With India experiencing a brutal second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last three months, several local groups have organized efforts to send aid and relief.
Many Sammamish residents have experienced frustration and helplessness, with international travel restrictions and health concerns prohibiting visits with vulnerable family members still in India.
However, local nonprofits have been stepping up, offering opportunities for residents to do something about the situation.
Pratidhwani is a nonprofit organization that supports and showcases South Asian performing arts in Washington state. Pallavi Garg, Pratidhwani’s development director, said that after the pandemic started, all public events were cancelled, “including our collaborations with artists from India who were unable to travel.”
Many of those artists hailed from smaller Indian towns with huge gaps in local health infrastructure, she said.
So Pratidhwani initiated a campaign to support the most vulnerable rural Indian communities. Their fundraiser met the initial goal of $50,000 within just four days and raised $74,000 as of June 14.
The funds were used to support research on pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants and ActionAid’s oxygen concentrator procurement.. The equipment was sent to the Terapanth and Barabanki COVID Care Centers, as well as the Dr. Shambhunath Research Foundation and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, located in the states of Delhi, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.
While the initial Facebook fundraiser has ended, Pratidhwani is still accepting donations on their website and is currently working on sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) both locally in Sammamish, as well as in India.
Tasveer has also been fundraising for COVID-19 relief. Founded directly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Tasveer has created a platform for the South Asian community of the greater Seattle area with a focus on film and literature festivals.
After the COVID-19 surge in India began, Tasveer decided to donate all proceeds from its annual GiveBIG fundraising campaign to the Indian Red Cross, OXFAM India, and the Sood Charity Foundation. This amounted to $5,500 raised over two days in May and was mostly used to purchase oxygen concentrators that were delivered to Mumbai and struggling communities all over India.
On May 15, Tasveer also partnered with other local organizations, such as API Chaya and South Asian Americans Together for Washington, to put on the Roohi for India virtual fundraiser.
Tasveer’s fundraising efforts are now on pause, but founder Rita Meher encourages those looking to help to donate to verified, on-the-ground organizations in South Asia, such as OXFAM.
AmPowering is another organization sourcing PPE for struggling healthcare providers in India. Menka Soni founded the group in 2013 to empower vulnerable communities by creating educational, social, and economic opportunities.
At the beginning of the pandemic, AmPowering expanded their existing program in India, creating the Maa Ki Resoi program which serves 200 to 300 meals per day around Delhi and Lucknow. When the recent pandemic surge hit, they established an ongoing fundraiser that has brought in over $6,000, as well as countless donations of groceries and PPE.
These funds were used to further expand their India branch’s activities. They have grown to 65 volunteers who are facilitating the delivery of services to areas including Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Kanpur, and nearby rural and slum communities.
AmPowering is now serving food to those waiting in long lines outside medical facilities and oxygen factories, as well as to quarantined families and slum communities where healthcare infrastructure is nearly non-existent. They have also expanded to delivering medical supplies to quarantined families inside and outside hospitals. In addition, AmPowering has helped several families pay up to $500 in hospital bills and has established a free oxygen concentrator sharing program.
Soni estimates that her organization’s work has benefitted around 35,000 people since the beginning of the pandemic.
Chaitra Vedullapalli, the co-founder and president of Women in Cloud (WIC), an economic development organization, is seeking to address the roots of gender inequity that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
“Women in Cloud ran a COVID-19 survey last year and what we recognized is that the amount of challenges that women are going to face is very, very deep,” said Vedullapalli.
While women constitute 49% of the Indian population, they contribute only 18% to total Indian economic output, and the gender pay gap in India is more than twice the global average, according to WIC. During the pandemic, women have disproportionately lost their jobs due in part to the childcare crisis.
Women in Cloud established the #empowHERfamily initiative to begin bridging the gender gap. Launched on June 10, the initiative brings digital resources to 1 million women across all 28 Indian states over the next year.
WIC will be developing social media campaigns to combat pandemic misinformation, as well as a holistic, digital center containing career, mental health, and financial resources for women looking to enter the workforce.
“The second piece of work we’re also doing is community fundraising. We’re going to have a dedicated task force to raise $1 million,” said Vedullapalli.
These funds will be used to provide $400 support grants for families who have lost their primary breadwinner as well as being donated to vetted COVID-19 relief organizations on the ground.
Vedullapalli admits that monetary grants are often not enough, because many women often choose to spend the money on necessities such as childcare.
To address this, WIC has formed a partnership with Microsoft to provide 625 micro-scholarships and hundreds of job-placement opportunities to Indian women.
India is still reeling from the pandemic, with many families devastated by personal and financial loss during this crisis. While there may be no panacea, the Indian community in Sammamish and the greater Seattle area is coming together through organizations great and small to raise money and deliver aid 7,000 miles away.