Caritas India receives prestigious Mahatma Gandhi award for its response to COVID-19

09 Feb 21

Despite the significant challenges of COVID-19 and an accompanying recession, Caritas India has continued to deliver high-quality support to the most vulnerable and marginalised.

The organisation was recently awarded the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Award 2020 for COVID-19 Humanitarian Efforts. This award comes after Caritas India was awarded the Healthgiri Award 2020 for Best NGO for Healthcare Services during COVID-19 late last year.

These awards are welcome recognition after many months of tireless work.

The Executive Director of Caritas India, Fr. Paul Moonjely, says that receiving the award is a “recognition of the service extended by our partners, staff, volunteers and all our stakeholders who stood beside us in reaching out to the millions of people during COVID-19.”

“During the COVID-19 Humanitarian Response [Caritas India] went an extra mile to show solidarity and support to the vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society. As a strong collective, Caritas India partners and congregational institutions contributed in breaking the chain of spreading COVID-19 by sharing knowledge, resources and reaching out to the weak and marginalised communities.”

Last September, India had nearly 100,000 new cases a day, and looked ready to overtake the United States in COVID-19 caseload. Today, cases are much lower, and the country is rolling out vaccinations in impressive numbers, along with a comprehensive public health campaign.

Nonetheless, the impact of COVID-19 on some of the poorest and most marginalised communities has been significant. In the past two decades, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen globally, but this may be reversed, as those living on the margins are the most likely to be impacted by loss of income and illness from COVID-19.

India is home to nearly a quarter of the world's poor. The pandemic has had devastating impacts on the economy in a country where many people rely on informal labour and have little job security. Now, many Indians face increased risks of food insecurity and poverty as a result of COVID-19.

People Social Distancing Near a Handpump in India
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Caritas India has encouraged social distancing at handpumps and other public facilities. Photo: Caritas India.

The Community Led Development & Governance program, implemented by Caritas Australia and Caritas India, began before COVID-19 broke out, but has proved to be a valuable source of support as locals face the increased challenges brought by the pandemic.

The program works with Indigenous groups and members of the Dalit, or untouchable caste, who are more likely to experience extreme poverty due to longstanding marginalisation and alienation.

Through the program, Caritas India supports communities to improve their incomes and aims to empower some of the most vulnerable members of these communities, including widows and people living with disabilities.

One of the ways that the program works towards these goals is by promoting community and collectivism, so that these groups have enhanced bargaining power with local governments.

Thanks to the program, more than 6,000 marginalised families have improved their income. Communities have also taken greater leadership and control over their own rights, and are now advocating for their own needs and entitlements more effectively.

For example, nearly 3,000 households have received government benefits as a result of the program support, including disability pensions and old age pensions. Eligible households have also been able to advocate for their right to support for toilet construction, or to access government grants to start small businesses.

In addition, farmers have received training and supplies to improve their productivity, including more sustainable farming methods and improved cropping patterns. 

Marginalised communities have also been supported during COVID-19 with distributions of vital equipment including masks, soap, hand sanitiser and emergency supplies including food kits.

Key achievements during COVID-19

4353 families, or around 23, 295 vulnerable people received sanitation items inlcuding soap and reusable masks

50,000 people have been made aware of the importance of handwashing, physical distancing and proper mask use through an awareness campaign and door-to-door visits

Around 23,295 people started wearing masks in their day-to-day life and adopted good practices like handwashing and physical distancing, which help to contain the virus

4353 families, or around 23, 295 vulnerable people have received food kits to survive for a month during lockdown and periods of unemployment

We congratulate Caritas India for their exceptional and tireless efforts during the pandemic to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are supported to advocate for their own rights. Now, more than ever, it is important to build up local communities and empower locals to be the leaders in their own development.