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IJM Partner Provides Frontline COVID-19 Relief in Devastating Second Wave

As South Asia manages its recent COVID-19 surge, IJM’s compassionate front-line partners are providing critical relief to impoverished children and families when they need it most.

The aggressive nature of this latest surge has left most states in strict lockdowns, making it harder for NGOs to support poor communities like they did throughout 2020. In some cases, however, IJM’s partners have been granted permission to provide urgent food and hygiene relief to vulnerable families, including survivors of bonded labor and human trafficking.

One such partner is Cross Global, a small organization working in the state of Tamil Nadu. Their founder Kamal Raj was exposed to the issue of bonded labor through a local IJM speaking engagement in 2012 and then decided to join the fight for justice in 2016 after watching a TED talk from IJM’s CEO Gary Haugen. He launched Cross Global in 2017 to help support survivors of bonded labor in their recovery and to help protect other communities vulnerable to trafficking.

Over the years, Cross Global has helped gather signatures for advocacy campaigns, raise funds for a survivor whose house burned down, and train survivor leaders on basic computer skills. In every engagement, Raj says his team is inspired by the resilience of these survivors despite their circumstances.

“Despite the trauma that the survivors have gone through, I see a lot of potential in survivors of bonded labor,” he says. “All they need is a little support. I believed that we as an organization can give it. This made us reach out to them.”

As COVID-19 began surging in April and May 2021, Cross Global raised nearly 200,000 rupees (about $2,700 USD) to provide relief packages for survivor families who were sick or locked down at home and unable to work. In May, they worked with a network of survivor leaders called the Released Bonded Laborers Association (RBLA) to identify 100 needy families and distribute kits in the districts of Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Chengelpet and Vellore.

Each ration kit cost about 1,800 rupees ($24) and included: rice, all-purpose flour, wheat flour, tamarind, masala spices, turmeric, coffee, lentils, sugar, salt, oil, tea, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, and herbal supplements for health. These essential supplies are enough to keep a family going as they wait for the pandemic to abate and the lockdowns to end.

Kamal shares, “The second wave of this pandemic has made the poor more vulnerable to trafficking for cheap labor. This often pushes them further in to debt and exploitation. My team and I strive hard to support these families fight starvation and abuse helping them sustain through this pandemic. Knowing that each of them is safe today helps me sleep better every day.”

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