Spotlight Series #2 Meet our partner Sneha Mumbai

The Essentials Story has partnered with SNEHA MUMBAI, a non-profit organization that works with women and children in the dense slums of Mumbai close to our factories. With little ability to social distance and a critical need for sanitary supplies, these struggling communities are facing an unprecedented health crisis and increasing economic fragility. For every pack sold, we donate much needed health essentials to these communities.

Davishna Pillai is the Fundraising Manager of SNEHA Mumbai and shares what its like to work within the Mumbai Slums in the middle of a pandemic.

Tell us about the amazing work that SNEHA does… 



How has the way SNEHA works changed since COVID-19?

Mumbai recorded a huge surge in the number of COVID-19 positive cases than any other cities in India. The initial phases of the lockdown were the toughest as many people in the communities we work in lost their jobs which led to panic. Our community members were scared of starving as they no longer had any source of income. They would often tell our Community Action Groups (CAGs) and Community Organizers (COs) to help them with getting ration. 

Further, many of them did not have access to Covid-19 safety gear such as masks, gloves and sanitizers – which also became essential commodities in the pandemic.  Accordingly, we began working with our volunteers to help these families get ration kits as well as essential items like masks, sanitizers and gloves. We also started providing information by distributing pamphlets on Covid-19 prevention.

The lockdown has forced us to explore new ways of communicating with our communities. We have used phones and online platforms extensively and propose to continue using platforms that have been effective. Our community volunteers and beneficiaries have also been trained to make greater use of technology, which we believe is empowering, efficient and sustainable. We will explore new technology that will improve our efficiency and outreach in this changed environment.

What are some of your biggest challenges currently?

A large section of our beneficiaries living in the urban informal settlements do not own a smart phone and have no internet connectivity to enable us to reach them for online support, training and counseling sessions. This has largely slowed down our pace of interventions.

Also with many parents losing their jobs or having their income reduced the focus on feeding families nutritious meals have not been a priority and therefore we see health deteriorating.

We hear about an increase in gender based violence, the suffering of migrant workers & children dropping out of school, could you tell us about what the situation on the ground looks like since the pandemic? And what you think it’s going to look like in 2021?

Gender based violence sure has increased and not just in the communities we work in but in almost all segments of the community. As the men have been home and without a job and money being tight we see women facing the brunt of this in our communities, we are however working with our volunteers on the ground to help us identify cases and our helplines are operational 24/7. For women who can’t drop by they can call/email/text us.

A lot of parents in the last 2 months have been returning to work and usually the father in the family would have a smartphone where the children were accessing their online classes from. With them not being present we are seeing that a lot of adolescents are missing their classes as well as the session we conduct. We are currently reaching out to donors to start a Smartphone Library whereby our volunteers would have smartphones handy and as and when the adolescents need this they can borrow this.

In the slums of Mumbai how do people even practice social distancing?

It’s been a challenge for them to practice physical distancing. When a family member is feeling unwell they would try keeping as much distance from the other members and while wearing a mask at all times. Our volunteers have seen to it that they get medical attention at the earliest. Many had returned to their villages as they were not able to sustain themselves here.

When the pandemic hit Mumbai, there was an overload of information, and particularly, misinformation, on Covid-19 prevention practices. In fact, Dharavi, one of the slums we work in, was touted to be a hotspot, by its virtue of being a slum. However, SNEHA took up this challenge of spreading accurate information about the virus and taking precautions like using masks gloves and sanitizers and maintaining social distance. We stayed connected to our community volunteers, Community Organizers (COs) and Community Action Groups (CAGs) through telephone and online counseling and training so they could connect with our government (MCGM) partners and frontline workers on the ground to help our communities.

What happens to children not being able to go to physical school? In terms of education & nutrition?

Schools will unlikely open anytime soon. Till then they are accessing classes online (whoever has access to smartphones). Nutrition is a concern; however SNEHA has been able to connect many families with the Public Distribution System (PDS) for rations, who were earlier unable to get rations. SNEHA has also been distributing rations to families on a need by basis when they are unable to access it through the Government.

We also have sessions online on nutrition and how they families can have proper meals with whatever is available to them. SNEHA, works in close collaboration with the MCGM to raise awareness and mobilize people in the community to take their children for immunization. However, due to a majority of our health workforce engaged in Covid-19 relief work, immunizations for children have been on hold.

How are people in the slums feeling about COVID-19? Very concerned or not? And how do they get information about the virus, it’s impacts etc?

During the initial days they were very scared and there was a lot of precautions being taken by communities/police however in the last month or so with Mission Unlock being introduced, people have been moving around quite a bit and with the festive season they are all getting into the spirit of celebrating and putting up pandals (shrines) that they visit on a daily basis.

For this, SNEHA is currently strategizing on encouraging communities to continue following precautionary measures. SNEHA has also been conducting an assessment in Dharavi to plan a Behavior Change Communication (BCC) strategy to encourage the use of masks, sanitizers, gloves and maintaining social distancing. During this assessment, which is in its preliminary stages, we have observed that there is financial insecurity among the people with respect to whether they will be able to cope with being unemployed for this long, at a stretch.   

The messages shared in the community have been via text/calls/zoom session, sticking posters in the rations shops, near communal washrooms as well as putting posters on rickshaws and having it go through small alleys in the slums. In some of the communities children are also very active in making posters and putting this up outside their homes.

Have there been any stories of hope during this time you can share?

In these times of lockdown, many of our own SNEHA volunteers have stepped up and supported the community in their own selfless ways. One such story is of Ali Aiddiqui, a SNEHA community volunteer with our Child Health and Nutrition Aahar Program, since the past nine months. Looking at the poor families around him suffer in this pandemic, Ali spent all of his life savings to help provide meals to 40 families residing in his locality in the eastern suburb of Wadala. As more and more families approached Ali and having exhausted his own savings, he turned to SNEHA. We put him in touch with the State helpline number. Ali connected with the State helpline and provided them with a list of the families requiring urgent relief. SNEHA, too, provided a strong reference for Ali, as part of the government’s mandatory background check for relief requests. Within a span of 15 days, the state government had sent essential groceries which Ali and his friends helped distribute, following all precautions, among 60 affected families. 

How can our readers who are local help and how about those in the rest of India/ world help?

Spread the word about SNEHA’s work

Donate for us to continue providing services to the community