Providing information, support and hope: How an association of Pune housing societies came together to fight the pandemic

COMMUNITY RESPONSE TO COVID-19 IN PUNE

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(WHSA has extended helped to more than 5000 migrants either by providing ration or arranging their travel. Pic: WHSA/Twitter)

Having a strong community group and active citizenry helps in many ways. Most importantly, it helps you tide over difficult times. We at Wagholi Housing Societies Association (WHSA) have always believed in these principles and fostered the same feeling among residents. Throughout the pandemic, we have stood together, taking care of each other’s back.


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WHSA has become a strong representation and support platform for various grievances and civic problems of Wagholi residents. From potholes to COVID-19 relief, the Association has helped its residents with every civic issue.   

The global community is undergoing one of the toughest times in the history of mankind. The pandemic has changed our way of life. From our daily household chores to office works, everything has changed. Shops, public transport, railways, airports, vegetable vendors — all activities are now subjected to norms of social distancing. Masks and sanitizers have become the new normal.

Amidst such transformation, communities and institutions are adapting to new ways and some of them are displaying extraordinary ways of adopting change. These lessons are useful in moving ahead and addressing the vital questions being raised by the ongoing public health crisis. WHSA in Pune is one such group that has presented a strong example of how local communities can play a crucial role in tackling such disasters.

Wagholi used to be a small sleepy village, located on the outskirts of Pune. Today, it has become the fastest growing suburban area and almost all the big real estate developers have their presence in Wagholi. WHSA was founded in 2017 (and registered in 2019) by the residents in order to represent their issues with government authorities and private players.

At present, 50 housing societies are registered with the association. Due to lockdown, several registrations are in the pipeline. Currently, more than 25000 households are connected with the association, directly or indirectly.  

Coming together to fight COVID-19

As soon as lockdown was imposed from March 25th, the association got active and brainstormed on ways to tackle the pandemic and build a response to the crisis. We engaged with various government agencies such as the local police station, public health centre, district administration and framed communication strategies with the residents.

The biggest challenge identified was implementation of social distancing norms as per government advisories. It took us some time to figure out the means and methods to execute social distancing norms. Ensuring uninterrupted supply of essentials and maintaining law and order in and outside the societies were some of the issues that we included in our preparations.

Our biggest focus was on disseminating information on the government orders and advisories, but we also worked to ensure compliance by residents with these. We used to monitor the situation daily and changed rules and regulations accordingly for the societies and the residents.

We updated details of what kind of shops and services will open in Lockdown 3 and further in Unlock 1. We also briefed residents on air and rail travel protocols. 

We have a Whatsapp group where we discuss the issues of the residents and keep each other informed. We drew up a plan for arranging sale of groceries, vegetable and fruit items at the main gates of the societies, so that people could be ensured of easy supply of essentials, minus the crowding.

One of WHSA’s contributions was provision of e-passes for inter and intra state travel during the lockdown to residents who needed it. WHSA helped them fill up the online forms and register on the government portal.

These lessons are useful in moving ahead and addressing the vital questions being raised by the ongoing public health crisis. WHSA in Pune is one such group that has presented a strong example of how local communities can play a crucial role in tackling such disasters.

Providing relief to migrant workers

We are also lucky to have a large share of active young residents, who played a great role in arranging travel for migrant workers. 20 teams of young volunteers were formed for coordinating relief operations with different government departments. We launched a campaign “100 Ki Seva” (Providing help to 100 people). 

We requested families to donate Rs 100 per family to the campaign. The objective was to reach a 1000 such families in a month and raise Rs 1 Lakh per month. The response from locals has been really overwhelming. So far we have fed more than 5000 people and helped more than 250 migrants reach home safely.

(A poster on “100 ki Seva” campaign launched by WHSA. Pic: WHSA/Twitter)

 More than 250 ration kits and 30,000 litres of water were distributed to marginalized sections in the city. Lastly, we have been able to donate more than 600 pairs of used footwear to the migrants. This has been the impact of our campaign “100 ki Seva”. 

The association has also been proactive in advocating for the rights of domestic workers. Our first step was to provide them with adequate grocery kits and we also made regular appeals to residents to refrain from imposing salary cuts. Post lockdown, we are helping them get their jobs back.

Engaging with local civic authorities 

One of the key highlights during the lockdown was our association with local authorities: Lonikand Police Station and Wagholi Public Health Centre (PHC). Under the supervision of Lonikand Police Station we implemented a strategy on community policing. 

More than 150 residents were appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs). The main objective of these SPOs was to oversee the supply of essential items to the residents, implementation of social distancing norms, wear of masks by residents, sanitization process and other functions. SPOs helped us streamline the service delivery process in societies.  

(Members of WHSA with officials of Lonikand Police Station. Pic: WHSA/Twitter)

With Wagholi PHC, we collaborated to ensure adherence to all the public health norms and protocol advised by the government in the societies. We also conducted a blood donation drive recently in which around 50 volunteers participated.

WHSA has donated 30 PPE kits and medicines for the medical staff at the PHC. The PPE kits were utilised by the medical staff as they conducted door-to-door survey in Wagholi.

Creating awareness and ensuring the wellbeing of residents 

WHSA has conducted legal awareness sessions for the residents. Awareness is our biggest weapon to stand and fight against any challenge. 

Senior citizens have been at the centre of our focus at WHSA. We have been conducting regular online yoga sessions with them in order to ensure their mental and physical wellbeing. We prepared a schedule for visiting these senior citizens door-to-door and check on them. If any of them needed help with hospital visits during the period, we arranged the same.

All these activities and actions were amplified using social media and mass communication channels. We used posters and fliers for translating the government orders in local languages. We also established communication with residents via Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram. Regular messaging was conducted by WHSA in order to keep the residents updated about the situation and get their feedback directly.

Umeed: Generating hope and employment 

One of our top priorities over the period, and especially post lockdown, has been to minimize the impact on jobs and economic activities. To tackle this we created an internal platform, Umeed. The main objective of this platform was to create a single place for job seekers and givers.

Umeed has connected various consultants, freelancers, employers and employees to discuss the opportunities together. The platform is still functional and we are monitoring it daily. Around 1000 members are a part of it and more than 250 of them (both blue and white collar) have got jobs.

COVID-19 is here to stay but it will not be able to dilute our resolve. WHSA is determined to come out of these tough times, happily and successfully. The association has been at the forefront of driving change and mobilizing the community. It has always represented the interests of common residents and deliberated with government authorities on civic issues.

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About Sanjeev Kumar Patil 1 Article
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