How Bansa Community Library Started by Law Students Is Helping Deal With COVID

When the second wave of COVID struck India, everyone ran from pillar to post for help. While the focus was largely on what was happening in our cities, the situation was even worse in places not covered widely by the media. In such a time, people from all around stepped up to do what they could. One such was a warm, bustling place in Bansa, Uttar Pradesh – the Bansa Community Library.

Started last year, Bansa Community Library has become a place that binds people. Not just in Bansa but adjoining villages as well.

On 15th April, the village had panchayat elections because of which there was a stream of people coming and going, often without following proper COVID protocol. Soon thereafter, around 40 people died in a short span. Because no testing happened, one can’t say these were because of COVID with certainty. But the ASHA workers and others in the village believe it is very likely that these were COVID related deaths.

At that time there were several issues in Bansa – lack of resources and administrative help, sparse sensitization and awareness for COVID, hesitancy to come out and discuss health problems, superstition and myths about the virus. Amidst this, the library also shut on 22nd April.

It was around this time, that the Bansa Community Library started convalescing to get as much help for the current situation.

ASHA and Anganwadi Workers

The first step which they undertook was to get in touch with the ASHA and Anganwadi workers. They have been the backbone for the operation throughout.

ASHA and Anganwadi workers at Bansa Library

“They have a better sense of what is happening on the ground, since they are allotted in particular areas and are in touch with the people there. Surprisingly, they didn’t even have basic equipment initially. Many didn’t have a mask and used to tie a dupatta while tending to people,” says Jatin Lalit, one of the co-founders of the Bansa Library. “We started collecting funds and arranging for supplies. The internet played a huge role in this, and soon we were able to get kits for them.”

“However, there are other problems, which still remain unresolved. They are severely underpaid and also a lot of people aren’t very welcoming when they go to speak to them,” he says.

Around 11 ASHA and anganwadi workers started working together with 22 volunteers from the Bansa Community Library to deal with issues in Bansa and adjoining villages as well.

Covid Sensitization Camp

Getting Medicines and Supplies

Bansa had a non-existent public health system. Basic supplies such as medical tablets, thermometers, sanitisers were hard to get. They started making medical kits. The library was used as a repository where things like oximeters, vaporizers, medicines would be available. People can take them home when needed, or a volunteer can also send them home if the person is unwell. When done with their use, people would return them back to the library.

The Library also organized a sanitization drive in the Bansa and nearby village.

“Till now we have distributed around 4,000 masks. We also prepared a pamphlet on how to deal with COVID. And arranged for free online consultations with doctors. The volunteers from the Library acted as a bridge between the doctors and the patient,” says Malvika Aggarwal, one of the co-founders of the Bansa Library. “We made ration kits and distributed them to families. We also entered into a tie-up with an ambulance owner and got an ambulance for the village, since the nearest medical facility is almost 10 km away.”

People getting ration at the library

However, even after getting supplies, many people were still hesitant. That is where the good faith built by people from the library came into effect.

Emergency SOS Kit
Emergency Medical Kit
Kits being given by Bansa Library volunteers

Bansa Community Library has also prepared a blueprint on how communities can help deal with COVID. Read it here.

To read more about Bansa Community Library visit this link.

To donate to Bansa Community Library COVID relief work, click here.


Taking People in Confidence

Deepanshu, who is a supervisor at the Bansa Library started volunteering to help deal with COVID. His earlier work of teaching the kids and maintaining books was now replaced with coordinating online consultation and teaching people about protocols for COVID. “People were first hesitant to tell us if they were not doing well health-wise, thinking that they’ll be taken somewhere if they test positive. But slowly after we explained what was happening, they started following covid protocols like masking and sanitizing. The situation isn’t perfect still, but far better than what it was before.”

No one wanted to get tested in the beginning. There were many rumours about the government locking you up and other such stories, if someone tested positive. “The volunteers started getting tested first, in front of others. This gave confidence for others also to come forward,” says Jatin.

All volunteers are quite young, from the ages of 18, going to 25. Many of them were associated with the library in some way, but after the second wave hit, it became their full-time job to help with the crisis.

Soon, the local administration also got in touch with the Library, to devise a plan on how to deal with COVID.

Vaccine Hesitancy

The library has also started a vaccine desk. Where they get registrations done for vaccines. “Since people don’t have access to internet easily, setting up these centres also helped,” says Malvika. “Now with the contribution of others, we have managed to get more tablets.”

There are three vaccine registration desks run by Bansa Community Library.

Vaccine Registration Desk by Bansa Community Library

However, many are hesitant to get the vaccine.

As per Jatin, “currently, only 20-30% of the people turn up to get vaccinated. Even relatively well-educated people aren’t getting vaccinated. The people in Bansa are fearful that something might happen if they get the vaccine. Here also, we are trying to get people vaccinated in front of others, in the hope that they will come forward.”

“We are taking help from all sources. Asking the village pradhan to use his influence and ask people to get vaccinated. There are some plans to incentivize people. Maybe give them something, so that they come forward. But vaccine hesitancy is a major concern.”

Missing Books During This Time

It is not just in Bansa that the library community is doing work. As many as 7 adjoining villages rely on Bansa Library for their reading as well as medical needs.

“The sense of community is also refreshing to see,” says Jatin. “We got t-shirts made for all volunteers. The people in Bansa also started recognizing us and when we go wearing those t-shirts, people take us seriously.”

The love for the library has become such that people are missing the library. “Many are asking the library to open soon,” says Deepanshu. “However, we are still ensuring that books are delivered at home, so that people can keep reading.”

To donate to Bansa Community Library COVID relief work, click here.

Bansa Community Library Covid Volunteers

Bansa Community Library has also prepared a blueprint on how communities can help deal with COVID. Read it here.

To read more about Bansa Community Library visit this link.

To submit a write-up or share a story, get in touch at umang.poddar@lawctopus.com

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