As 9-year-old Ashmitha looks forward to the new year, her one wish is for a lockdown-free 2022. She just wants to feel normal—for the first time in a long time.
When COVID-19 first hit, Ashmitha—like the rest of us—had no idea how much was about to change. When schools first shut, she was delighted to have more time with her family. “It was almost like a vacation,” she remembers at her home in Bangalore, India.
A perk she looked forward to the most was the daily walk with her father. “I used to eagerly await the evening so that I could go out for a walk with him,” she says. Her father, Murugan, enjoyed the time together too. “He would buy me snacks and toys on some of the days,” she says.
But then everything changed. As India was swept up in a ferocious second COVID-19 wave, Ashmitha’s father contracted COVID-19. Working as a daily wage laborer in an incense stick factory, he was the only source of income for his family and could not afford to take the time off. As a result, he played down his illness to his family. But Murugan couldn’t hide his condition for long. “He started to cough severely and was getting a fever and tired often,” says Ashmitha’s mother, Amudhavalli.
When they took Murugan to the hospital, the family faced another setback. Hospital beds were full and oxygen supplies were running low. They were told new admissions could only be taken if someone in the hospital died or got discharged. But Murugan did not have that sort of time. By this stage, his lung was infected and his oxygen levels were drastically dropping.
Amudhavalli took him to 10 hospitals in one day. Eventually, as nighttime was falling, she found a bed, and took out a loan to secure it. Ashmitha slept well that night, knowing the doctors would take care of her father.
But, she awoke to her worst nightmare. Oxygen supplies had dwindled overnight and there wasn’t enough to keep Murugan alive. He had died without being able to say goodbye.
At nine years old, Ashmitha couldn’t imagine her life without her father. “I miss him sitting next to me at dinner,” she says. The smell of incense still makes her think he must be just around the corner, on his way home from the factory.
The months that followed brought on some of the darkest moments for Ashmitha. As she and her mother battled the emotional trauma of losing the person they loved most, they were simultaneously plunged further into poverty because they had also lost Murugan’s income.
Sadly, Ashmitha’s story is not unique. Three of her friends have also lost their fathers to the virus. In India these children have become known as ‘COVID orphans’ and their prevalence is one of the most tragic outcomes of this pandemic.
Though she has lost so much, Ashmitha still has one thing that has been a glimmer of hope when she needed it most: a sponsor.
“After losing my dad, World Vision [staff] visited me often,” she says. “They counselled me and my family, and though I cried a lot when my father died, I am feeling stronger now.”
World Vision sponsors have stepped up for children in India in incredible ways. During the pandemic, more than 1,000 sponsored children received special gifts or additional support from their sponsors, powering World Vision’s targeted COVID-19 response to meet the urgent needs of the community. In Ashmitha’s village, this meant additional support for 900 families to rebuild their livelihoods, food parcels that were regularly delivered to 500 families, and a special project designed to help children just like Ashmitha, who’ve lost parents to COVID-19. This program helps them continue their education while also receiving specialised psychosocial care.
“I always feel loved and cared for by my sponsor,” says Ashmitha. “They encourage me to study well. And though I lost my father, they are helping us come out of it.”
Right now, so many children are facing their first Christmas without parents or loved ones. But, you can give a child the gift of hope for a brighter future.
Make this year count by sponsoring a child and their community today.