As India steadily emerges through the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities in many states are already working to minimise the impact of an impending third wave. Last month, state officials across Maharashtra found that cases were on the rise among children and teenagers, with around 8,000 cases emerging out of the Ahmednagar district. With children being considered to be especially susceptible during the third wave, awareness campaigns targeting this age group are now more vital than ever before.
Ashok Kurmi, a volunteer social worker in Mumbai, is clearly leading the charge in spreading COVID-19 awareness among the city’s children with his interesting initiative. Kurmi is using a bright red clown suit, face paint and a rainbow-hued wig to make himself more approachable for kids across Mumbai’s slums.
The 37-year-old executive, who has worked for a pharmaceutical company for over 15 years, is using this unusual accessory to engage with children, disinfect public spaces, distribute face masks, and spread awareness about COVID-19. “The municipal workers wear PPE kits that scare slum dwellers, particularly children,” he told AFP. “With the help of different costumes, I can spread awareness without scaring people. I am able to help them a little.”
While Kurmi has dressed up as Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Doraemon and Spiderman for his brilliant awareness drive over the last year, his clown costume remains the most popular. When he recently visited Dharavi, India’s largest slum, a large group of children followed him around chanting “joker, joker”, and offered their hands to be sanitised too. Kurmi then went on to use visual aids and posters to patiently explain the Coronavirus pandemic to the children, while emphasising on the need to wash their hands regularly and properly, and wear face masks correctly.
Calling his volunteer work his passion, Kurmi explains how he spends a third of his monthly salary—which is around ₹ 15,000—on buying costumes, make-up supplies and sanitation equipment. Despite knowing the risks involved in continuously visiting densely populated areas like Dharavi, Kurmi is undeterred in his passion to spread awareness among kids at this critical juncture. “Until this pandemic ends, I will continue to go and help people as a clown,” he says.