Care in the time of COVID-19: Indian social service organizations rise to the challenge
Organizations like Sewa International have provided aid and relief across the world under a well-coordinated action plan
In an unprecedented and monumental effort to help and assist the COVID-19 affected population, India and several social service organisations cranked up their efforts. Pursuing the humanitarian approach of ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ meaning ‘welfare for all’, the groups were active across the globe from the United States and Canada to Kenya, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, working for the relief of not just people of Indian origin but people across nationalities.
Non Government Organisations such as Sewa International which are active in the field of social service, managed to collectively raise USD 310,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts. This by itself speaks volumes about the humongous effort by them and the support they received in their endeavours.
Sewa International is a non-government service organization which believes in the Dharmic principles of “Serving Humanity is Serving Divinity” and “Unity in Diversity”. It has been ranked in Top 10 “Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions.” In February 2020, Sewa International ranked fifth in the list evaluated by Charity Navigator, one of the major American evaluators of charities
In a concerted and well-coordinated action plan, Sewa International’s wings in the United States and Canada set up a team of 50 physicians and attorneys for guidance and support. It established a 24X7 helpline for non-medical advice. The helpline was supported by teams of more than 1000 volunteers working through 43 highly-active chapters.
Immediately after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus as a pandemic on March 11, Sewa International USA initiated a major initiative known as “Sankalp Patra” (Pledge for Service). More than 200 volunteers were trained. Working in 4-hour shifts, they fielded over 650 calls and 500 Whatsapp enquiries. Accommodation, food and grocery, and travel support was provided to 150 international students. In a bid to serve the COVID-19 affected community, food packets were delivered for police, care drivers, doctors, and senior citizens. Over 50 families got access to medical, hospitalization, and funeral services.
Mass-scale mask distribution activity was undertaken under which more than 30,000 N95 and KN95 surgical masks and nearly 16,000 homemade masks were distributed along with over 500 litres of sanitizers. In addition to this, 4,500 hot meals and food kits were distributed by the Sewa International volunteers. This was in addition to an amount of $80,000 donated to various food pantries.
In Canada too, Sewa International Canada stepped in to help out the students after the COVID-19 pandemic and released CAD$ 5,000 from its funds immediately for the “International Students Aid” project. The enabled the supply of food items, cooked food, and over-the-counter medications in addition to guidance and counselling with the help of qualified professionals & practitioners in the community. This aid activity was carried out by a committed network of volunteers in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Regina.
Sewa International’s activities in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies are providing a ray of hope and a feeling of solidarity. The volunteers and healthcare team of Sewa International TT (Trinidad and Tobago) have announced an extensive campaign of conducting Webinars to address the potential impact of COVID-19 and initiate a public awareness campaign through social networking sites to identify symptoms.
Video clips on diagnosis and awareness of Coronavirus were shared on various social media platforms. Free live-streaming of Yoga classes was made available for everyone to reduce stress and stay healthy, apart from a 24-hour chat and comfort phone line which was set up to help fight stress and panic.
In the United Kingdom too, Sewa International’s UK wing kicked off its social support services such as “Help Your Neighbour” Campaign with the intent of helping in food bank replenishment for collecting donations to stock up Food banks for the needy. Under the “Care for the Carer” programme, free cooked meals were provided to hospitals. A special programme by the name of “Vulnerable Aid and Serve” was launched for reaching out to all elders and vulnerable people in local areas to assist with shopping, medical and other help.
Mental wellbeing and outreach was promoted through the 'Share some Joy' campaign. For effective execution, 21 regional groups were formed with 100 volunteers each. Over 2,000 volunteers participated in Sewa-Day activities, delivering over 2,500 meals across the UK to National Health Service (NHS) staff, vulnerable people, homeless and other people in need. “Sewa-Day” received recognition from various regional and national authorities as a key “volunteer and charitable group”. Even now, a team of 40 volunteers attends calls throughout the day, replying to queries on social media and emails, to provide latest and verified updates on flight status, visa etc.It also counters disinformation and rumours floating on various social media platforms.
In the African continent, the COVID-19 emergency response committee of Kenya kicked off operations of pooling together resources to cushion Kenyans, especially the most vulnerable against the adverse effects of the Coronavirus. The committee received a consignment of food worth 100 million shillings from the Hindu Council of Kenya, which was distributed to the worst-affected areas. Other organisations like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) Kenya, Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK) and the Hindu Religious and Service Centre came together and launched a project to prepare and distribute over 1,00,000 face masks on April 25 at the Deen Dayal Bhavan, Nairobi. These organizations are already active in distributing food hampers, sanitation material and medical kits to the needy in Kenya.
Sewa International has also been exceedingly active closer to home with special initiatives in neighbouring countries of India, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan too.
In coordination with HSS, Sewa International Nepal started a food packet drive for the people who are stranded in Kathmandu valley after the lockdown. Volunteers of Sewa Nepal, HSS Nepal as well as Pragyik Vidyarthi Parishad Nepal, Janajati Kalyan Ashram Nepal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Nepal distributed food packets to the needy, twice a day at Pashupatinath Temple and Guhyeshwari Temple in Kathmandu.
In Sri Lanka, Sewa International along with Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) are working together in 12 districts, mainly in the eastern province and Kandy, running a daily kitchen for needy people in Batticaloa. Food was distributed to 3,400 families in Ampara, Ratanpura and Kandy. SI-HSS volunteers also carried out activities like mask making and an awareness drive.
Similarly, in Myanmar, the Hindu Parivar Sahayata Samiti’, formed with the support of Sanatan Dharma Swayamsevak Sangh (SDSS) Myanmar, is working in areas like, Yangon, Mandalay, Kyauktaga, Zeyawaddy, Pyin Oo Lwin, and Shwebo etc. Apart from creating awareness, the organisations have distributed ration and cooked food along with providing PPE kits and other medical supplies to the doctors in hospitals.
In Bangladesh too, Sewa International distributed food kits at six locations to the needy families hit by coronavirus lockdown.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sewa International worked actively in Pakistan to help underprivileged families. Joining hands with the Hare Rama Foundation, the on-ground implementation partner, it donated essentials like dry ration to 400 shopkeepers and 540 underprivileged families and to widows and senior citizens living alone.
Besides the above-mentioned initiatives, Sewa International and its partner & associate organisations have also started their activities in Gulf countries such as the UAE, Kuwait and Oman. This includes providing freshly prepared food to the homeless and poor people and distributing dry food ration and home essentials to the vulnerable population In addition to providing accommodation and medical services. Special counselling is being provided to students facing problems and to those who have lost their jobs.