I story: Fighting poverty during lock down

I story: Fighting poverty during lock down

Date: April 30, 2020
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By Priscilla Bignoux

Mauritius, 30 April: As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the whole world. It is having tremendous economic impact on poor families and those belonging to the informal sector who now face great hardship. The temporary halt of professional activity has provoked a crisis with peculiar traits in that part of society.

As a result, various demands for help have been put forward following the problems that have emerged in these families.

I was born in a poor family and from a young age, I developed a great sympathy and love for others. Throughout my childhood I have always received and witnessed help and success in life has been achieved with the help of my mother and social workers for whom I remain very grateful.

Today, having been a voluntary social worker for an organisation which fights against poverty through education and training and now being a councillor for a District Council that caters for 17 villages, I cannot but feel for the suffering being caused by this pandemic.

A food crisis has been unleashed by the arising circumstances, following financial difficulties caused by the halt of professional activities and by confinement.

COVID-19 unfortunately has dire effects on the poor.

As a councillor, It is my moral duty to help everybody touched by these circumstances regardless of religion or political affiliation and thus answer the distress call . I have responded by devising a workplan to effectively provide the necessary help to families in need.

After rallying competent social workers and group leaders within villages concerned, we have drawn a list of vulnerable families and individuals in the informal sector and a definite list of those in actual need of help was created. Having been issued a pass by the Government to circulate and to distribute goods to the needy, I have had to be in the heat of the action to achieve this.

It is to be noted that help provided has been in terms of basic needs and not of financial needs. I have had to send scores of emails, phoned various private companies, organizations to obtain help and upto now, more than 300 families have benefitted from this help.

On a personal level, I have helped people from the informal sector to fill online applications for governmental financial help, provided a few essentials to an individual living in extreme poverty who experienced a power cut and theft of a cooking gas container during confinement. With the help of some neighbours, we were able to restore power supply to that house and deliver a new gas container. I have also provided the necessary help to a homeless person.

As confinement continues, demand for help is growing. People who are on the social register of Mauritius, those who live off government pensions, those belonging to the informal sector ( self-employed fishermen, for example ) and those who have lost their jobs face growing difficulties as days go by.

This having been done, I now have an eye on the future. I have personal experience in providing professional training to both women and men and to vulnerable individuals in order to help them find jobs or create their own enterprise. In collaboration with the chairperson of the District Council, a plan is being conceived to assist those families in need in order for them to achieve financial independence.

Now, I think, is also the time to go back to working the earth, which remains a viable means to come out of poverty. Small-scale animal farms and plantations could cater to a lot of basic needs. Their products and by-products could add value to the local context and to the “Made in Mauritius” label.

Today’s situation compels reflection and solidarity. I think each of us, within each one’s capacity and means should help the community and the Government to deal with these circumstances. If the lack of money is usually a great barrier, then help from as many individuals as possible will certainly overcome it. This newfound power has to be used to fight the pandemic and the scars that it will leave behind on individuals, families and the society.

This pandemic teaches us how precious life is. We are hearing stories from all over the world about mutual help, human warmth, unlikely collaborations and in Mauritius, it is no different. Government, NGOs, individual social workers have all sprung to work and have upto now held up very well. Plans are working and new plans are being made for the future. Although the aftermath of the pandemic will certainly be hard and some might not even survive, life after the aftermath may still be looked forward to.

I want to thank the whole team that is currently working on our stories. I am convinced that there are many beautiful stories filled with loves and goodwill. You are in my paryers

Lets hope for the best.

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