Shanti Devi’s husband was working in a grocery store when India declared a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Devi still remembers that day. It was March 24, 2020, when her husband returned home depressed and dejected, wondering what future awaited him, his wife, and two children.
“The owner of the grocery store asked his employees, including my husband, not to come to the shop anymore because he may not be able to provide them any salary,” Devi recalls.
“Overnight, our family was without a livelihood and with no sustainable income,” she says. “Where would we go? What would we do?”
After a few weeks, the family decided to move to their village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Heading home was a difficult task. Amid the scorching heat, Devi and her husband and their children aged seven and 11, walked for miles, got a lift from a lorry, and finally, after two days of travel, reached their village.
“However, the situation there was scary to the core,” says Devi. “There was no work available and we were living solely on our leftover savings,” she adds.
“The education of our kids, the mental equanimity, everything got so ruthlessly destroyed,” says the woman.
After a year and seven months, the family decided to head back to Delhi for work.
In the national capital, things were subtly limping back to normality. The shop owner took back Devi’s husband for work but at about 40 percent less pay than what he used to get.
“We had no option. We readily accepted whatever was being offered,” says Devi.
The situation became more difficult when her husband was tested positive of HIV after complaining of severe fever.
“It was doomsday for us. He stopped going to work. We were again at the brink of starvation,” says Devi.
Arti Kumari, a mother of three children from Delhi, shares a similar ordeal.
Her husband was working as a roadside vendor selling cotton candies when he tested positive for HIV. The earnings began to dwindle and the family began facing an immensely tough time.
“I was scared to even imagine what would happen if the situation would remain like this. How could I send my kids to school? How could I arrange for their studies, and how could I bring them up,” Arti says.
According to the government’s National AIDS Control Organization, over 1.7 million people contracted HIV in the country in the past 10 years, including thousands of children.
This year, Caritas India, the social action arm of the Catholic Church, began a comprehensive program to help generate livelihood opportunities for people living with HIV.
The agency primarily works in the slums of Delhi where cases are found in large numbers.
Father Paul Moonjely, executive director of Caritas India, says the support aims to help families of people living with HIV start earning and raising their living conditions.
“This aims to empower women to become financially independent,” says the priest.
Shanti Devi was the first to benefit from the program.
“I enrolled my name there. A few days later, some volunteers approached me and asked whether I would want to enroll in tailoring classes,” she says.
After a month of training, she was provided with a sewing machine.
“That machine was like a savior for me. I began getting work from a nearby boutique and our earnings gradually become decent. I now earn about 15,000 rupees a month,” says Denvi.
Inspired by Devi, other women in the community joined the program. Devi has become their mentor.
“It was Shanti Devi who taught me tailoring and making delicacies,” says Arti, adding that her earnings have increased.