“I don’t feel stuck or stranded,” he says.
Although Delaney thinks banning all travel from India to Australia is “maybe an overreaction”.
The turmoil of India’s latest coronavirus wave is taking a huge economic toll.
Delaney’s neighbours, many of whom are daily labourers or self-employed vendors on very low incomes, have been hit especially hard.
“People are scrounging by on very little,” he says. “It is incredible how people have survived.”
Delaney has chosen to live in a slum neighbourhood where he shares a single room house with a friend. It has no fridge, no washing machine and water is carted from a tap on a level below. Meals are eaten sitting on the floor.
During last year’s lockdowns Delaney obtained a permit to move around the city in order to dispense aid. Since, he and his friends have organised several food distributions.
“We bought 10 sacks of flour, 10 sacks of rice and five sacks of dal – that sort of thing – and went to a friend’s house to package it up,” he says. “We then distributed it in several slum areas.”
Since recovering from his second bout of coronavirus Delaney has donated blood plasma (which now has COVID-19 antibodies) to help with the treatment of a seriously ill coronavirus patient. Medical staff want him to do it again.
Delaney, who speaks Hindi, also volunteers for an educational NGO.
“It has been very difficult for people to access healthcare in the government system because it has been overwhelmed by COVID,” he says.
Delaney says people in his local area have mixed attitudes to the threat posed by the virus.
“Some people are extremely worried about COVID; others downplay or ignore the risks and don’t really practice basic precautions like masks and social distancing within the slum, where there is no chance of being caught by the police,” he says.
“But everyone is worried about the economic impacts – about not being able to put bread on the table and about not being able to restart their businesses.”
Delaney has found many locals to be afraid of having a test and evade it if possible.
“I have no doubt that the official figures for COVID cases are a vast underestimate compared to the number of people who have actually had it,” he says.
Delaney has been volunteering for the past two years but his experience in India goes back much further. He was born in India and has lived there for much of his life.
In 2009 the Herald and the Age interviewed Tom’s parents Mark and Cathy Delaney, who were also volunteers in India. Tom, who was 12 years old at the time, said his experiences had made him “realise the most important thing is to help other people”.
In 2018 Tom and his father Mark Delaney published a book which drew together their reflections on slum life and the need for action to combat climate change. Called Low Carbon and Loving It, the book describes the family’s many experiments in low-carbon living.
Tom Delaney is especially concerned about the pandemic’s effects on the education of school-age children in India, especially those from poor backgrounds.
“Most kids in the slum here have had virtually no formal education for much of the past year,” he says.
“That’s because government schools have not had the resources to transition well to digital learning away from the classroom. Even to the extent that they have, most kids in the slum can’t access the technology needed.”