On the evening of April 29, when the Jammu and Kashmir government announced a COVID-19 lockdown in 11 of the districts-later extended to the entire union territory, in a bid to contain disease transmission- people obliged.
More than a choice, staying home for people in Kashmir was a compulsion to stay safe as they say, given the scale of the disease transmission courtesy the new Coronavirus mutants.
While the majority of people in the valley are staying indoors, a bunch of Good Samaritan girls in Srinagar have taken it upon themselves to reach out to the less privileged and people in need in these testing times through their collective 'Aash- The Hope'.
As the lockdown kicked in amid the ongoing holy month of Ramadhan, 22-year-old Mehlika Wani from Buchpora locality in Srinagar's Soura area wanted to take an initiative to collect public charity for arranging suhoor and iftaari (the special predawn and sunset meals eaten during the holy month) for the less privileged.
But it wasn't possible for Wani to undertake such a demanding task alone, so she informed her friend Tabish Hamid from Nowshehra Srinagar about it and asked her to join, who right away replied in the affirmative.
With no audience and little resources and logistics at their disposal, the duo identified the needy families through the local seminary to start with and took to social media to make people aware of their initiative. They also took help from a common teacher of theirs to deliver the meals.
"To begin with, we contributed from our own pockets and some donations from immediate family members and few of our friends. We provided a box of fruits and a pack of juice to each member of the identified family," Wani told Greater Kashmir.
However, with the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions likely to stay for a long haul, the Good Samaritan girls had a relook about the delivered edibles and began to upscale the suhoor and iftaari meals with whole stock of food, which would last for at least a month.
The package contains everything from cooking oil to flour enabling the families in need to survive on them for at least a few weeks for now.
The upscaling of the edibles though has put the girls too much dependent on funding especially given the inscipiency their initiative is in yet.
Tabish said that a package costs them Rs 1200 rs so "we very much depend on the fundings now," Tabish said.
Adding medicines to the list
Nonetheless, apart from the edibles, the young girls are now planning to include essential medicines in the next batch of packages amid extensions in COVID-19 restrictions in the valley and the desperation it has put the underprivileged families in.
The Good Samaritans said that once they receive adequate funding again, they will go out to deliver the next batch of packages.
"But that will solely depend on the amount of funds we get," they emphasized.
The girls thanked their families for supporting them despite fears of them getting infected and turning into potential virus carriers.
"Many times my father would accompany us for deliveries during his free time and mother would help in making the packages," recalled Tabish.
Coping mental stress through social service
Mehlika says she was herself diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) a couple of weeks back due to the prevailing pandemic and faced a tough time dealing with stress and anxiety.
"But since the day I started the initiative, I have felt much better. Perhaps, we are at peace when doing something for others and concentrate less on ourselves," the young Samaritan said.
The two girls have also inspired others in their friend circle to join them and volunteer for the cause.
They said their friends too were excited to join them and offered to volunteer for the cause, making it a six-member team.
Nida, Saika, Midhat Batool, Sadiya, Mehlika and Tabish are six girls who are on a mission to look after the less privileged and COVID-19 affected people in Kashmir.
The girls said the name of the initiative 'Aash The Hope' is related to their work through which they try to keep the hope among the people of Kashmir alive.
According to Mehlika and Tabish, they have been able to reach out to more than hundred families in need in the fifteen days of Ramadhan alone.
"We are trying to reach out to a different family everytime. We haven't received many distress calls for now, but as more people will get to know about us, we expect an increased number of calls from families requiring different things," they said.
"We feel privileged that the Almighty has chosen us for the noble cause in these testing times. We will continue the work till these desperate times aren't over," the girls added.