While things were still settling with continuous efforts on the grounds of both relief and economic rehabilitation, the global pandemic of COVID-19 reached India. The already affected individuals along with the other oppressed and marginalized communities were pushed further against the wall. We immediately streamlined our work to help out the larger community which was thrown under the bus by the State. What we were witnessing was a global pandemic turning into a humanitarian crisis for the poor and the marginalized. The idea of ‘physical distancing’ is a privileged concept, especially in India where a considerable chunk of the population is working hand to mouth, as daily wage labourers.
It was a time when the only option was to go out on the streets and work but the inevitability of this disease to affect us and the consequences it carried was right in front of us. But in times like these, the need for help is the greatest. Following the preventive measures, we visited the affected places where immediate help in the form of ration and food was required. Even after keeping up with the safety concerns, we faced a crowd which was in dire need of help, both their lives and the health of our volunteers was at risk.
Even the standard kits of ration did not make the grade because primarily, the size of the family varied and secondly, the requirements of every family were not exactly the same. In addition, the path of economic rehabilitation created by us for small vendors particularly, seven ration shops, ten vegetable vendors, one gas supply ownership, and one milk shop was also disrupted. Since the consumers, majorly the daily wage labourers of the affected localities were not in a position to buy due to loss of their jobs with the unplanned lockdown imposed by the State.
One size fits all approach did not fit the families stuck in the failing system, the varying requirements and different family size had to be taken into consideration. The loss of business of the newly set-up small shops could not be overlooked. At the same time, the outreach and corollary of the global pandemic if proper preventive measures were neglected was another serious concern. We wanted to help but we had to be attentive on the limitations. Helping without being accountable for our responsibility was a choice which we could not afford.
There was a turbulent journey which we had lived with the survivors of the pogrom, families which looked up to us for help, and kids who smiled when they saw us. With our finite capacities and boundless spirit, we sustained our work on the ground and we kept analysing the potential ways to find an efficient solution, concurrently.
Prospective ideas were pitched in, discussed on, and then implemented finally in the form of ‘Smile Coupon’. Yes, a piece of paper which would level fault lines in the small economy we aimed to create.
Smile Coupon is a form of the local currency which is given to those who are in need of the ration, these coupons are available in three forms:
- Weekly Ration Coupon: Rs. 200
- Weekly Vegetable Coupon: Rs. 100
- Weekly LG Coupon: Rs. 300
All these coupons can be redeemed from those small businesses which we have helped to set up. Both the Weekly Ration Coupon and Weekly Vegetable Coupon are individual-based and the Weekly LG Coupon is family-based. Each Smile Coupon comes up with a time limit, new coupons are generated for new dates for the upcoming weeks. Numbers are embedded in these coupons to help us track the details of the purchases being made. Accordingly, our database is updated and new requirements from the locality are taken into consideration.
This pilot project has oiled the wheels of our dual plank of relief and economic equilibrium. With the functioning of Smile Coupons, a small market equilibrium has been created which has sustained the requirements of both the petty shop-owners and their consumers. We have implemented this into some parts of Delhi, and we look forward to expanding this project to other affected areas of the city. We are out here because we want to help people. Everyone out there who is helping the needy in these dark times, this pilot project is available for you. Any suggestions to enhance its efficiency or to work on it are heartily welcomed.
Brainstorming together, we have learned, unlearned, and re-learned on many steps. What we have come up with may not be a full-proof plan, we may even fail at times, and we may find better ways in the upcoming journey. We do not promise the best to you, but we promise you ‘the best we can’, we promise to spread smiles, we promise you hope.