“To protect people from the pandemic, I, along with my SHG members decided to tailor masks and distribute in the community, and educate people about wearing masks, practice social distancing and handwashing,” says Srinu.
Srinu is a resident of Gajapati district in Odisha. Srinu has orthopaedic disability since his childhood. He is supported by Sightsavers under its Social Inclusion Programme. Srinu is the president of a Self-Help Group (SHG), and an active leader of the SAMARTH – the district level Disable People’s Organisation – supported by Sightsavers. At 32, Srinu is full of energy and has a deep commitment to work towards the betterment of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) in his community. In the last Panchayat elections, Srinu was elected as a Ward Member in his Gram Panchayat – a testimony of his leadership abilities.
The recent COVID-19 crisis has affected everyone across the globe, and persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in such a crisis. While the pandemic was unfolding in his state, Srinu was regularly checking the news and government guidelines to understand the depth of this crisis. He was quick to realise that preventive measures like handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing were the only ways to stay safe from COVID. Soon after, he called a meeting of his Self-Help Group and had a discussion with the PwD members on how to make their community aware of preventive measures as per the guidelines. For this, they decided to conduct a live demonstration of handwashing, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing within their communities. They also came to know about the government’s provision of masks to people in rural regions however, due to the delay in the service, they started stitching masks from fresh cotton materials. For starters, every person with disabilities who had sewing machines with them (provided as part of Sightsavers’ livelihood support under Social Inclusion Programme), was given the task of making around 400 masks. Cotton was sourced from their SHG savings and they decided to give these masks to anyone who could not afford to buy one, while for others, these masks could be bought for 5 INR.
This was further shared with the district level teams of SAMARTH and Sightsavers project, wherein the project staffs and district level DPO members also came forward to support Srinu in his efforts. The following days, Srinu and the project team of Sightsavers, along with other SAMARTH leaders started visiting all the villages under his Panchayat to conduct COVID awareness sessions with special focus on care of persons with disabilities during the pandemic. Live demonstrations were made on how to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distance.
This was not the first time when Srinu demonstrated his leadership abilities, he also had displayed similar skills during the extremely severe cyclone “Titli” in 2018, which had caused severe devastations in Gajapati district with the PwD community being highly affected. He along with the SAMARTH team had played a huge role in rehabilitation and restoration of people with disabilities who were affected in the cyclone.
Being an elected ward member, Srinu not only looks into the issues of persons with disabilities, but also makes sure that every vulnerable person in his constituency has access to his/ her rights and entitlements. All the persons with disabilities from his Panchayat are being provided with the basic entitlements like pension and health cards, along with the recent financial and food assistance supports announced by the central and state governments. Srinu facilitated the distribution of financial assistance to around 163 labour card holders and about 175 Jan Dhan account holders in his Panchayat. Besides, he also helped the administration in distributing food to around 620 persons in his locality including 7 persons with disabilities.
In his words, “I know how it feels to be living with difficulties, and so when I see someone in pain, I immediately think of how I can extend some sort of support in the best possible way I can.” Srinu, undoubtedly, is a true icon who, through his exemplary leadership abilities, has proved that no crisis can go beyond our hands if, we are committed enough to the cause and raise to the occasion whenever there is a need.