India (Odisha): Fighting discrimination in the aftermath of Cyclone FANI

Cyclone FANI, one of the severest natural disasters in the history of India, struck the entire district of Odisha on the 3rd of May. The Cyclone left over 5 million people without food, housing and sanitary facilities. Whereas the response of many governmental and non-governmental organizations managed to swiftly reach most affected areas, the ones inhabited by the Dalits were forgotten. ‘’We noticed that the Dalits, also known as the untouchables, were not receiving aid due to their caste,’’ tells our Club Leader Dr. Manoranjan Mishra. ‘’Therefore,’’ he continues, ‘’we decided to strengthen the existing Humanitarian Response.’’

From building Toilets to fighting Food Insecurity

This incredible story finds its origin already months before cyclone FANI, when Dr. Mishra started his Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in the Chilika Lagoon. ‘’Six months before the cyclone we started building toilets in the area, as no single Dalit family owned one,’’ says Dr. Misha, ‘’we managed to provide 50 families with sanitary facilities and therefore, when the disaster struck, me and my team had already build strong work relationships with the communities.’’

Immediately after the cyclone, MasterPeace India heard about the ad-hoc challenges of food insecurity in their WASH communities. Not only did the cyclone destroy many of their summer crops as paddy, pulses, and other vegetables, it also affected the accessibility of their villages. Next to that, the aid that did manage to reach their broken homes, seemed to be discriminatory towards the Dalits. To tackle this, MasterPeace India started a Rhoti Ghar project – an initiative that was initiated by MasterPeace Mumbai under the leadership of Chinu Kwatra & Akshay Mandhare and aimed on providing Free Healthy & Hygienic food to under privileged kids in Mumbai. Due to their MasterPeace connection, Dr. Mishra knew about this initiative and he decided to get in touch with Chinu. Quickly, this contact resulted in a donation of Bollywood singer Guru Randhawa, whom since the start donates sufficient money to provide one meal a day to at least 50 homeless Dalits families in the region.

 Fighting discrimination via educational and economic empowerment

Due to their efforts, Dr. Mishra has noticed that the discrimination in the village has decreased. ‘’We realized that the other villagers [non-Dalit] could also benefit from our WASH program. We really wanted to help them, but we were also aware that they were excluding the Dalits from access to water and schooling,’’ says Dr. Mishra. ‘’To accommodate both groups, it was agreed that the WASH program would also provide toilets to the other villagers as long as the 62 Dalit children were offered a spot in their schools.’’ 

In cooperation with its partner organisations the SMILE Foundation, the India Today Group and Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), MasterPeace India is currently broadening its impact even further by offering vocational training to 50 marginalized women. They are trained in making baskets, which can be sold for profit. ‘’10% of the profit that they will make will be donated to the community kitchen, in that way we work towards sustainability of our Rhoti Ghar project which would mean that none of the Dalit families will have to live in hunger again.’’ 

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