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Volunteer-driven initiatives are offering relief and aid to migrant workers hit by the COVID-19 lockdown

Arti Das

It was the heartbreaking image of India’s lockdown: migrant workers finding themselves jobless overnight leaving cities in droves, on foot, carrying their possessions on their backs. These faceless, nameless people, who shape our cities, triggered a discussion about the value of human life. In Goa, where migrant workers are the backbone of the real estate economy, the situation was no different. They struggled to get food on their plate.

Enter the Goa Humanitarian Helpline. The volunteer-run helpline, functioning mainly through Whatsapp, provided ration and relief material and helped in mobilising travel of migrant workers.

A long line of migrants awaiting their turn to collect ration at Alto Betim. Photos credit: Covid Outreach Goa

The group that started as a grocery helpline soon reached different corners of the state, roping in locals. “The Goa Humanitarian Helpline has answered calls from physically challenged senior citizens who needed food, cancer patients who were running out of medicines, pregnant women, daily wagers who had no food for days and many citizens who had no access to essentials,” says Vijaya Josephine Pais, one of the core members.

Varun Hegde of Soul Travelling, an offbeat travel company, co-managed the relief work from Margao in South Goa. "Our one motive was to provide relief and aid. We raised funds, helped people obtain essentials, and provided dry ration kits to migrants who were leaving by train,” he says, adding that they were helped by Gujrati Samaj Margao.

This was just the first step.

A directory of resources

The Helpline’s initiatives were directed at locals, working migrants, and those who wanted to travel to their homes. They still had to address a large chunk of migrant workers who stayed back and needed jobs to pay their bills.

In May, when the lockdown was partially lifted, volunteers found that the major challenge was the disconnect between employers and employees. “This is when we had the idea of creating an online labour directory where prospective employers could post their requirements and be matched with workers in our directory,” says volunteer Miriam Koshy-Sukhija, an artist based in Panaji, who had earlier volunteered in providing relief.