P Naveenkumar, a 26-year-old social worker from Munsiyari in Tamil Nadu is doing his bit by distributing food, water and providing other forms of assistance to street dwellers during the pandemic, through his NGO Atchayam. His work is a great example of starting at grassroot level and influencing a larger cause.

The lockdown has presented two aspects of humanity, one where compassion has come to the forefront, as has a sense of irrational fear of the virus. Naveenkumar who experienced some backlash for his work during the pandemic, however did not let anything come between him and his intent to help the beggars and street dwellers of Erode (a district in Tamil Nadu).

Naveen who is based at Munsiyari in Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu, has incidentally been striving for a begging-free India for the past seven years through his NGO Atchayam. Since the lockdown came into effect, Naveen and his team have been distributing 400 packets of food, along with bottled water to people living on the streets of Erode in Tamil Nadu, every single day. A National Youth Award winner for 2015 -2016 and the Chief Minister's State Youth Award winner in 2019, the young achiever has won over 40 awards for his work with the community that probably needs the most help in these difficult times.

Working as an Assistant Professor at JKKN College of Engineering and Technology in Komarapalayam, Naveen also leads the Atchayam Trust. As someone who was always been moved by the plight of people on the street, he was just 19 when he decided to do something to help them. He approached them to find out why they had turned to begging and from then on, he has been working steadfastly to provide them with a source of employment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been working every day at the Erode Corporation School to ensure that all people including migrant workers and daily wagers are provided with food, clothing, medicines as well as other essential items. All the products including clothes, blankets and supplies distributed to them are new. The team has approached the corporation commissioner and the district collector who has helped them by providing space at a government primary school, which is being used to house 80 of these homeless people. The team provides four meals daily, including breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner. “We have also counselled them as most of them were addicted to alcohol. Luckily, as there was no access to alcohol for the last couple of months, we have been able to help many overcome the habit. During the evening, we are projecting awareness videos on the COVID-19 pandemic and post dinner we also play films, so that they are educated and entertained, alongside”.

Stressing on the need to keep them positively engaged, he says, “We not only want to fulfill their basic needs but also want to ensure their overall well-being. Therefore, we organize meditation, exercise, yoga and other allied activities to keep them happy and active”. Out of 80, currently about 40 of them have been selected by various companies for different employment opportunities. “The Corporation Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner have helped issue these appointment orders”, he shares happily.

Naveen and his team have been providing ration kits to over 200 families in Erode district, with each kit costing INR 1200. Food packets are also being distributed daily and funds from the local community that come in the form of donations are being channeled for the purpose. They take all the safety measures and ensure utmost care, wearing masks, gloves and using sanitizers. “Erode was a red district and since I used to stay in another area, many of my neighbors complained that I was travelling to Erode. So we went ahead and got some approvals and now eight members of the team have taken a space on rent in Erode, where we stay. The other issue we faced initially was access to food and grocery as most shops were shut. However, we requested some people we knew and got the provisions so that we could use that for making food.”

“We know the hardships that people living on the road face, daily. I have had cases where people have actually wept because they had nothing to eat and no one helped them. In fact, so many people had no access to drinking water either, and that is why we decided to shift these people to the school and provide them with the necessities. I want to make a difference so that these 80 people can have a better life. Talking about his larger goal, he says, “We are striving towards a begging free Erode and then a begging free India.”