Food and counselling for stranded truckers
A 33-year-old truck driver from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, came to Dankuni with a consignment of salt in early April. On his way back, he started running a fever and had difficulty breathing. But he was scared to go to a doctor. An hour’s telephonic counselling later, he sought medical assistance. His family was also educated about the coronavirus.
A helpline aimed at educating truck drivers about Covid-19 has helped nearly 300 truck drivers stuck all over India, many of them stranded on the India-Bangladesh border, because of the lockdown.
Operation Karuna, launched by Seva Kendra Calcutta on March 26 as part of its Sambandh project, was initially aimed at giving hygiene lessons to truck drivers. But as the nationwide lockdown began, the helpline took on a bigger role.
“Since 2017, our team of counsellors and field supervisers have been trying to empower truck drivers in various parking areas of Bengal, including Howrah, the Shalimar Works, Dankuni, Hooghly, Petrapole and other areas. We have a database of over 13,500 truck drivers, many of whom have reached out to us in the past,” said Kusum Priti Lakra, a project officer of Seva Kendra.
The NGO has also counselled truck drivers on various occasions. “We have been calling up the drivers since the lockdown began, trying to educate them about the coronavirus and urging them to maintain personal hygiene. Some have also called us seeking assistance such as food and accommodation,” said Manisha Paira, a counsellor with the project.
Ration was provided to 130 truck drivers stuck at Petrapole after a distress call to the helpline. “A 62-year-old driver called us, saying nine of them were stuck in Petrapole near Bongaon. They had no food because all shops were shut. On March 31, we organised ration for them with the help of our field officers and police and gave each of them 5kg rice, 4kg potatoes and soap,” Lakra said.
Follow-ups with the cops, the Border Security Force, parking managers and fleet owners revealed that around 130 truck drivers were stranded in the area.
Team Sambandh went on to distribute 5kg rice, 2kg daal, 1litre cooking oil and a hygiene kit to each of them.
Provash Paul, the secretary of the Bongaon branch of Intuc, said around 85 drivers are stuck in Bangladesh. “It’s important to assure them. We are arranging ration for those stuck in this side of the border with help from Seva Kendra and the BSF,” he said.
Father Franklin Menezes, the director of Seva Kendra Calcutta, said: “We will continue to educate truck drivers even after the lockdown.”