‘The Cover Project’ Started When A Small Girl Begged For His Umbrella, Today They Have Distributed 5000 Umbrellas To Homeless Children

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As much as it is cherished for its magical charm, monsoon in Mumbai is also quite notorious for the endless inconveniences it causes – ranging from flooded streets to an inevitable onset of infectious ailments. 

The situation is undoubtedly worse for the street-dwellers and slum residents, whose makeshift shanties and paltry belongings are often washed away in the torrential overpours. Their children, clad in drenched and tattered clothes, shiver while muttering prayers to make the rains stop. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

A Girl Begged Him For His Umbrella

27-year-old Vimal Cherangattu had a similar encounter. Two years ago, he was stuck in traffic during a heavy shower. Outside his car, it was pouring cats and dogs, but it failed to deter a young girl from selling roses in front of halted cars, like every other day. The girl, with her baby brother in her arms, approached Vimal urging him to buy roses, which he refused.

“Suddenly, she made an unusual request. She kind of begged me to give her my umbrella. As soon as I handed over my old umbrella to her, she ran to one side and called her friends. Immediately, four other kids popped up from here and there and rushed together under that one umbrella, with broad grins brightening up their faces as well as my day,” narrates Vimal.

A Single Facebook Post Started The Cover Project

The incident deeply moved Vimal who realised how an object as trivial as an umbrella can be a lifesaver for these homeless street children. Soon, he wrote a Facebook post, appealing to everyone to donate their old umbrellas to the street kids near them.

“The post got circulated like wildfire. It served as an eye-opener for many others like me. They all came together and prodded me with the idea of ‘The Cover Project’,” he shares.

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Initially, The Cover Project had started with a handful of volunteers, connected through a Facebook forum with the same name. They organised multiple drives in and around Mumbai, distributing pre-owned as well as brand new umbrellas to help street children withstand the rainy season.

 

Cover Project

Soon, the word about the project spread throughout the country and even beyond her borders. Non-residential Mumbaikars from all parts of the world started fundraising for the cover project, which resulted in the donation of around 2000 umbrellas to the children in 2018.

 

Welcoming Doctors On-Board For Free Health Check-Ups

“During our distribution drives, I noticed how a lot of infectious diseases affect these children in monsoon. When I shared my concern about this problem, around 15 medical students working with Switch India volunteered to collaborate with us. They now accompany us in every drive and do free health check-ups for these kids,” shares Vimal.

Cover Project

The group also organises hygiene awareness workshops for the kids to teach them how to keep themselves clean.

The Answer To All Criticism

“Umbrella? That’s not really something people need!”

“It’s useless to distribute umbrellas. They could have donated food or clothes or anything like that.”

“These poor people will take the umbrellas from you and sell it off elsewhere.”

Narrow-minded criticism about the Cover Project does persist among sceptics who consider umbrella distribution as a trivial initiative. But Vimal and his army of Good Samaritans believe that all the negative feedback fades away once they see unadulterated smiles on those innocent faces after receiving sprightly-coloured umbrellas.

Cover Project

10-year-old Mala used to assist her parents in their family trade of selling Mogra flowers. Vimal had asked her, “How do you go to school in the rains?”. To this, she nonchalantly replied, “Bhaag ke (by running).”

Her reply startled Vimal to the core. “I realised that if my simple act is allowing a girl to pursue her education smoothly, then it is indeed a success,” he expresses.

Replication In Bengaluru & Kolkata

This year, with the ongoing rains in Mumbai, Cover Project has distributed around 1700 umbrellas. They recently organised an umbrella painting workshop, through which a substantial amount of funds were raised to purchase more umbrellas.

“We are hoping to reach the 3000 mark soon in the count of umbrellas,” Vimal asserts.

Inspired by Cover Project Mumbai, similar initiatives have been replicated in Kolkata and Bengaluru where hundreds of umbrellas were distributed among homeless children.

If you wish to contribute your bit for this incredible endeavour, contact The Cover Project now.

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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