The Population Foundation of India's ongoing campaign titled ‘Himmat Hai Toh Jeet Hai’ has been sharing inspiring stories of COVID-19 warriors to give everyone hope and fortitude. One such story is that of Kudumbashree Hotels. At a time when the pandemic has sharpened social disparity and acutely affected those who were already economically challenged, this story from Kerala radiates goodwill and generosity.
On March 23, a state-wide lockdown was announced in Kerala. COVID- 19 cases were rising every day and thousands were rendered jobless. The government faced a massive challenge of feeding those who had lost their jobs. This is when Kudumbashree, a community organization of neighbourhood groups of women in Kerala, sprung into action. Thousands of women, who had received training in cooking, took up the initiative to start community kitchens, that served meals for just Rs 25. These women would start work at 7 am in the morning and by afternoon there would be a rush of people lining up for food. These included students stuck in hostels, medical attendants, ambulance drivers, security guards, drivers and those unable to find food elsewhere.
These kitchens soon became popular and were affectionately called ‘Kudumbashree Hotels’ as the women worked relentlessly to provide a wholesome daily meal of rice, pickles, three types of curries and a vegetable stir fry to those who needed it most. “Our families asked why were we risking our health, but someone had to show courage to come forward and help. We began our day to day work at 3am and distributed food packets to security guards, drivers and other essential service providers,” one of the women said.
So how does Kudumbashree function exactly?
It is a community network with a three-tier structure where Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) are primary level units, Area Development Societies (ADS) work at the ward level, and Community Development Societies (CDS) function at the local government level. It is also one of the largest women’s networks in the world working around the theme of poverty eradication and empowerment by building support structures.
S Harikishore, Executive Director of Kudumbashree has overseen the setting up of a budget hotel in each of the 1034 local bodies they work in. They are able to source subsidized provisions including vegetables, rice and green gram from the government Civil Supplies Corporation. The initiative initially aimed at providing employment to around 5000 women but the number continues to grow. Spearheading this enormous effort is Kerala’s State Finance Minister Thomas Issac.
This story is a rare but important example of state and citizen partnership. It demonstrates the power and impact of collaboration between public and private organisations to address problems. A story that ‘Himmat Hai Toh Jeet Hai’ is proud to retell.
The Himmat Hai Toh Jeet Hai campaign by Population Foundation of India that was launched in September with a stirring anthem, continues to celebrate stories of courage and hope during the ongoing pandemic. The campaign is guided by renowned film and theatre director Feroz Abbas Khan. Khan is PFI’s Creative Advisor and has directed their flagship trans-media edutainment show Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon. Through this campaign, PFI wants to showcase real stories of fortitude exhibited by people across society from frontline workers to COVID-19 survivors.