Coronavirus: Latest update from India We are very grateful for your concern for the children you sponsor who would normally be in our care in the Children's Villages and hostels. We currently have 144 children in our care who have nowhere to go as we have had to send those who do have relatives to their native villages during the strict lockdown. If you would like information about the children you sponsor, please do email the UK office. 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. 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. 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. 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. 29th April 2020 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. 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.