually attend our schools have individual meetings with their class teacher every two weeks and the teachers go through the worksheets with the children before given new ones to take home, so that we can make sure they continue to make good progress: We work tirelessly to keep our children safe, whether they are in our care or being looked after within their wider families, so it is especially sad to have to report that in October one of our alumni drowned after being swept away in a fast-flowing river in his native village. Savarimuthu came to RTU in 2006 with his elder brother and elder sister after their parents deserted the children and left them in the care of their very elderly grandmother. Unable to take care of three young children, she brought them to RTU. Savarimuthu completed his Diploma in Mechanical Engineering Course in Theni in September 2020 and applied for an apprenticeship in Coimbatore. During the pandemic he took on construction work with his friends to earn some money. After returning from work one day, he was swimming in the local river when a strong current overwhelmed him. His friends tried their best to save him, but their efforts were in vain and his body was found 4km downriver two days later. We pray for his soul to rest in peace. 8 September 2020 India has now overtaken Brazil and has the second highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world at over 4 million and the third highest number of deaths at over 70,000. The surge in reported cases is mostly centred on five states, of which our state of Tamil Nadu is one. Tamil Nadu has had 469,256 confirmed cases and nearly 8,000 deaths. All the staff and the children currently at RTU were tested (395) for coronavirus recently and it was a shock to discover that 26 staff and 9 children were positive. As no one had any symptoms, we were allowed to isolate in a separate area of our campus for two weeks. Now we are back carrying on with our normal duties. Although some lockdown restrictions are being lifted to help the economy, there are restrictions on the movement of people reliant on daily wage labouring work to go for any sort of work. The livelihoods of a large number of families surviving on these daily wages have been shaken up in the rural villages where we work. Getting sufficient food for even one full square meal for a family is extremely tough. So, with the generous help of supporters, we continue our supply of emergency dry rations to many vulnerable families. In August we distributed supplies to over 800 families in 16 rural villages in Dindigul and Theni Districts. They are mostly abandoned elderly people, our Self-Help Group members, widows, those who are HIV+ or chronically ill, people with disabilities and daily wage labourers. We have supported 3653 families with emergency dry ration supplies to date. We also gave emergency dry rations and learning kits to 500 day students from our four schools. We are very concerned that the poorest children who have no access to smart phones or TV’s to do online lessons will be further disadvantaged while the schools remain closed. All our teachers distributed learning resources (writing materials, notebooks and worksheets, maths tables etc) and explained how to use them at home. The day scholars were also given free textbooks which cover the Tamil Nadu curriculum. Our teachers continue to work hard in preparing online content for our students who are in our care. It is a different challenge and new experience for our teachers as well as for our students. The quality of the material is much appreciated by the students and staff of other schools. In fact, some of our friends’ schools are using our materials for their students. A great recognition indeed! Last time we reported on one of the children who had been badly burned at a fire accident at her home in her native village when we were forced to send the children to any relatives they have at the start of the lockdown. We are pleased to report that she is now out of hospital and back with us following skin graft surgery at a special burns' unit in Madurai. She is receiving regular physiotherapy to help with movement in her right hand. This month, we donated 50 gallons of Sodium Hypochlorite and Lysol to G.Kallupatti Panchayat. They have been spraying it daily in all the streets and public places. On a lighter note, our higher secondary school got 100% pass result in the 10th Standard Board Exams. We are very proud of all our students for the hard work they put in to achieve such excellent results. Dharani recorded 440/500, Sowmiya scored 439/500 and Nivetha 430/500. They are the toppers for this year. In total, 9 students crossed that coveted 400-mark level. We are humbled by the compassion and generosity of our supporters. Your support helps us lead the way in responding to this unprecedented crisis. Your generous contributions have helped us make a meaningful difference and we are honoured by the number of people who have reached out in so many ways. 19 August 2020 Since our last update, the us coronavirus pandemic in India has escalated significantly and we report, with sadness, that the virus arrived in our village during July. Almost 3 million people across India have tested positive for coronavirus to date, resulting in 52,900 deaths. 6,000 of these have been in Tamil Nadu: our district of Theni has suffered 7,606 cases and 117 deaths. In our own village there have been 15 cases. Mr Rangaraj, the father of one of our teachers, died of coronavirus in the Government Hospital in Theni, while the son of one of our headteachers is now in hospital in our local town of Batlagundu. We are praying for his safe recovery. One of our former children, now living in Bodi, fell ill with the virus in July, but thankfully he is recovering well. We remain ever-vigilant. Our priority, as always, is to protect the children in our care, together with other vulnerable members of our community. However, the wider effects of coronavirus continue to make themselves felt in the most tragic ways. Veeralakshmi, a ten-year old girl in our care who we had to send home as per the Government's lockdown orders, suffered severe burns in an accidental fire at her home. She was admitted to the Government hospital in Theni, but once we heard the news, we transferred her to a private hospital in Madurai which has a special burns unit. She was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where she also, to add to her misfortune, tested positive for Covid-19. She has left the ICU and is gradually recovering. She recently had plastic surgery for her burns and is receiving rehabilitation to help her regain the use of her hands. One of our alumni students, who works in the hospital, has been caring for her, and another of our students, who works in a different private hospital nearby, also visits when she can. The travel ban between districts has recently been eased, so her foster mother is now also allowed to be with Veeralakshmi during her hospital stay. This support for a child who has suffered to much is a great comfort to us all. Meanwhile, we remain in regular contact with the other children who were sent to live with their relatives during the lockdown, checking on their health and family circumstances. We still take care to ensure that relatives are able to buy food and look after our children while they are away from us and help families who are struggling. In July we gave cash payments of Rs. 2000 to 184 families who are looking after RTU children. Nevertheless, seven children have returned to us because their relatives are unable to continue care for them. All returning children live under quarantine in a separate house in our Sirumalar Children’s Village, looked after by a foster mother, until it is safe for them to return to RTU. Ensuring our children's education is not affected too severely, we are providing online lessons via a dedicated YouTube channel, setting work based on the lessons that the children send back to be marked. However, only about a third of the children we need to reach have access to computers or smartphones with high-quality internet access, so we also prepare hard copy lessons for those who cannot use the online programmes. It is challenging to make sure children in the most rural areas are included, especially as public transport in Theni district is still suspended, making it difficult for us to deliver lessons and materials to the children who need them most. We know only too well how important education is to shaping positive outcomes for disadvantaged children, and the potential devastation and likely negative social effects of a long term interruption to their schooling. We are being as proactive and innovative as we can to find solutions to the many challenges we face in this core area of our work. On a lighter note, to alleviate the monotony of lockdown, some of our students organised a 3-day Fun Games Festival for the children, which they named ‘Devil Thrashers’ - with coronavirus as the devil! Engineering students Nithya and Lavanya headed a team to organise 50 different games, including treasure hunts, a balloon train and floating brinjals (aubergines). A sports day was also organised for the children living in Nirmala Children’s Village at our Bodi site. Everyone enjoyed the activities, which generated a great deal of much-needed fun and laughter. We continue to provide food parcels and other support to those experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic, and now that coronavirus has unfortunately reached our area, we are also focusing on stopping the spread of the disease by helping to keep our local communities clean and safe. We have purchased a disinfection spraying machine to disinfect our main campus, school areas, Children’s Villages and hostels. We have also donated 20kg of sodium hypochlorite and 20 litres of lysol to the Panchayat (local council) in Alagarnayakkanpatti, one of our target villages. They are spraying it in public areas to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Thanks to the generosity and compassion of our supporters, we will always be here for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable when they need us most. Our commitment and resolve do not waver, even as the challenges continue to mount. 29th June 2020 Cases of Coronavirus in Tamil Nadu are rising daily and the state still has the second highest incidence of infections in India, with 86,000 people testing positive and 1,141 deaths. The state capital of Chennai has been in complete lockdown since 19th June, and now our nearest city, Madurai, around 70km from RTU, is also on complete lockdown. This will be reviewed on 5th July. Even our nearby town, Periyakulam, 20km away is now closed due to the number of cases of coronavirus. The lockdown in the rest of the state has been extended until the end of July. Small temples, churches and mosques will now be open for worship in rural areas, subject to tight conditions being met. RTU is continuing to provide emergency dry ration packs to families in need. Today we have delivered over 300 packs to the families of local children attending RTU schools. We are grateful to all the young men in our care in our hostels who have been helping to package up the emergency grocery supplies. And we are very proud of our student and qualified nurses who are working hard at the frontline, caring for people hospitalised with the virus. Here is Regadevi working at Velammal Hospital in Madurai. 10th June 2020 Coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in some states across India. Tamil Nadu currently has the second highest number of cases of any state in the country, with over 34,000 positive diagnoses to date, and 307 deaths, with the state capital of Chennai seeing cases increasing daily. At RTU we have been fortunate to be spared the worst of the pandemic in terms of the virus, but the latest extension of the lockdown until the end of June means that the lives of all of us at RTU and in the poor communities around us continue to be severely affected. The situation is very hard for large numbers of people who are unable to work because of the lockdown. We have now provided emergency grocery rations to 1,500 people from Devathanapatti, Genguvarpatti and G.Kallupatti villages and beyond. Among them are 308 families whose children who would usually be attending our schools and balwadies, which are currently closed. We are also helping many tribal people who live in remote areas near us. Collectively known as the Adivasi, tribal communities make up c. 8.5% of the population of India, but despite being acknowledged as indigenous to India, they are not considered part of even the very lowest castes. Always forced to live on the very margins of society, the coronavirus crisis has hit these abjectly poor and dispossessed people particularly hard. We are reaching out to help them as best we can in partnership with other NGOs. Some of the children we were instructed to send home in March have now been allowed to return to RTU. When they arrive, they are required to undergo stringent medical checks and, as per the Government's rules, they must remain in compulsory quarantine for 14 days away from the other children before they rejoin their family units and are allowed to mix with their friends again. However, many other children remain with their families. During May, we provided additional support to 32 children whose families are struggling because the breadwinners are in occupations affected by the lockdown, such as agricultural labouring, or who are staying in homes where they are being cared for by elderly relatives. We continue to monitor especially closely the health and welfare of children with disabilities and long term health conditions. We are particularly vigilant regarding those who are HIV+, ensuring they continue to receive and take their vital ART drugs. We would usually be celebrating the beginning of the new academic year in early June, but our schools are still closed. The prolonged absence from classes has the potential to affect the longer-term life chances of our pupils, especially those studying for public exams. At the moment, we know that our schools will not be able to re-open officially until August, so we are finding ways of teaching the children in our care. Thankfully, the 10th standard exams have now been cancelled and grades will be linked to performance. In the meantime, we are making sure our schools will be ready to re-open and welcome our pupils, using the enforced closure to carry out routine maintenance of school buildings and organising the purchase of uniforms and stationery. We have also been preparing educational videos and publishing them online for use during the coming academic year. Finally, we are humbled and grateful for the generosity and compassion our supporters have shared with us during recent months. Thank you from everyone at RTU for joining your helping hands with ours to support those in need. 13th May 2020 As at today, there have been 8,718 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in our state of Tamil Nadu, and 61 deaths, concentrated mostly in urban areas. The number of confirmed cases continues to rise each and the lockdown is still in place and our district, Theni, remains an Orange zone. On 29th April, we reported that one of our HIV+ children, had been admitted to hospital in Batlagundu, suffering from jaundice and liver failure, whilst staying with her relatives in Dindigul. We are very sorry to share the sad news that Dharani died peacefully on 9th May, after eventually falling into a coma. Our heartfelt condolences are sent to her family, and we are remembering her in our prayers. We are also now providing support to some of our part-time organisers, study centre teachers and ayahs. They earn modest salaries as do their husbands. There is currently little prospect of work, so we are happy to help these members of the RTU family with practical support while money is short.On 8th May we extended our distribution of essential dry food supplies, to more of those who are in particular need during the lockdown. More of our school pupils' families received food assistance from us last week, together with additional people from the Dhobie caste (washermen/women) and other poor families in our local villages of Genguvarpatti and G.Kallupatti. At the request of the local Revenue Inspector, we have also sent 25 bags of rice to several remote villages in the Devadanapatti area. 6th May 2020 The number of coronavirus cases across India has accelerated sharply in the past week. Today the numbers stand at 49,436 confirmed cases, with 1,695 deaths. Cases in Tamil Nadu almost doubled from 2,058 to 4,058 during the same period, the fastest rate of increase in any state apart from Maharashtra. There is particular cause for concern in Tamil Nadu, as over 500 new cases have been recorded on each of the last two days. The lockdown has been extended by the Government from 4th May for another two weeks. Districts across India have been designated as Red, Orange or Green zones based on the number of cases of coronavirus in the area, the rate of onward infection and the extent of testing and tracing activity. Our district, Theni, which at the moment has fewer cases than some other parts of Tamil Nadu, is an Orange zone. The situation therefore continues for us as before, with virus containment and buffer zones clearly defined to help limit the spread of the virus. After more than 50 days in lockdown, many people are desperate, and there is no end in sight. We are continuing to provide food parcels to many of the poorest in our local community, some of whom, unable to work because of the Government's restrictions, increasingly struggle to feed themselves or their families. Collaborating with the local Panchayats, we have helped to distribute dry food rations, while on our own initiative we have identified others in urgent need, including the families of our school pupils, the unemployed, those who do not have the official ID they require to collect Government rations, stranded migrant workers, refugees, and other vulnerable groups. One food parcel recipient, Amarvathi, said: I am Amaravathi, 55 years old and living in G. Kallupatti. My husband Vellachamy died of a heart attack six months ago. I have 4 sons and all are agriculture labourers, all married and settled in different villages. I live in a house provided by RTU and work as a labourer. After my husband died, I lost my hope and could not go for any work. Now no work is even possible. I get rice from the ration shop once in a month and cook food for myself. RTU’s staff member identified me and RTU provided me with a pack of groceries worth Rs. 650/-. I thank RTU for this timely assistance. Another of our partner organisations, Jeevan Jyothi Hospice in Theni, has also extended support to other groups such as gypsies and transgender people, and disabled and elderly people. We have already given food support to over 1,000 families and will carry on for as long as our help is needed. Our kitchen also continues to provide daily meals for the local sanitary workers. Many of them are from the scheduled castes and even though they are at the front line of the fight to contain Covid-19, their social position means that local people are unwilling to give them food. It is our privilege to help them in whatever way we can as they work hard to keep our community safe. We were instructed by the Government to send our children home to their families at the beginning of the lockdown. They are still there, but many of their families are increasingly suffering financial hardship, their situation exacerbated by having extra mouths to feed. As well as keeping in touch with them to monitor the children's welfare and health, we are also supporting 120 of these families with cash grants and, in some cases, a combination of food and financial aid. We are devastated to report, however, that on 4th May one of our students drowned in a tragic accident. He was swimming in an open well with friends whilst at home in Theni from Coimbatore Government Polytechnic, where he was in his final year of study. His friends alerted the Fire and Rescue Service when he began to get into difficulties in the water, but sadly his body was recovered later the same day. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very distressing time. While the lockdown has been downgraded to 'orange' in some areas of Tamil Nadu, our area remains 'red' as the number of cases continues to rise. We await the next Government update on Sunday 3rd May. 29th April 2020 Meanwhile, the children we were instructed to send home at the beginning of the lockdown remain with their families. We are in regular contact with them to check on their welfare, particularly those with health problems. One of these children, a young girl who is HIV+, has been staying with her relatives in Dindigul. She and her elder sister came to live at RTU in 2006, orphaned after losing both their parents to HIV/AIDS. On 27th April we learned that she was suffering from jaundice. We immediately arranged an ambulance to take her to Leonard Hospital in Batlagundu, where she was admitted within two hours of us hearing the news about her illness. She is receiving treatment and responding well. An RTU warden is staying at the hospital full time, to help look after her during her stay, which we hope will be brief. We are praying for her to recover as quickly as possible and we look forward with hope to the day when all our children can be returned to our care. 22nd April 2020 The Indian Government permitted the easing of some Covid-19 lockdown regulations on 20th April. Some states such as Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have given permission for specific activities to resume, including construction work, the limited re-opening of cafes and hotels, and the movement of food and other essential goods. However, other states, including our own of Tamil Nadu, and Punjab and Karnataka, are retaining a full lockdown. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, which has a particularly high number of cases compared to other similar states, has confirmed that the situation will next be reviewed on 3rd May. Across Tamil Nadu there have been 1,596 cases of Covid-19 to date, with 18 deaths. In our area, Theni District, there have been 43 cases. Our work therefore continues for now with the same restrictions on our activities, but we are managing to maintain and even extend our support for those who need us. Food In the past week, we have distributed over 1,000 food parcels. The recipients include the families of the RTU children who we had to send home at the beginning of the pandemic and also those of the children who attend our 8 balwadis (pre-schools) and schools. We have also extended our food parcel programme to include other sections of the community who, with no work during the lockdown and sometimes lacking the official paperwork that would allow them to obtain Government rations, are struggling to feed themselves. We have given groceries and 12kg sacks of rice to 62 families in the wider area of the Periyakulam Taluk after a request from the Tahsildar (town council) in Theni District, of which the RTU village G. Kallupatti's Panchayat (village council) is a part. We have also provided food parcels to some of the barber and Dhobi families who live in our village and in nearby Genguvarpatti. Dhobis belong to the scheduled caste in India, traditionally employed in washing and laundry work. In addition we have given food to some of the descendants of refugees from various conflicts in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). There are about 90,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in Tamil Nadu; the group we have helped this week live in a colony close to our Miriam Children's Village. Even though many of these Tamils have only ever known life in India and have no connections at all to Sri Lanka, they are very poor and seldom have Indian citizenship, which means their rights are often limited. In 1975, Brother James helped Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and was supportive of this community in his lifetime. We are humbled to honour his memory by helping them at this difficult time. Healthcare RTU has donated a testing kiosk to the Devandanapatti Primary Health Centre. By identifying new cases, the testing regime will help to limit the spread of infection through the community. Some basic medicines are difficult to find in remote areas during the lockdown. When we were asked to buy some much-needed pain relief for a man who can only walk with difficulty using crutches, we were pleased to help. 16th April 2020 As reported by Modi on 14th April, the Covid-19 lockdown has been extended by the Indian Government until 3rd May. Schools, colleges, shops and most businesses - except essential shops such as groceries and pharmacies - will remain shut. All public gatherings are also still banned, as is public transport. However, there will be some relaxation of the strict rules from 20th April to allow some farming and agricultural work to re-start, together with public works programmes and delivery services, dependent on the incidence of Covid-19 in each block, district and state. As Tamil Nadu has one of the highest rates of Covid-19, we doubt there will be any easing of restrictions here. The main effect that it is having on people in our area is the inability to do any daily wage labouring work, leaving vulnerable families without money to buy food. We continue to raise awareness, distribute face masks and share information about the virus in our area. Our two counsellors, Ms Jancy and Ms Meena, produced four audio clips for our local radio station PASUMAI, each 2-3 minutes long, giving parents information and advice about protecting their families. These have proved so popular that we have been asked for more. We are preparing them now and they will be broadcast this week. The children who had to be sent home to their families at the beginning of the lockdown are not yet allowed to return to RTU, but we remain in regular touch with their families. We are giving emergency cash payments to those in urgent need, together with regular food parcels. We have also extended this support to the some of the poorest local families whose children attend RTU's schools and to local people in our target villages who now cannot work and are struggling to feed their families. The people in the hill areas around RTU are also very badly affected by the current crisis. At the request of the District Child Welfare Committee, we have so far provided 20 bags of rice for the poorest tribal people living at Bodi Mettu in the Bodinaickanur area. RTU also regularly provides breakfast and lunch to more than 50 village Panchayat health workers in G. Kallupatti as they stay away from their homes to minimise the risk of infecting their families. They are from scheduled castes (the Dalit or 'untouchable' community) and because of their social standing they struggle to receive support from other groups in the village even during these difficult times. We are pleased to be able to help them as they carry out their important work. The children and young people who remain at RTU are keeping busy: The younger children, who have been isolated within RTU together and do not need to observe strict social distancing, are enjoying new games and activities. And the student teachers who do not have any relatives to go home to are practicing their teaching skills, preparing lessons for the younger children. Some of the older hostel boys are helping to pack food parcels Father Antony, Director of RTU, said earlier this week: RTU’s doors are open during these days of need caused by the pandemic. All our staff are motivated to see, decide and act for the sake of others. There is a huge risk involved in purchasing and transporting supplies to the needy, but our staff are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves from contracting this disease. They are warriors in RTU’s Army in a different field. We salute all of them! 9th April 2020 RTU's community outreach team and women's self-help groups have so far identified 90 families who are struggling to feed themselves as the Covid-19 situation worsens. These are families reliant on daily wage labouring work which has now ceased. This week we have started providing grocery parcels containing red grams, green grams, rice, malala items, cooking oil, chilli powder, tamarind, pulses and other basics to these families and others in need in the local villages of JK Nagar, Kakkanji, Endapuli and Mela Endapuli. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and direct help where it is needed most as the crisis continues. At the request of the Child Welfare Committee, we have bought bags of flour for tribal Adhivasi people in the Bodi Mettu area in Theni District, working with another NGO to distribute it. Our central kitchen is open and working hard to provide free, regular meals for vulnerable people and others such as street cleaning workers and our own support staff, as well as any migrant workers and their families who are staying with us until they can get home. We are working with the local Panchayat (authority) to help further protect our communities. We have purchased spraying equipment and disinfectant, which the Panchayat are using to keep the public areas in our local villages clean. 6th April 2020 Tamil Nadu state now has the second highest number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19, in part due to 1,500 delegates from the state who attended a conference in Delhi. 1,246 have been traced and isolated and among these 522 have tested positive. The nearest case to our main campus is 20 km away. We continue to do our utmost to take all precautionary measures and on Saturday Dr Anand, a National Child Protection & Child Rights officer from Delhi, visited our premises to give further awareness talks to the children. Thankfully, all the children in our care are well, as are all those we have been forced to send home to their native villages. Our foster mothers are continuing to stitch masks, which are being distributed to local village people, including the Government's street cleansing workers, who come to our campus for their daily meals. 2nd April 2020 1.5 billion people in India are in lockdown as the country struggles to control the Covid-19 crisis. The situation will be reviewed on 15th April, but for now we are working hard to help not only those in our care and in our immediate communities, but also others who may have been displaced. The number of cases in Tamil Nadu continues to rise. In the current phase, the Indian Government is seeking to trace and contact any individuals who they believe may be spreading the virus, and urging the observance of social distancing, frequent hand washing and other hygiene measures. Our children All schools including ours were closed on 16th March and on 23rd March. NGOs such as ours that care for disadvantaged children and young people were ordered to return those who are not orphans to their relatives in their native villages where possible. In many cases this has meant sending vulnerable children to households which do not have the means to feed or shelter them. Where such poor families and communities also lack clean water and sanitation, they will be at even more risk. We are in daily contact with families to check on their home situation, ensuring those that now have an extra mouth to feed have enough food for everyone in the household. We are also monitoring the health of children on a daily basis, especially those who are HIV+ and our ambulance has been visiting them with their ART drugs and to monitor their health. If we become aware of children whose welfare is at risk or whose health is deteriorating, we have contingency plans to go out in the ambulance and bring them back to RTU where we have made provision to care for them in isolation away from the other children currently in our care. 144 lone and orphaned children with no contact with any relatives and nowhere to go remain at RTU and we are looking after them as usual in our Children's Villages and hostels. Usually, in holiday time, these children would be housed in the same Children's Villages and hostels where they would have lots of activities and trips. Now, they are dotted about in their usual Children's Villages and hostels in the care of their foster mothers and wardens to avoid them living in close proximity. All the daily prayer services and cultural programmes which give the children opportunity of coming together and are such a part of RTU daily life are not taking place. The local health and child welfare officials and have inspected all our premises and are satisfied with the health and hygiene practices we have in place, such as social distancing, frequent hand washing and the consistent use of hand sanitiser and face masks. The foster mothers at RTU have already made several hundred face masks for RTU and people in the local community. Our communities Food In Tamil Nadu, a number of Government initiatives are now in place to help the poorest people and those reliant on daily wage labouring work, which has now stopped. People in local villages are unable to work unless it is to tend to animals or work in their own fields. Government support includes the distribution of food tokens that can be exchanged at designated local ration shops for basic provisions such as cooking oil, rice and vegetables. Our community outreach teams are in close touch with our self-help group village leaders to make sure that local people are aware of the Government schemes and the additional nutritional supplements now available to them. We will continue to keep this and other lines of communications open during the current period of rapid change. We are using the kitchens at our main campus to help ensure the community has access to regular, nourishing food. Local people in need can bring their tiffin boxes to be filled at the kitchen, providing enough food for several meals. Healthcare As Covid-19 starts to spread more widely in Tamil Nadu, we have closed the clinic at our main campus, as ordered by the police. However, our healthcare outreach work continues. Awareness-raising around Covid-19 is vital, making sure local people are know about the virus and the precautions they should be taking. We have distributed 5,000 information leaflets to date, in 28 villages, to raise awareness about the importance of social distancing, regular hand washing with soap and wearing face masks when out in public. Staff are also contacting villagers by phone to tell them about the spread of the virus and encouraging to them to seek urgent medical help if they fall ill with any of the main symptoms. Our housing and water programmes The restrictions on workers' movements and activities have stopped all our housebuilding and bore-well drilling activities for the duration of the current lockdown. Helping others in need We are looking after some of the thousands of migrant workers who have found themselves unable to go back to their native villages. They are not able to work and are stuck in our area. There are no buses or trains running during the lockdown, leaving many of them stranded. We are providing food for them at our main campus sites in G. Kallupatti and Bodi and offering shelter for any who want it. The coming weeks We are doing our best to plan ahead for the time when the virus may reach rural areas like ours. We will continue to work closely with the Government and local Panchayat authorities to ensure the best possible preventative and healthcare measures are in place. We are already helping to provide food for street cleaning staff and have been put on standby to help healthcare workers. Our people We remain extremely mindful of the welfare of our loyal staff. We simply would not be able to continue to function in the current situation without their commitment and hard work. Most staff are now furloughed or working from home, but we are doing our utmost to protect the health of those who continue to work as they help keep our children and local communities safe and well, while also being considerate of the well-being of their families. We also acknowledge with pride the contributions of over 30 staff nurses and 18 student nurses from RTU who are working tirelessly to treat patients with Covid-19 in various Government and private hospitals around the country. Thank you, as always, for your steadfast support and compassion, and the sacrifices you make on our behalf. We very much hope you can join with us as usual with your generosity and support as we work our hardest to deal with the ever-changing situation. We send good wishes and to you and your loved ones, hoping you stay safe and well at this difficult time.