Pabitra Paramanya & Mukul Harishchandra, India

Ending hunger during a pandemic

Pabitra Paramanya and Mukul Harishchandra coordinate food security work for our member Mennonite Central Committee in India. They work with local partners to help small-scale farmers, including some indigenous communities, improve their farming and earn a living. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve adapted how they live and work in order to continue serving the vulnerable communities experiencing hunger. But in a bustling country of over one billion people, that hasn’t been easy.

In their own words:

Mukul: On the 24th of March, a total lockdown was announced with only four hours notice. This was a shocking experience as citizens in India were not given any time to prepare for the lockdown. In India, people migrate to work thousands of kilometers away from home.  The country suddenly came to a standstill, the trains, buses, taxis, flights, and all means of public/private transport were stopped. Millions of people lost their livelihood and they had no other option than to return home. But the irony was no means of travel was available, so men, women and children started walking on foot, or on bicycles. It was difficult for them even to buy food as all the eateries were also closed. Many people died on the way due to hunger or sickness.

Pabitra: Just two weeks before the pandemic began, we hosted a Foodgrains Bank learning tour. We enjoyed community lunches, large gatherings in village meetings, we danced together, enjoyed marketing in local shops, and held roundtable meetings. So, I was very thankful to God that the Foodgrains Bank tour group left India very much at the right time and safely arrived in their provinces without any hassle.

I have seen ‘neighbours helping neighbours’ in communities where MCC and the Foodgrains Bank work. The lockdown period was at a season when many farmers had shortages of kitchen garden vegetables. It was good to see our farmers, who had a good amount of vegetables in their gardens, sharing lots of vegetables with their neighbors, either freely or cheaper than the market rate.

We were also pleased to learn local governments in areas where MCC and the Foodgrains Bank work showed good trust in local partner staff as they included them in their pandemic response teams.

Pabitra Paramanya and Mukul Harishchandra coordinate food security work for Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee in India. They’ve continued to serve despite the immense challenges the pandemic has brought to India.

Mukul: Things were very uncertain and there was a fear in everyone’s mind, but then we started sharing devotions in our staff WhatsApp group. Now every Tuesday morning we have devotions together through Zoom app and we invite someone from outside of MCC to share the word of God. This sharing gives us strength to overcome all the fear and continue to work.

Pabitra: I have taught my daughter (reading in kindergarten) how to use the Zoom platform to attend online classes as her school started online classes over zoom. I spend good time in roof top gardening, recycled many plastic bottles into flowerpot.

My main work challenge was to quickly learn to manage every single action digitally or virtually. As it was the time to start the new fiscal year, lot of paperwork was required, and all had to be done virtually. Communication with partners/communities through phone calls, text messages, Whatsapp video call & messages doubled. I spent time training partner staff to use these digital platforms. But despite our capacities, poor mobile networks still pose a lot of challenges. There was also fear of being hacked, while many fake messages about COVID-19 also circulated.

We are grateful for the work you are doing, Pabitra and Mukul. Thank you!