For a majority of stranded migrant workers in Mumbai, social worker Shanthi Singh Chauhan’s initiative is coming as a relief. For them, heroes do exist, even in these dark times. Hustling tirelessly to serve the citizens, Chauhan and her team of young warriors collect funds, buy food packages and distribute them to the needy, sometimes till midnight. Armed with local support, she is providing necessities to workers in Goregaon, Four Bungalows, Versova, Bandra East, Navapada and Bharat Nagar. Additionally, she has been playing an important role in ensuring that more than 5,500 migrant families spend the lockdown with food and essential services.
In a conversation with SheThePeople.TV, Shanthi Chauhan talks about her love for humans and animals, how she intends to keep up with feeding stranded and hungry families in the neighbourhood while practising social distancing, and why she believes in helping the needy. To all the badass women out there, Chauhan shares, “I believe women can achieve anything they want as long as they have the fire in them. Don’t limit yourself.” Some edited snippets from our conversation.
You are a professional chef and a warrior who is reaching out and helping the stranded migrant workers in Mumbai during the lockdown, what inspired you?
The most important thing that inspires me to do what I do for society is life around us, especially during this pandemic. Every human being has gone through this metamorphosis of reaching out. Lately, I have noticed whenever I discuss with anyone and tell them about the work I do they start talking about their efforts like feeding stray animals or help beggars on the street with food and clothes. Nine out of ten human beings will think on humanitarian grounds and help other humans and animals. This is a great way to fight the pandemic by coming together and helping each other. There is also a mother in me who doesn’t want to see people hungry. I can’t help but go ahead and make provisions to feed them.
According to the Census of India, 2011, more than 450 million Indians (37%) are internal migrants and about 30% of them are youth aged 15-29 years and another 15 million are children. In the time of COVID-19, it is very heartbreaking to see them suffer through some common grievances every day. How do you plan to solve the mass issues?
The first SOS call that came to me was to help around 130 migrant families who were stranded. I made calls to people and reached out for help and told myself I have to do whatever it takes to feed these families and fortunately on the same day these families were provided with rations. Later, I got to know about more than 600 families in the same condition. Now the first challenge was funding. I had a big struggle arranging for quality food so far and with a lot of help from all places, I managed to arrange good quality ration. Today, I can proudly say that we have catered to 95% of the list that I had received and the rest will be done in the coming days and we will be completing a list of 1,000 families. I got calls from Mumbra, two brothers in Thane and one servant stuck in Four Bungalows. Currently, I feel very satisfied to have helped all these people during these difficult times.
In this global health calamity, to enable wide changes in the society, share how crucial it is for the government at this stage to contain the situation?
Like every other individual, when the pandemic hit India I was also paranoid. I was scared for my family and made sure everyone is safe and indoors. But once I started getting the SOS calls I decided to go out and help. The government can help its people to the best of their capabilities and they are doing so. If every individual decides to help one person it will be easier for the government as well as the people who need help.
We thank our healthcare workers and the police, essential service providers and everyone out there. Could we image our roads not cleaned for over a month? All of them are warriors, they are saving lives.
Share what are the challenges you faced so far?
The workers had mean meals for around 20 days before I got to know about their temporary arrangements. I requested for fundings and went to the grain store at Vashi and sat there for an entire day, starting at 8:30 am till 4:00 pm. We were sorting the packages and by the time we finished distributing the packages, it was about midnight. We did not eat anything, just had water and had a few biscuit packets with us and we lived on it. There were multiple other issues like we couldn’t use the washroom because we were constantly on the road or working but we did all it takes to make sure that people don’t sleep empty stomach.
I have realised that we should not wait for someone to come and help, try and go out and see what you can arrange by yourself.
What would you like to tell young girls who want to follow your path?
DREAM. I would like to tell this to all the girls, including my two daughters to believe in a dream. Be it wanting to run our own cafe, becoming an actress or anything that makes you happy. Have a dream and once you identify it, chase it to the maximum potential.
I am a chef and my younger daughter has taken up the same career and she wants to become a chef. But my elder daughter told me that she wants to become a lawyer. I was very happy with her decision and this is what I want to tell all those young girls out there, don’t ever lose the fire within you. Don’t let any roadblocks affect your personal growth.
Feature Image Credit: Shanthi Singh Chauhan