Vogue Warriors: Meet the social entrepreneur who is mobilising resources for the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis – VOGUE India

Posted: April 22, 2020 at 4:44 pm


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Since 2006, Rubina Nafees Fatimas Hyderabad-based organisation, SAFA, has helped thousands of women earn livelihoods through skill training. It has empowered several others with guidance on health, hygiene and low-cost nutrition. This year, they have a bigger challenge at handtheyre working with daily wagers and migrant communities and ensuring their safety and survival.

In partnership with Youth Feed India, a citizens group tackling hunger and food wastage, SAFA is working across multiple cities including Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Gurugram, to distribute dry ration packs to daily wagers, sex workers and transgender communities. Till date, they have distributed 48,000 relief kits across India, which have helped 2,40,000 individuals. Their work has found support in tennis player Sania Mirza, who helped them raise Rs 1.25 crore in funds in March. Apart from personal donations and fundraising, theyve also set up a petition with the government and other grant bodies. By the end of April, the organisation aims to raise Rs 5 crore, that would provide ration packs for five lakh people.

Nafees Fatima is cognizant of the fact that the issues on the ground will not end with the pandemic. We are working with daily wagersthe fruit vendors and tea sellers. Their one source of income has now closed down. Most of these families are already in debt not from banks or nationalised institutions, but petty money lenders who charge interest as high as 40 per cent. She continues, Just a couple of days ago, I heard about an autorickshaw driver who said he had to start driving again or he wont have money to buy petrol. Thats how bad it is.

While relief work is taking place at the NGO and government levels, many of these individuals dont have the means to access it. 30 per cent of the urban poor dont have a Jan Dhan account, through which the PM National Relief Fund is being distributed. Most of the migrant worker population isnt even documented. We are running surveys in all our communities to help them get linked to the account and avail the benefits of government schemes, she says.

What brings Nafees Fatima closer to the cause is the fact that a large part of this urban poor population affected in Hyderabad are the women and their families associated with SAFA. The organisation works towards the socio-economic empowerment of women and education of the girl child, whilst retaining the cultural fabric of the communities it is working in, according to their literature. The bit at the end is very important, stresses Nafees Fatima. Her father served in the Indian Army and she grew up in an extremely secular kind of an atmosphere, travelling across the country due to the postings.

But in male-dominated communities the organisation works in, trying to change existing structures and values could mean the end of their work there. Its slow and challenging work. For all the stories of women she's been able to empower, Nafees Fatima recalls a girl, who she supported since she was in fourth grade, was sold off by her mother into a physically and sexually abusive marriage. With some help, she eventually walked out of the marriage, got a divorce, and now at 25, works as a receptionist at a prominent hotel. But I couldnt stop the marriage from happening or her being sold off. Shes been my success, but its also a story of my failure, she says.

The pandemic, she believes, will likely cause an uptick in the cases of sex trafficking, especially in high-risk single women communitiesdivorced and abandoned women with children, who will end up in sex trade for lack of resources. SAFA is looking at a small capital infusion that will help them start afresh post the crisis. For this, theyve set up a sustenance fund of Rs 5,000 for three months, along with the ration kit.

The job is not easy, but Nafees Fatima finds strength in core family tenets. I grew up with four sisters, and for women to be empowered was a top priority in my family. I was very influenced by my grandfather. He was the kind of person whod say, Dont go for weddings, but if someones sick in the family, you must visit them. That has really stayed with me; that you need to be there for people who need your help.

As we self-isolate with our pantries stocked with essentials and little luxuries and wonder what well buy first when things get back to normal, it pays to bear in mind that for some, normal wont look anything like ours. Rubina Nafees Fatima knows this and will be there to help those who need it the most.

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Vogue Warriors: Meet the social entrepreneur who is mobilising resources for the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis - VOGUE India

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April 22nd, 2020 at 4:44 pm