As the world races to stem the spread of COVID-19, IJM's team in Chennai has been working with local leaders in the Released Bonded Laborers’ Association (RBLA) to raise awareness about the virus among survivors and the broader vulnerable community.
Over the last several weeks, these leaders and field coordinators have been traveling to visit survivor communities—who may not see traditional media—to explain the nature of the coronavirus, its modes of transmission, its effects around the world, and what is to be done to curb the spread.
Primarily, they are helping these rural families understand how to protect themselves by properly washing their hands, not touching their faces, standing farther away from other people, and sharing information with other people around them. They are also helping survivors understand the difference between a common flu and COVID-19 and emphasizing the importance of seeing a certified doctor if they think they may be infected.
RBLA staff have also informed survivors about new directives from the Indian government on when to stay home and how to prepare appropriately without “panic-buying” goods. They are also staying in touch with the network of RBLA leaders across the state of Tamil Nadu through a regular WhatsApp group.
In light of this unpredictable pandemic, IJM staff have reflected with pride and joy seeing RBLA leaders take ownership of this initiative to educate their community. Once hidden from the world while they were in bonded labor slavery—today they are positioning themselves for the cause of their people in every possible way.
IJM’s Antony Solomon, who’s working closely with the RBLA through this pandemic, says, “Building this network of care with the RBLA leaders is one of the best initiatives I have seen thus far. The way the leaders have responded to this crisis and the steps they have taken to make sure that their community is going to get through safely is remarkable. From once needing to be supported themselves, to seeing them stand up for their community and communicate through creative means and real demonstrations has lifted my spirits. Truly they are being the voice for the voiceless in this need of the hour.”
As the pandemic progresses, IJM Chennai will continue to be in constant touch with RBLA leaders as we find opportunities to educate, empower and support survivors and vulnerable families together.
Established in 2014, the Released Bonded Laborers’ Association (RBLA) in Tamil Nadu state now includes more than 1,500 survivors of bonded labor slavery who support one another, raise attention on human trafficking, and take action to protect vulnerable communities. IJM and our partners are also helping to establish branches in states across India, spreading this powerful survivor-led movement wherever families are in need.