Haven's Coronavirus Timeline

With a global pandemic, Haven and MBCF worked to keep our services safe, for those who needed them most.

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world, Haven took the difficult decision to cancel our annual fundraising event, The Sponsored Walk. It's the only time of year when all Haven members and supporters get to see each other, but on March 16th, as cases were rising rapidly in the UK, it became an event that posed a risk to all who would join and their families. Haven was sad to inform all that the walk, scheduled for Spring, was postponed indefinitely.

A day later, on March 17th, West Bengal received its first positive test for a coronavirus patient. With over a billion people, many countries and organisations were concerned that India would struggle to contain the coronavirus this year. Although in the state of West Bengal (as of July 30th) there are just over 1,000 reported deaths from nearly 70,000 confirmed cases, it is likely that the number of lives lost and families changed forever is much higher than this.

For that reason Haven and MBCF have worked together during the pandemic to make sure our centre, staff and the community that relies on us remain as safe as possible, with as little disruption to the life-improving services we offer.

India initiated a 21-day lockdown against coronavirus on 25th March, and our centre too closed its doors to protect the staff inside and encourage the villagers to remain at home during lockdown. We were assured by local landowners and governance, that the poorest would receive food parcels from the state of West Bengal. MBCF manager Gopal Sarkar, and Haven Academy leader, Mithun Keshri, followed the updates in state and national law, communicating them to Haven members.

As lockdown continued, they told Haven that the food parcels were not being delivered, and so without the ability to work or go shopping, the villagers were running out of basic food. There were provisions in Indian law, including curfews that allowed for socially distanced food collections.

Haven made the most of this, and organised our own food packages with rice, 1kg lentils, 3kg potatoes and 1kg soya bean nuggets for protein, that would be distributed safely from the centre.

The quantity of rice was distributed depending on the size of the family, but for larger families it could be up to 10kg. The parcels were handed out once a week to a family member during the hours where curfew was lifted. Our parcels started just in time, on April 9th. Only two days later, on Aprill 11th, the national lockdown was extended by three weeks, meaning that the communities around Haven's centre would have to live under full-lockdown from March 25th until at least May 3rd.

Although the staff on the ground felt sad not to see the children at the learning centre, the young people at the academy or the grateful patients come and go - they were frontline, and provided a lifeline to hundreds of families, during a time where across the country millions of people struggled to find food.

Full lockdown in West Bengal continued until May 19th, and Haven handed out its last food parcels on the 20th. But even before lockdown came to an end, Haven and MBCF were looking forwards and reached out to a local business which had been struggling to make ends meet. The business was usually involved in bedding, fabrics and linens. However, we were aware of the need for masks and gowns, to keep anyone returning to our centre safe. We then discussed the possibility of a custom order from the business, explaining how to make them. We placed the order on May 14th, making sure the staff would have enough stock to last as long as we needed.

 

By May 28th, Haven was able to reopen its key service, the medical centre including the physiotherapy clinic. The masks and gowns had arrived, and the provisions for allowing just ten patients into the centre at a time were ready. Armed with a questionnaire for each patient, as well as mandated hand hygiene and chalk-etched social distancing squares, Haven consulted with UK doctors on the safest way to continue our services, limiting some of the examinations, and making sure no patient entering had any symptoms of coronavirus.

The information for the patients, doctors and staff was all translated into Bengali on May 4th by Jhuma Sadhukhan, and Haven would like to thank her for her time, which allowed MBCF staff to fully prepare. It included all the possibilities for patients that may need to be shielded, allowing MBCF staff to explain the dangers of coronavirus and how best to protect themselves and patients from it. 

 

Even Potith, the MBCF caretaker, a vital member of the team, who does all manner of work around the centre, was kitted-out in his mask and gloves to minimise the risk of coronavirus, as he welcomed back the community.

 

Just four days later, Haven was happy to be able to allow three keen spoken English students back into their classroom. Our nurse, Rumki, provided hand-sanitiser on entry to the classroom, and the students restarted their Skype sessions with Leyla Drovnikova.

 

The Haven Academy for IT classes opened its doors on June 19th, and the students were distanced by minimising the number allowed in at once, and asked to hand-sanitise before and wear face coverings during lessons.

Much like in the UK, it's been difficult to know how to reopen the early years learning centre, given that children so often can carry coronavirus without showing symptoms. Haven consulted with experts, and followed guidance from UK schoolteachers and Haven members. A particular thanks to Dinky Dutt, whose valuable advice allowed us to restart the learning centre on 26th June.

The 30 students, were split in half, and those 15 were spread across the two classrooms so that neither room had more than 8 pupils at a time. Each desk had two students at most, and they were spaced out around the classroom to make sure social distancing carried on. The children ate their vital midday meals in the classroom, to avoid any extra contact or corridor traffic with the other activities in the centre.

Haven is constantly watching developments in West Bengal and India, as well as any advances around the world to keep our community safe. We are ready for a second wave or lockdown if it happens, and would like to thank Gopal Sarkar, our manager, and his team's brave and tireless work over the last few months.

We are delighted to report zero coronavirus cases within our centre, and hope to never have to report a positive test.

 

 

 

 

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