As lockdown was enforced overnight across Goa, citizens turned to technology for effective crisis response. One such initiative was the Goa Humanitarian Helpline (GHH). Sanjiv Khandelwal, of Sensible Earth, and his friends realized that there were elderly and vulnerable people stranded without food or medicines. They reached out to individuals and organisations across Goa to create Goa’s first working helpline.
The initial version of this helpline was in collaboration with the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP). GHH used Exotel, a cloud telephony system, where individual volunteers could field calls diverted to them from the helpline. Volunteers noted requests for assistance in a central database, and the CCP then distributed the required essentials.
Vijaya Pais, from OffBeat Goa, described how social media and smartphones enabled an overnight mobilization of volunteers. “The OffBeat Goa website already has a ‘Volunteer’ option, and we spread the word on WhatsApp and our Facebook page. In the first week, over 160 volunteers signed up!” The helpline received over 40,000 calls on the first day, from all across the state. Even now, they receive an average of 40 calls a day.
Another collaborator, Jill Ferguson, of ActforGoa, further explains that the rapid transition from Janata Curfew to complete lockdown caused quite a bit of distress. “This, and the travel ban, meant that we had to expand our team, find more local volunteers, and make information easily available for the public.” Jill and a group of volunteers began verifying and sharing accurate information on ActforGoa social media platforms. Another volunteer, Josh Pitzalis, a freelance software designer, deployed the Ushahidi platform, which enabled volunteers and organisations across Goa to register themselves on a clickable map.
GHH has responded to nearly 2 lakh calls for assistance. Field teams aka ‘Local Champions’, have delivered over 8000 ration packs in a safe and timely manner. GHH has expanded its services to include mental health support, in collaboration with Wellness Volunteers Goa, and added supermarkets and boutique hotels as partners. GHH continues to run weekly food camps in multiple locations for stranded migrant workers, feeding nearly 400 per camp.
To support or sponsor GHH feeding programs, join their Facebook page.