I know what you're thinking! 2020 was a terrible year in so many ways and we're all happy to see the back of it. But what if we looked at it differently? What if we saw the lessons it taught us and reframed 2020 as one with a 'silver lining’...?
Here’s what we learned in lockdown …
1. Even children from leprosy colonies can learn online
The world's children were removed from schools in 2020 and shunted into 'home online learning' creating challenges for both parents and teachers globally. But how do you compare the plight of first world children to those forced to do the same in rural West Bengal - in a leprosy colony? Firstly there is no supervision. Parents need to work to survive, so children are left to their own devices at home and in communities which creates all sorts of challenges. And then how do they get online to learn? Firstly hats off to the Udayan Vidyalaya staff who regrouped and found a way to deliver online classes via zoom to students huddled around mobile phones - many borrowed or on loan. But it happened. And whilst you can hardly say Udayan is at the forefront of technology, somehow we found a way to ensure our kids were learning.
2. Our staff are our greatest asset
Many of our staff are from the leprosy colonies themselves, which gives us an automatic entry point and point of contact in these remote communities to mobilize when the need arises. And there were multiple needs in 2020. Firstly, as the lockdown extended and people were struggling to make ends meet, our team hit the ground running to quickly distribute rations to those in need. Management was in negotiation with donors, old and new, to make sure money was available for this 'new found need' and our team transformed into outreach workers making things happen on the ground swiftly and safely. Ive never been so proud of our incredible people ...
3. Even a Cyclone, in a Pandemic cannot stop us
Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, the tropical, seasonal and brutal weather of the Bay of Bengal lashed out and Cyclone Amphan unleashed its force on Kolkata - and Udayan did not escape unscathed. Whilst we were fortunate to escape with minimal damage to the campus, it was still a tough blow in already trying times! Our Barrackpore based staff quickly assessed the damage and rolled up their sleeves to start the clean up. Our UK supporters picked up the phone and were quick to move funds into action to rebuild the vast security wall that had collapsed in the storm. Sometimes you can be beaten down, but the Udayan spirit prevails and slowly, but surely, we recovered ...
4. Sometimes you have to buck the trend to do what's right
Whilst the schools remained closed during the lockdown, as an organization we began to worry about the safety of our children as COVID-19 swept through West Bengal at a rapid pace. Living in poor conditions, with limited nutrition at home, it was only a matter of time before the virus hit the colonies and our kids became vulnerable. Our Governing Body and Management made the difficult decision to bring children back, in what was a complicated exercise in logistics, as we felt they would be far safer in Udayan and we could more proactively support their continued studies. Whilst so many NGOs and organizations 'played it safe' and stayed closed, we mobilized, followed safety protocols, and brought our kids back into the safe confines of Udayan.
5. One must always be ready to 'pivot'
At Udayan we run a home and our expertise is in education, health, and livelihoods. But in these exceptional circumstances, we had to 'pivot' and become outreach workers, operating and providing 'disaster relief' in risky times. This to me, highlights the strength and qualities of our management and people who are not, after all, pigeonholed into one type of social work ... but show us all that they are willing and able to do so much more. This agility is a great quality that I hope we take forward as we spread our wings in the coming years.
2020 was a challenge that helped us unite, strengthen our resolve, and overcome. As we move into 2021 I feel confident that, with the strength of the Udayan spirit, we can handle anything that the universe chooses to throw at us!
Warm Regards for a Safe & Prosperous New Year
EMILY R MENON