Stories From the Field: Serving India’s Needy During a Global Crisis

Father Samuel Thekkekavinal directs the SEVA Social Service Society of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy of St. Ephrem, headquartered near Pune, Maharashtra.

We are living through unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic has swept through the globe, causing chaos, deepening poverty, leaving countless ill and killing millions. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy of St. Ephrem, Khadki, deeply empathizes with all the people of the world, as we combat together the growing pandemic, and our people join in prayer with those who have lost their dear and near ones.  

The pandemic and subsequent global lockdown represent unprecedented challenges for humanity, both having an immediate impact on the world economy, which varies dramatically across sectors and regions.

Many regions in India have nearly stopped operating; others are confronting a shortage of unskilled laborers. The virus has devastated the marginalized, especially daily laborers, whose daily earnings (and lack of savings) raises real concerns for their survival. Disruption of the routine, social isolation and the pandemic itself is taking a toll on the well-being and mental health of people. In some contexts, there is an emergence of health hazards, and increase in exposure to and experiences of domestic violence, particularly impacting women.

In the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — all of which are included in this eparchy — essential services have been disrupted and a blanket of fear and panic smothers our societies. It is feared that the situation will worsen. The states are also staring at a spurt in infections as the general public does not have enough PPE supplies to contain the outbreak.

The eparchy, which was only set up last year, is responding quickly to the call of human suffering during this time, conducting rapid searches to identify hot spots and design courses of action to respond to the long term needs of the suffering. Thanks to funds from CNEWA, we have launched realistic relief efforts to support as many vulnerable people as possible through effective mechanisms and processes, largely through the social service arm of the eparchy, SEVA.

The Eparchy of St. Ephrem has identified the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has prioritized the distribution of its aid to children, women, the elderly, and the indigenous peoples. (photo: CNEWA)

Target Groups

The Eparchy of St. Ephrem has identified the most vulnerable, and has prioritized the distribution of its aid to children, women, the elderly, and the indigenous peoples, with a special focus on those tribal peoples with disabilities, migrant workers and day laborers.

Major Actions

In the wake of the pandemic, SEVA has distributed dry rations to the underprivileged. The eparchy has been providing food to the needy at the time of the global crisis. Community kitchens have been set up for distribution to the poor and underprivileged. This distribution has been done across the state of Maharashtra with attention given to appropriate social distancing and hygiene norms while delivering the food to needy persons. SEVA also distributed relief kits for cancer patients while other efforts extended medical and financial support to the neediest patients. The dry ration kits include: 25 kg of rice; 3 kg of lentil; 10 kg of wheat flour; 2 kg of mustard oil; 2 kg of sugar; 2 kg of jaggery; 2 kg of salt; and 250 gm of tea.

Hygiene Kits and Awareness Sessions

As the pandemic has devastated the poor — who live in crowded areas and some lack basic hygiene knowledge — we have conducted awareness sessions, where each session has ended with the distribution of hygiene kits that include face masks, sanitizers, and alcohol-based soaps, supplies sufficient for a family of five members. The eparchy is also providing PPE kits to hospitals and health department personnel and is extending eparchial infrastructure for isolation and quarantine services.

We are grateful to the CNEWA family for your generous support, which has benefited so many of our people in the care of our eparchy. We now intend to focus on migrant, unorganized workers and people with special needs, and on behalf of the Eparchy of St. Ephrem, Khadki Pune, I wish to express my sincere gratitude toward your esteemed office and wish you all blessings for your ministries.

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