Good Samaritans in the Time of COVID-19

Iris C F Gomes

It has been a harrowing time for many, with the COVID-19 lockdown coming in place before anybody had time to buy supplies for the extended period of staying indoors. The worst hit, of course, were the poor, who are usually daily wage labourers, and the elderly and the sick, especially those who reside by themselves. Despite various bureaucratic hoops that needed to be jumped through, many citizens of Goa took up the initiative to ensure that people in dire straits were reached and aided.

Tousif de Navelim (Tousif Shaikh), director and writer of tiatrs, decided to feed the poor stranded in South Goa. The outspoken tiatrist looks back to his childhood to explain his drive to feed the hungry, ‘From my childhood I used to give food to beggars, even from my tiffin box.’

Born in a middle-class Muslim family, Tousif had three brothers. The four brothers had everything they needed from their father. They enjoyed all types of food, but their wastefulness at times would disappoint their father. One day he decided to have a conversation about it with them. Tousif says, ‘One fine day my dad made me sit on his lap and started telling me about his childhood, how they starved for food when my dad’s parents passed away leaving behind 5 children. These 5 children became my dad's responsibility since he was the eldest in the family.’ 

Tousif’s father was just 12 years old at the time. Nevertheless, he had to leave school and work to survive. He started working in the neighbours’ houses and doing chores like filling water, washing utensils, sweeping floors, etc. For this his earnings were leftover food, not money. Tousif muses, ‘With that food he used to feed his siblings. So from his experience he taught us, his own children, never to waste food and the value of food. Whatever we earn today is only for food to fill our stomachs. Motivated by my dad’s life, I placed him in the stead of the deprived and felt I should feed the hungry.’

When he first thought about feeding people during the lockdown, Tousif had only 3000 rupees on him, with which he bought some groceries, made some vegetable pulao and delivered it to some homeless individuals. ‘Some people learnt of my work and began providing groceries like rice, pulses, oil, etc. Even now somebody turns up every day to donate groceries. One particular instance is of a Kashmiri man, who never gave his name, turned up at 1.15am and handed over to Tousif Rs 70,000, telling him, ‘Bhaijan, bhukke ko kana kilana (Brother, feed the hungry),’ and invited Tousif to come to Kashmir.

Tousif has been determinedly pursuing his objective of feeding the hungry, surmounting all sorts of obstacles (red tape and corrupt elements). He has even fed hungry dogs, not forgetting man’s best friend, when they were left to roam the streets without their regular feeders being able to obtain permission to get to them. He says, ‘I never thought that I would get help from so many people. It was all God's plan. Today I’m providing 1600 lunch packets as well as 1200 dinner packets. Along with that I’m providing groceries, adult diapers to the aged and bedridden persons. I’m happy to say that as long as the lockdown goes on I will provide. I’m very thankful to my boys, who were a great help to me in delivering the food to different places. Without them it wouldn't have been possible.’ Tousif Shaikh can be reached at 8308831429.

Besides Tousif, we have in the north of Goa initiatives like the COVID 19 Goa Humanitarian Helpline (080-4719-2600), set up by citizens of Goa who have made considerable contributions in the areas of conservation, sustainable business, community enterprise, technology, public relations, etc. The helpline began on the 22nd of March with the aim of helping anyone in need, irrespective of caste, creed, social status or gender.

As the largest citizens’ initiative of its kind in Goa, the Goa Humanitarian Helpline has been receiving calls for help with the supply of medication, groceries and even assistance with transportation and mental health issues. The Helpline has been evolving in its strategies to support distressed individuals to combat this unprecedented crisis. The Helpline is open from 10am to 6pm on all days of the week with hundreds of volunteers working together to alleviate difficult conditions and hopes to extend its work to South Goa soon. The volunteers have permission for food delivery in Bardez. Arrangements for emotional aid during the lockdown is also on the cards. 

Vijaya Pais of Offbeat Goa says, ‘So far we have reached around 7500 migrant labourers in the community. Bureaucrats have been helpful, and we are trying to work together. But they are still sorting out processes among their departments. This is a first time scenario, and considering the mammoth extent of the problem, it is taking some time, which makes the process longer. Hence we depend on donations in the form of rations and money so we can reach those in need faster.’

The Goa Humanitarian Helpline has now tied up with major supermarkets such as Delfino's, Magsons, etc and people can purchase pre-packed bags of groceries costing Rs 500 each to donate to the Helpline.

NGOs One World Goa and Yuva have similarly organised a community kitchen from 1st April 2020, offering free home-cooked food to senior citizens, the poor and the homeless. They can be contacted at 9921788055 and they must be informed of lunch orders before 10am and dinner orders before 6pm. This service is limited to Panjim.

Meanwhile, Street Providence has continued its work, trying to cover as much ground as is possible for the NGO. There are also individuals like Digvijit Chavan, who have been distributing free food and masks to the poor, and restaurants like the Biryani Hub that have been providing food for the needy. In fact, the Biryani Hub was among the first to stretch out its charitable hand to the underprivileged in Goa. 

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that goodness and humanity exists and we need to let them thrive and infect people on a large scale. The apathy and greed of a pre-pandemic era should become a thing of the past. We can only hope the general public will learn from these good examples and we will make it beyond this dystopian maelstrom to a better society.