Saving Lives in India: International students rally for COVID relief back home

Medics tend to a man with breathing problems inside a COVID-19 ward of a government-run hospital, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Bijnor district, Uttar Pradesh, India, May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

India has faced testing times since the past few months. The sudden and massive surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, lack of infrastructure and fatalities witnessed has been devastating for its people.

This caused grave concern to Indian diaspora around the world. Like many others, the Indian Graduate Students Association at Carnegie Mellon University under the leadership of President Priyank Lathwal sought to transform this anxiety into productive efforts for COVID-19 relief.

“We had noticed that although there were many fundraisers being spoken of, an urgent need to fund shortages in medical supplies, and a tremendous desire to help the unfolding crisis, people still felt unsure about which relief effort was a trusted and transparent option to donate to – particularly from abroad,” said Roshan Shah from CMU in an email to Desi Talk NY.

On the other hand, students and student organizations from different universities seemed to be considering floating their own fundraisers for their university networks. The combination of these factors implicitly represented an opportunity for students from different schools to come together, benefit from ‘economies of scale’ and rally around one united effort.

 

Students from more than 30 university organizations got together to raise awareness and funds for covid-relief in India.
Photo: Courtesy – Roshan Sharma

On April 25, three universities- Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University and the University of Pittsburgh launched a fundraising campaign on the gofundme platform, and word spread quickly about this initiative.

Meanwhile, Shyamli Badgaiyan, a 2nd year MBA student at Harvard Business School was planning a parallel cross-university fundraiser. After connecting via Facebook and a 15 minute Zoom call, Priyank and Shyamli decided to join forces and launch a larger cross-university fundraising effort on the GiveIndia platform across the US.

Shyamli Badgaiyan, Harvard University
Photo: courtesy Roshan Sharma

“I had been watching COVID-19 cases surge and been feeling terribly anxious and helpless,” Shyamli, who is from Delhi, was quoted saying in a press release from Harvard University. “I found myself thinking of ways to help from afar — an instinct I would later learn many students across the country were also feeling.”

“GiveIndia felt like the right platform to do so as it has partnerships with many NGOs on the ground, and has had great impact working on Covid relief last March The GiveIndia team, committed and efficient, helped us launch the fundraiser within 24 hours, and we continue to work closely with them to expand the list of NGOs to best direct funding to,” said Roshan, Shyamli and Priyank in the email.

They urge people to see their impact report from an earlier COVID relief fund.

Once these students launched the fundraiser, the important part was to spread awareness about the surge in cases and their relief efforts. Being in the university ecosystem enabled them to reach out to students, staff, faculty and alumni in their universities.

Word spread quickly and other universities which had the same concern joined hands with them.

“Today, we have a team of 55 student leaders from 30+ student organizations representing over 25 schools in the US including Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University, Cornell University and others working with us to aid relief efforts,” said the trio.

The student organizations are working on transitioning to the GiveIndia fundraiser https://covid.giveindia.org/southasianstudents/ which has raised a total of $436,481 as of June 1.

Roshan Sharma, Carnegie Mellon University. Photo: courtesy Roshan Sharma

The first set of disbursements from the fundraiser went towards the purchase of oxygen concentrators in Delhi through the SaveLifeFoundation; oxygen concentrators for home-care in Bangalore through the GiveIndia-OlaCabs partnership; oximeters and other medical supplies in rural districts across India through the Swasth Alliance; urgent medical equipment support across hospitals in Kerala and Chennai through Doctors For You; COVID-19 treatment and testing for the disabled around the Delhi-NCR area through the National Association For The Blind (Employment & Training) in Manesar; and humanitarian relief for families who have lost breadwinners through ActionAid, Gram Vikas Trust and SOS Children’s Villages.

The students are gearing up for a second set of disbursements soon for medical needs and relief, especially in underserved and rural communities across India.

Priyank Lathwal, Carnegie Mellon University Photo: courtesy Roshan Sharma

According to them, USD 200 (approximately Rs. 15,000) supports 20-30 people in a community with food and oximeters, USD 500 (approximately Rs. 40000) helps buy an oxygen concentrator.

Priyank, Roshan and Shyamli tell us what people can do to help the situation:

The most important things that people in other countries can do are (a) spreading awareness about the scope of the issue (perhaps especially as the Western media cycle moves on to other events), (b) contributing efforts to resources and helplines for people impacted in India, (c) contributing funds, livelihood support and medical supplies (PPE, oxygen concentrators, ventilators, oximeters, vaccines), (d) mobilizing communities to contribute to relief efforts in India, and (e) being there for and supporting members of your community with ties to India during these challenging times.

The most important thing for people in India to do is (a) follow expert medical advice and recommendations for vaccines, social distancing and using masks, (b) help and support families and communities by being indoors, (c) contribute to relief efforts by volunteering time, work, and funds, and (d) being there for and supporting members of your community.

“Though things may sometimes seem hopeless and bleak, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that we all should work towards, and do what we can from where we are in the world to save lives and livelihoods,” added the students.

If you or your organization is interested in matching donations, receiving aid, or joining our efforts, please email the organizers at igsa@andrew.cmu.edu and sbadgaiyan@mba2021.hbs.edu with the subject line “India Covid-19 Relief”.

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