Despite the challenges presented amidst the COVID pandemic, the important work of screening children for multiple disabilities and vision impairment (MDVI) and connecting them to interventions has moved forward, albeit in a different way than planned. IPerkins India and Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital Vrindavan are conducting door-to-door surveys and implementing new safety protocols instead of organizing screening camps that gather large numbers of people together.
Mr. Rajeev, the administrator at Shroff Vrindavan, acknowledges the challenges that the project faces in the current context, but is still hopeful about the positive impact Project IDI (known locally as Project Asha) will have in the end. He shared, “Starting our programme in COVID pandemic phase was a great challenge but the inspiration and support from our management and hard work of our field workers could make it possible. I am especially thankful to the parents of the children and the ASHA/Anganwadi workers for their support. This program will be very fruitful for the differently abled children and will definitely help them towards their rehabilitation in the society.”
Kapil and Pratim, both CBR workers from Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital Vrindavan for Project IDI, shared some of their experiences, challenges and ways they’ve had to adapt their work due to the pandemic in an interview. Their responses are summarized below.
Considering the COVID situation, what changes have you had to make in your work compared to what was planned?
We mapped the areas of the survey in such a way that the villages are all COVID free. So we are surveying the villages which are not affected by COVID and plan to visit the affected areas after they are marked as a green zone by the government. We are doing this for everyone’s safety and we adhere to the government’s norms.
We follow all the necessary guidelines when we go out into the community like wearing masks, gloves, washing and sanitising our hands frequently. This we not only do to keep ourselves protected but also for the safety of the people, families and children who we meet.
What is the most common challenge you faced these days when in the field?
Initially people are hesitant when they see us. We are always wearing masks and gloves. People in the villages are fearful of the COVID situation. Their initial reaction: they think that we are from the government and have come to identify people who may have COVID in the village. They get fearful. Many times, they don’t talk to us, stand far far away fearing us, do not let us in, don’t let us sit in their chairs thinking that we are from the city area and may be infected - until we can explain otherwise.
How do the families you meet react to your visits?
They get fearful - thinking that we have come to check for COVID in the villages. However, when we explain that we are from Shroff Vrindavan and we are here to identify children with disabilities. And we will provide screening and intervention support. Hearing that, they normalise.
Most people in the villages are not aware of COVID 19, the safety guidelines and why the safety precautions are needed. So a lot of the time, we are also doing awareness sessions in the community about COVID, the myths and ways to protect oneself and people from this pandemic by following simple precautionary measures. So we were guiding families about this simultaneously.
Across the globe, teams are devising alternative ways and methods of moving ahead. As everyone calls it, this is the new normal. With the change in approach, our efforts for the welfare of children with disabilities and their communities also continues.