A Magic Bus worker offers support to a woman in need at an outdoor service table.

Magic Bus: “We are helping to keep families safe from hunger”

23 July 2021

As India faces the extreme challenges of a new wave of COVID-19, charity Magic Bus has sharpened its focus on reducing the learning gap amid school closures – while also rising to the need of the hour: tackling hunger among marginalised families, and ensuring children have access to adequate nutrition.

When the pandemic hit India in March 2020, Vijaya Lakshmi lost her job in a tailor’s shop.

The 20-year-old from Tamil Nadu, South India, went from being her family’s main earner to being unable to meet even their most basic needs.

Without savings, the family did not have enough money for food. And to make life even harder, her father became ill. She says: “I had lost hope. My family barely had enough food to survive.”

But then she heard about the Magic Bus India Foundation and, soon after, benefitted from a ration distribution carried out by the charity. From then on, support from the organisation ensured that Vijaya received enough dry rations to feed herself, her mother and her sick father through lockdown. For this, she says, she is “unable to express how happy I feel”.

Magic Bus’s prime focus has been on helping to lift children and young people out of poverty through education and employment. But the pandemic has brought to the fore the need for immediate relief, compelling the long-established organisation to respond to the needs of the community.

As Dhanashri Brahme, Chief of Programmes at the foundation, explains: “First you need to put food on people’s plates. Education is less of a priority when there is no food and no money.”

Supported by Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package, its mission now rests on helping to feed the children and families it serves – while ensuring that education continues in the face of crisis.

Magic Bus is collaborating with other charities to help those most heavily impacted – using its high standing within local communities to distribute food to families who have lost their income due to repeated lockdowns, and to help vulnerable people source vaccination, oxygen equipment and other healthcare necessities. All while working to ensure that the children who depend on Magic Bus continue to receive education through its virtual learning engagement programmes.

“We don’t work in the area of disaster relief, but as soon as we recognised the wide-ranging impacts causing severe disruption across communities, we realised we needed to take urgent action,” says Jayant Rastogi, Global CEO of the charity.

A person collects food from Magic Bus’s ‘Dry Ration Distribution’ station, with a Magic Bus worker standing by to offer help.

Barclays’ support has enabled Magic Bus to deliver two months’ worth of food rations to 18,000 families across India.

I do not know you people, but you came forward to help us.

Vijaya Lakshmi

a beneficiary of Magic Bus’s food distribution programme

Meeting an immediate need

When the pandemic first hit India in March 2020, the needs of those supported by Magic Bus changed dramatically, explains Rastogi.

Fearing lockdown, many families moved from urban areas back to their villages, where there was little work available. Others lost their jobs, and whole families found themselves with no income at all. Failing to take immediate action would have rendered many of the charity’s previous efforts worthless, explains Brahme.

As the organisation pivoted its efforts to address this crucial new need, Barclays’ support became all the more vital. With the bank’s donation, Magic Bus has provided 18,000 families with two months’ worth of food for cooking at home, typically including rice, lentils and potatoes, while also delivering awareness sessions about COVID-19, helping people to recognise the symptoms of the virus so that they reach out for medical care in time.

“With the generous donations and grants we received, including from Barclays,” Jayant says, “the charity has been able to develop a ‘community-anchored response’ that will go a long way in meeting the immediate needs of many people who have been impacted by the crisis – and offer longer-term help.”

Virtual support for work and education

Alongside this essential help, Magic Bus is continuing to pursue its long-term mission of helping people out of poverty through education and employment.

During periods when schools have been closed, the charity has pivoted its education-based programme Childhood to Livelihood online. The programme aims to tackle the high numbers of children who drop out of school to help their families, by helping keep children in school, supporting them into higher education and, later, helping them find work. The organisation’s overall COVID-19 recovery plan aims to ensure that 400,000 children at risk of leaving school can go back and finish their formal education.

The move to virtual has been challenging, says Brahme, but stopping the programme was not an option. “That realisation was the tipping point,” she says. “We felt that this was the point at which we must do something. If we had not ensured that children stayed on their education journey, much of the work that we've done over the past many years would have been wiped out – because we would have had children just not going back to school.”

Magic Bus has also maintained its support for new graduates online, ensuring that they have the skills and connections that will help them find work. During the pandemic, the charity has placed 6,000 people into new jobs across India through employer partnerships and its relationship with the United Nations Development Programme. “We’ve got people into jobs, earning something – which is helping to keep families safe from hunger.”

Jayant Rastogi sits on a couch, smiling for a photo

Jayant Rastogi, Global CEO at Magic Bus.

We don’t work in the area of disaster relief, but as soon as we recognised the wide-ranging impacts causing severe disruption across communities, we realised we needed to take urgent action.

Jayant Rastogi

Global CEO, Magic Bus

The battle continues

While the pandemic continues to impact people across India, Rastogi and the team at Magic Bus are working hard to disseminate information about how the virus spreads.

These efforts have involved building informational campaigns around health, particularly in “rural areas, where there is a very high incidence of COVID-19”, says Rastogi.

“We are bringing in a good amount of COVID-19 awareness and guidance on appropriate behaviour,” he adds. “People are really scared this time around. The only thing we can hope for now is to get out of this situation really quickly – and we hope there isn’t another wave.”

When schools reopen, the charity hopes to be able to go back to in-person support. “All of Barclays’ support was extremely timely,” he adds. “Words just can’t express our gratitude.”

For Vijaya, the support offered by the organisation has helped her family through a very difficult time. “I do not know you people, but you came forward to help us,” she writes. “I am grateful for the support that Barclays offered me and my family, and for the Magic Bus volunteers, who spread the message in my community and made it possible for me receive this support.”   

Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package: the story so far

To date, Barclays has supported more than 290 charities around the world delivering vital COVID-19 relief. Read about the positive difference these charity partnerships are making to communities impacted by the pandemic in a newly published COVID-19 Community Aid Package Impact Report.