MUMBAI: Volunteer social worker Ashok Kurmi is helping an army of young fans fight the coronavirus in Mumbai’s slums using an unusual accessory: A clown costume.
Dressed in a bright-red clown suit, complete with face paint and a rainbow-hued wig, the 37-year-old executive spends his days off disinfecting public spaces, distributing face masks and spreading awareness about COVID-19.
“The municipal workers wear PPE (personal protective equipment) kits that scare slum dwellers, particularly children,” Kurmi told AFP.
“With the help of different costumes, I can spread awareness without scaring people. I am able to help them a little.”
Ashok Kurmi spends his days off disinfecting public spaces, distributing face masks and spreading awareness about COVID-19. (Photo: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee)
Ashok Kurmi works at a pharmaceutical company but says that voluntary social work is his passion. (Photo: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee)
Over the past year he has dressed up as Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Doraemon and Marvel superhero Spider-Man. But his clown get-up is the most popular by far, he said.
On a recent visit to India’s largest slum, Dharavi, groups of children followed him, chanting “joker, joker” and offering their hands to be sanitised.
With the help of visual aids and posters, Kurmi patiently showed them how to wash their hands and wear face masks correctly.
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“I have worked at a pharmaceutical company for the last 15 years, but social work is my passion,” he said.
He spends about 15,000 rupees (US$205) – a third of his monthly salary – on buying costumes, makeup supplies and sanitation equipment.
The efforts of volunteers like Ashok Kurmi have become even more important as Mumbai prepares for a third COVID-19 wave. (Photo: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee)
Volunteer social worker Ashok Kurmi, dressed as a clown, teaches children how to follow COVID-19 safety protocols in a Mumbai slum area. (Photo: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee)
As Mumbai prepares for a third COVID-19 wave, his efforts have become even more important.
The pandemic has devastated India, infecting over 28 million people and killing more than 300,000.
Despite the risks involved in visiting densely populated areas like Dharavi, Kurmi is undeterred.
“Until this pandemic ends, I will continue to go and help people as a clown,” he said.
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