Education, empathy and mutual support. A Master’s experience addressing COVID-19 Social Exclusion

Press Release

2 April 2020

“I have decided that I will use all the knowledge and wisdom that my profession has given me to help people around me now,  while my fellow Seafarer friends work non-stop at sea ensuring the supply chain for survival of mankind keeps running uninterrupted.”

London. UK. / New Delhi India. Following the recent Human Rights at Sea article covering the topic of a Master’s social exclusion on return home in India following sign-off, and the emerging COVID-19 pandemic concerns, the charity is pleased to positively report how the Master has approached the issue with his family and neighbours by using available facts, education and empathetic support to address their legitimate concerns.

Captain Ritesh Mehra, a Master formerly working with Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, has kindly submitted a deeply personal update in his own words, with his express permission on behalf of his family, to be reproduced as a public example of his struggles, and potential ways to address concerns over social exclusion for seafarers returning to their dependants.

PERSONAL STATEMENT

“I am Captain Ritesh Mehra, sailing as a Master Mariner on VLGC’s (Very Large Gas Carriers).

A few days back I wrote an article on Social Discrimination, on the problems I had faced after coming home after finishing my tenure on  my ship. I was shaken a lot for few days by the way people, including my family members, had been reacting after coming back.

I am writing this article as a follow-up of events that have happened after that, and the way the situation has been changing for me in the last few days.

As I wrote in my last article, I was first side-lined and not treated humanely after coming back from my ship, and I was in immense grief and pain for a few days.

As I locked myself up in my house to ensure that I didn’t offend too many people, I started introspection on what could I now do in order to change things for me. I know very well that the situation around you is not something you can change, all you can change is the way you deal with it. I had to work things around in order to make things better for my family in the future.

When I came back from the ship I was really tired. I had been running from one airport to another and doing the entire journey with a gas mask on. Landing in Delhi with some nice expectations to meet my family finally, lifting my kids in my arms, getting a warm welcome from my relatives and friends while I was hungry and completely dehydrated, BUT BAAM!!!! , I was slapped with something completely unexpected by my loved ones, and anger and frustration got the best out of me at that very moment.

In my alone time I started thinking on how I can change this situation now.  What in the world went so wrong that people who loved me and who are a complete stranger to me now? I knew that by being angry and by being aggressive I could not bring them all back, rather I would push them away further.

To my good fortune, my country’s Prime Minister on 24th March 2020 announced a complete lockdown, confining all citizens in their houses for the next 21 days.

This act clarified to all that “It is not that only travellers who can be a host of viruses, but normal people can also be infected and have to be watched as well“. This shifted the focus of people who wanted to get me thrown out of our apartment, to other tasks now and something they were never prepared for.

Being on ships for almost 25 years now this is a situation more familiar to me, and any seafarer will know more than anyone else on what to do when you go for confinement. We seafarers confine ourselves to ships for our whole contract, and at times don’t step out of the ship for months at a go. This is more so on ships I serve (Gas Carriers) due to the nature of cargo, shorter port times, and load of inspections we undergo as compared to other type of ships out at sea.

As soon as this [Government] announcement came I started communicating with people in our apartment close to me and started guiding them on what all to do, and to collect themselves in order to make their lockdown trouble free.

As there were too many people I had to help now, I messaged my apartment President to include me in Society What’s App Group so that I could share important information there, but I never got a reply from him at that time.

After waiting for hours, I opened a parallel What’s App Group myself including everyone whom I know in the Society to it (even people who wanted me to leave the apartment) and started sharing important information on that group. On that group, the most important information shared was as follows:

  1. Guide to Covid – 2019 (To educate people on Corona Virus) from Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.
  2. Details of Private Pathology Labs in order to do tests, and food vendors around our apartment in order to get supplies at doorstep – as all e-commerce sights have now closed.
  3. Guidelines on Rocognizing and Dealing with Depression.
  4. Links to important YouTube videos clearing myths about Corona Virus and WHO important short messages as they came.

I have also been calling all elderly and alone people in the Society whom I know, and ensuring their  wellbeing daily.

Further, as jobs of our domestic help plus some other key staff in the Society had been taken away due to the lockdown, while others were arguing on what can be done about helping them, I called all whom I knew personally and established a system where our Society working class will keep getting money regularly for their basic needs.

The initial contribution for that fund was made & transfers were made that very day. On subsequent days, I started with motivating people around me to contribute to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund & contributed a substantial amount to it myself as well.

Further, while sitting at home I communicated with various vegetable vendor and dry stores suppliers, and we established a system in which daily essentials are ordered for the Society’s Residence in one go and they are delivered at the Society’s gate, where all supplies are sanitized and then delivered to individual residents.

At this lockdown time shopkeepers & suppliers are not entertaining many delivery orders and because I was able to devise a way to order all items in bulk where the supplier makes more money in one delivery, they honoured my orders and both the vendors and Society residents all benefited at same time.

I am really glad to report that I have been seeing a good change in attitude of people towards me and that I am being approached now more often regarding issues someone foresees. A few days back, our Society President now included me in main What’s App group of the Society and I closed my parallel group.

Though it might take some time for things to completely normalize as people have the tendency to suspect anything that is too good to their liking and being true, and sometimes I remember the way I was treated just few days back for no reason to my understanding, I keep constantly fighting my inner feelings in order to not spoil the situation for sake of our future. At those moments, I keep reminding myself that with the Corona pandemic has still not reached in its worst stage yet, and there lies a long battle ahead.

If I keep fighting people around me and keep fuelling human egos, then I will not be in a position to fight the situations that will come due to this abnormal condition. The upcoming challenges will require us to use our energy in syncronism and none other than Seaman know how best to do it.

We generally are 21 people running a full self-sustained island that generates it’s own power, generates it’s own water, has it’s own communication system and even has machinery to process its waste generated efficiently. We sail without doctors with just a book to guide us on how to self-heal when we get injured or fall sick , and a few unfortunate ones of us (like myself) have even seen deaths of our friends while we were out at sea. Plus on top of that, unlike apartments, ships keep moving through dense traffic and storms as well.

I have decided that I will use all the knowledge and wisdom that my profession has given me to help people around me now,  while my fellow Seafarer friends work non-stop at sea ensuring the supply chain for survival of mankind keeps running uninterrupted.

Whether valued or not,  we Seafarers will keep doing our job and keep ensuring our contribution to Society is not compromised, whether we are on our ship, or off it.

With hope for a brighter future and better understanding among others for Seafarers.

Captain Ritesh Mehra.”

Ends.

 

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