As the world is slowly opening up here at home, my friends and colleagues in India are facing the world's worst coronavirus outbreak yet. Countless families, including mine, have lost loved ones over the past few weeks. It's a devastating blow that comes on the heels of an impossible year.
This current crisis comes in a season when we are all longing for hope. We are weary, and our faith has been stretched beyond what we ever could have imagined.
For months, we have been talking about the mutually exacerbating catastrophes sparked by the coronavirus pandemic—disasters that have been exponentially more severe for families already living in poverty. Over the course of the last year, we have stood alongside clients as they navigated loss of income, school closures, market shutdowns, sickness, and fear, and the crushing reality that the hammer falls the hardest on the poorest. The World Bank and UN estimate that some 150 million people could be pushed back into extreme poverty because of the pandemic.
This spring, we began to see a light at the end of this dark, difficult tunnel in so many parts of the world—but we cannot underestimate the scale and severity of what is happening right now in India.
Parts of India, my home country, are currently being decimated by the coronavirus, and Opportunity's clients, families earning less than $2.50/day, are some of those suffering the most. Rural families, in particular, are suffering greatly with limited public infrastructure, lack of health services and professionals, lots of misinformation, and little support.
Without the ability to work, families are not only at risk of getting sick, they are isolated, unable to earn an income, unable to purchase food, and at risk of serious malnutrition.
Clients like Sindhu are at risk of losing years of progress. Before the pandemic, she and her husband Sikander worked hard to support their family, and their five daughters were all in school. Now, the entire family of seven is sheltering in place in their small, two-room home. The school and Sikander's business are closed; the family cannot leave home, and their food supply is limited. And they are not alone. There are millions more families facing these same circumstances as we speak.
Yet even amidst such unimaginable hardship, our commitment remains just as strong as it was when I first wrote to our community about COVID-19 in March 2020: Now is not the time to withdraw, it is the time to stay.
Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary responses, and we find ourselves in a position of being our clients' trusted advisors. So today, we are meeting families' immediate needs by using our skills, experience, relationships, and trusted network of local partners to help our clients survive this crisis. In India, right now, that means working to prevent infections and hospitalizations, helping sick and exposed families manage symptoms, making telemedicine available to as many families as possible, helping relieve the pressure on the overburdened healthcare system, and facilitating the distribution of vaccines when they become available. It means educating clients about health risks through text messages and PSA campaigns, mobilizing 2,340 community health workers to nearly 1,000 villages, and distributing emergency food rations to clients and families so that they can safely self-isolate.
For years, we have built a robust network of microfinance partners throughout India. Our local teams know our clients—and our clients trust our teams. Now, in the face of disaster, we are using these trusted partners to help our clients survive and deliver emergency relief to those being hit the hardest.
The road ahead will not be easy, but our charge remains unchanged: pay attention, love our neighbors, and act.
I invite you to join us in this moment of critical need. We need your help to ensure that families can safely quarantine at home, provide emergency ambulance services to people who need to get to medical facilities, improve access to vaccines, conduct telehealth appointments, and replace rumors with sound health advice. We never thought we would be in the business of helping save lives, but today, that is our call. We are meeting our clients' needs and helping them navigate this devastating crisis.
For 50 years, we have helped those living in poverty thrive. Now we are on the frontlines, helping families survive today so that they can continue to thrive tomorrow. Join us.
Support Opportunity International's emergency initiatives in India now. To learn more about our ongoing global coronavirus response, please visit opportunity.org/covid-19-response.