How strangers, united by desire to help migrant workers, came together on WhatsApp to serve thousands in just 3 weeks

In just one week after the Loving the Migrant Worker group was formed, Christians from over 50 different cities in India joined the group.

Sonal Kellogg June 08, 2020 11:30:57 IST
How strangers, united by desire to help migrant workers, came together on WhatsApp to serve thousands in just 3 weeks

A handful of friends in Bengaluru moved by the plight of migrant workers decided to do something about it but being clueless about where to begin, they decided to set up a WhatsApp group called Loving the Migrant Worker. But much to their surprise the WhatsApp group was filled to capacity in just one week since it was formed and hundreds of migrant workers were fed, provided transport with and given dry ration kits in what became a wave in just three weeks since it was set up.

What’s noteworthy is that most people in the WhatsApp group, which was set up on 14 May, don’t know each other but what they have in common is that they are all Christians attached to different churches and denominations across India who have come together to help the migrant workers in whatever way they can. Some groups have been providing migrants with cooked food and water as they walk to their homes, some have arranged and paid for transport for migrants in buses, truck or trains and others have been providing them dry ration kits or doing whatever is needed to help them.

In just one week after the Loving the Migrant Worker group was formed, Christians from over 50 different cities in India joined the group. Rahul George, a Bangalore-based entrepreneur who is the founder of this group spoke at length about this initiative which took him by surprise.

“I was so distressed by the daily stories of migrant labourers walking for hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes, but I didn’t know what I could do alone. Since I wanted to ensure that I could pay my eight employees and also take care of my family, I had very little with which I could support others. But then I remembered the story in the Bible where Jesus Christ fed a crowd of 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fishes. I decided that I will give what I have and God will be the multiplier. With one boy with me, we began a WhatsApp group and since then thousands have been helped in multiple ways and most of those who are engaged in this initiative I don’t know them personally,” Rahul said.

He began by helping a group of Saura tribal families from Odisha who was stranded in Bengaluru with no food and work. Rahul first provided them with dry ration kits and then helped them reach their homes along with Mark Raja, his friend in Bengaluru. Since then he and all those others who joined the group from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Amravati, Ahmedabad, Surat, Delhi, Varanasi, Vijaywada, and many other cities have worked in tandem to ensure that the sufferings of the migrant workers are mitigated in some way.

Speaking about her involvement in the group, Pranitha Timothy, a Chennai-based activist said, “I am not able to move out of the house as I have a brain tumour but I am helping out by providing funds to others who are in the field and also some of my staff is in the field are helping by providing food, transport etc. (to migrant workers).”

There are countless stories of success that the group has had. One of the stories is about the 118 Adivasi girls and 23 boys from Jharkhand who were stranded at Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu, almost 480 kilometres from Chennai. People from the group arranged for three buses to transport these girls and boys to Chennai from where they were able to board a train on 20 May which reached Dhanbad on 22 May. From Dhanbad all 141 of them were helped to reach their homes by 23 May.

In Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s consistency, a group of Christian youths started providing ready food kits and a bottle of water to all migrants who began arriving there in mid-May.

Ashish Praynord, along with his friend Nigel David and their team began this initiative from 16 May onwards when the Shramik Special trains started arriving. They served the arriving migrants with biscuits, bread and jam, banana and a water bottle.

“We have been giving out mini food kits to around 1,500 people daily from 16 May onwards but now the number of migrant workers coming back home has reduced drastically. So now we are focusing on distributing dry ration kits to marginalised families like ragpickers and Musahar families. We began helping people with cooked food from 28 March onwards with police permission but after joining with the Loving the Migrant Worker group we have been able to raise over Rs 1.5 lakh and feed a lot of migrants. Many local people also helped by giving us biscuits, bread, water etc,” Praynord said. “It’s amazing that none of us has fallen sick though we have been on the streets for more than two months.”

Sanjay Diwe from Amravati in Maharashtra also joined the Loving the Migrant Worker group a few days after the group was formed. Diwe said he was already helping people by providing food from the beginning but after joining the group he was able to get financial help from various people who he didn’t know personally.

How strangers united by desire to help migrant workers came together on WhatsApp to serve thousands in just 3 weeks

Food distribution by Love The Migrant Worker volunteers at Amravati in Maharashtra. Image courtesy Sonal Kellogg

“We started distributing food to people from the time the lockdown started. We helped people who are extremely marginalised and do odd jobs like sharpening knives, making brooms and selling Ayurvedic medicines. We have fed around 33,000 people already and distributed 630 dry ration kits. We got help from people we don’t know," Diwe said.

The National Highway 6 which begins from Surat passes through Amravati and ends in Kolkata had many migrant workers walking on it going to their homes in Odisha, West Bengal and Chhatisgarh. Many of these workers were provided with food by Diwe and his team when they passed through Amravati.

In just over three weeks, this group has been able to achieve a lot of success in helping people without any organisation, institution or church support.

Sharon Dominica, who runs Noida-based NGO Project Kalpana, has been helping children of construction workers by providing them with education.

“We are trying to streamline the whole process. We started with one group but it grew so quickly that we had to make regional groups and in some cases state groups. Now we have nine regional groups for Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bengaluru, NCR, western states, eastern states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana etc. More than one thousand people have joined the groups and the number is growing,” said Dominica who is helping Loving the Migrant Worker WhatsApp group by providing backend coordination and data management.

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