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  • Writer's pictureJohn Grams/ Avantika Jalan

On The Ground in Assam during the Second Wave

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Over the past 2 months, the COVID 19 pandemic has rocked India. Since the beginning of April 2021, COVID cases have exploded, with daily new positive cases reaching over 400 thousand, and confirmed deaths reaching 4,000 per day. These statistics likely underestimate the impact, as rural India, now the center of the pandemic, has scant testing, medical, and statistical facilities.

At Mana Organics and Chota Tingrai Tea Estate, we have not stood idle in the face of these challenges. We have organized vaccine drives, initiated public health procedures, and built infrastructure to fight the COVID pandemic in our tea estates and the broader community.

On Garden Response

As COVID has moved into rural India, the pandemic has not spared the tea estates of Assam. Luckily, tea estates have a more developed health infrastructure than typical villages. We have had hospitals, nurses, pharmacists, and community organizers working in our tea garden communities before COVID. The COVID pandemic has made us more creative at leveraging these resources to encourage better public health. Here are just a few of our COVID response initiatives:

Social Distancing and PPE: For the good of our workers and the wider community, garden management strictly enforces social distancing norms and PPE requirements. This includes masks at all work and other garden activities, distancing during plucking, gloves in the factory, and enforcement of orderly and distanced lines during pay and ration collection times.

PPE and temperature checks during leaf weighing

Garden semi-Lockdown: the Assam government has banned all non-resident / non-employee access to tea gardens. This even includes weekend markets. This has helped us to avoid the threat of an outsider bringing in the virus to our worker community. Tea garden residents are allowed to come and go. However, the government has also severely restricted the local commercial and economic activities through lockdowns and curfews, discouraging tea garden residents from traveling outside.

Identifying COVID cases and Quarantining: Despite our best efforts, a few COVID cases manage to slip into the garden. To limit the exposure of our worker community, we have employed a strategy of identification and quarantine per Government of Assam norms. All workers are required to receive temperature scans and report any symptoms before starting work. Anyone reporting high temperature and/or symptoms will be sent home on sick leave (with pay) and receive an RAT test. Additionally, our community organizers undertake weekly household surveys looking for symptomatic cases. Again, potential cases are RAT tested.

When a RAT test comes back positive, the individual is given a PCR test, and is quarantined in the garden hospital COVID ward to await the results until their entire household is RAT tested, and if needed, PCR tested. If a PCR test comes back positive, the government moves the individual to the district COVID facilities, and the entire household is put on 14-day quarantine. We provide all quarantined households with ration, medical monitoring and treatment, and sick pay as per regulation.

Vaccine drives: To help see the permanent end of this pandemic, we are working closely with the Government of Assam and local hospitals to get our workers vaccinated. To date, we have hosted eight vaccine camps in our worker communities, connecting over 800 people to their first vaccine dose.

Below you can see what a vaccine camp in an Assam tea garden is actually like!

Mossumi, the Chota Tingrai Tea Estate Welfare Officer, gives a video tour of the vaccine camp.

Getting vaccinated. With dancing and music to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

The Chota Tingrai social welfare team and vaccination camp staff

COVID Care Center

While we might wish to focus all our effort on our tea estate communities, we are part of a wider struggle against COVID. To support Assam more generally, we have set up two COVID Care Centers in partnership with the Assam government in the townships near our tea estates. In these centers, government health workers quarantine and monitor mild COVID cases, reducing strain on local hospitals and clinics.

Our COVID Care Center in Dibrugarh, Assam

This care is being provided free of cost to needy residents of Assam. The basic amenities and infrastructure are being provided by the Murleidhor Foundation while the government provides the care. The Murleidhor Foundation, created in honor of the founder of Chota Tingrai Tea Estate, focuses on the social and economic development of tea garden workers, improvement in education standards, promotion of art, culture, and financial support to those in need.

The Fundraiser

To supplement our own financial resources, we have organized a fundraiser for Murleidhor Foundation with Indian tea customers. In the second half of May, those who donated over Rs. 500 for the COVID Care Center received fresh Assam CTC black tea directly from Chota Tingrai Tea Estate. Chota Tingrai donated the tea and all associated charges, allowing the foundation to raise the funds at no cost.

What you can do to support India in its time of need

While something as large as the COVID pandemic in India can feel overwhelming, here are some ways you can help:

Raise awareness of the plight of rural India: While we all wish to move on from COVID, we cannot allow the world to forget the extreme hardship rural Indians face.

Donate to organizations on the ground: Here is a list of worthy organizations providing COVID relief in India.

1. Athrout x Kashmir Box: providing daily rations AND medical supplies to Kashmir that is systematically underfunded and neglected, and currently has a ban on most NGOs ability to receive foreign funds. Athrout has found a fantastic workaround in a time of dire need.

2. Work + Shelter are raising $$$ to keep their entire team safe at home whilst still fully paid, and in anticipation of medical costs that may arise.

3. World Central Kitchen - WCK has joined forces with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor to get freshly prepared meals to hospital staff working around the clock in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Delhi. We have served tens of thousands of meals so far, and we'll be expanding to hospitals in Bangalore, Kolkata, and Gurgaon this week.

4. Kalap Trust in Uttarakhand - KT works with smallholder farmers in the mountains of Uttarakhand, where COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on an already very, very thinly stretched rural medical system. They're fundraising to rent spaces to turn into makeshift hospitals, buy oxygen concentrators, and more!

4. Parivar Bay Area: partnering with on-the-ground partners across 26 locations 8 states to bring health kits and food to the Indian trans community!

5. Vrikshit Foundation: food rations for Mumbai's sex workers and their families, out of which 600+ have been identified as in need of support

6. People for Change: battling hunger through daily rations to the trans community and sex workers in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. Sex workers are battling a complete loss of income, high HIV rates that increase susceptibility to the virus, and so many other challenges right now.

7. Adventures Without Boundaries Foundation: organising vaccination access and support for folks with disabilities across Mumbai

8. Khaana Chahiye: distributing meals to the most vulnerable in the city of Mumbai. Has distributed 60,000 meals so far in this phase of the lockdown.

9. Project Mumbai: working with several public hospitals to provide them with life-saving healthcare equipment and supplies, to cope with the significant stress on the hospital system.

10. Mazdoor Kitchen: providing meals, masks, and ration kits to hundreds of people across north Delhi, ever since the beginning of the lockdown.

11. Mission Oxygen: helping hospitals across the country get immediate access to oxygen cylinders and concentrators

12. Ambulance Network: HelpNow is an Initiative by young students providing a safe, 24x7 logistics network for transporting COVID patients/suspects, Drugs, Phlebotomists, Healthcare workers (docs, nurses) and Blood/Organs/Medical supplies in India.

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