One month on since the second wave of Covid-19 engulfed India, amid overwhelmed administration and hospitals, hundreds of volunteers in Rajasthan have stepped in to help Covid-hit families and patients get access to healthcare services they need.
"I feel guilty even going to sleep. There are so many SOS texts on my social media asking for help, how can I just ignore those and go to sleep?" says 29-year-old Jaipur-based lawyer Abhisar Singh, who has been volunteering to help with Covid aid and relief efforts, told Outlook.
"Initially started helping friends and Nirma University alumni circle in Jaipur. But then I started approaching other people on social media and working on their requirements. I still remember a late-night phone call by Jai Singh, a family member who was looking oxygen cylinder and later the refill for one of his relatives. I started working on verified leads, and it took us five hours to procure oxygen. But by the end of the night, I could sleep in peace. The incident also helped me to gauge the worrying situation in the city with hardly any oxygen available. And this is how I decided to dedicate my time to help people during this crisis, prepare a verified, working database and decided to volunteer at a larger scale. There has been a journey of continuous emotional turmoil. People have sent me heartfelt notes and of course unfortunate news of the deaths of patients, I was helping", adds Abhisar.
The volunteers across the state are working day and night to help people on the ground and as well as through social media --Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp help groups. Interestingly, while some volunteers are associated with an NGO, there are hundreds of youngsters who are working as independent volunteers - also first-timers.
"I decided to help people during the second wave of Covid-19 because of what was happening around. People were gasping without oxygen and dying due to the government's negligence. So I decided I will use my social media, mainly Instagram, to help people. I started individually but then a few friends added me to some WhatsApp groups and then it was a team of hardworking people who didn't even sleep for days. By calling some doctor friends or friends who are in medical line, calling and verifying the leads we got, Twitter for that mostly and some handles like covid19-twitter. in where you just need to enter the city and your need and all the leads were there in seconds", says Mridul Vaibhav, Wildlife conservationist and photographer, based in Rajasthan.
"I still remember when a mother who had given birth to a baby, one week ago turned Covid positive and was critical. We received the SOS at 2 AM in the night and luckily within three hours, we could arrange oxygen for her. The challenge didn't end here the doctor said that she requires a ventilator. Searching for one for her was a herculean task as the situation was dire with no vacant ones. However, by the grace of God, we could find one. The next morning our entire team was into tears after the doctor informed us that the mother and daughter duo are alive and recovering", adds Mridul, who believes helping others in this distressful time is the only way that can make us feel better. Despite contracting Covid-19 himself, the spirit of helping others did not let him step back.
Right from amplifying a case on social media, to finding leads to procure oxygen, beds, medicines, injections, ventilators. The long list of challenges a Covid-19 volunteer faces on a daily basis is unending and so are their selfless efforts.
Rajasthan based chartered accountant Ankita Sarda, also a volunteer with Robin Hood Army (RHA), told Outlook, "We have one life to live, and one to help others live. With all the sufferings and helplessness around, we thought to at least help people digitally. We have more than 1500+ volunteers in Jaipur. Three of us (Preksha, Kashma and I) took up the initiative to start this Covid-19 relief work. We then started by creating two groups one to cater for the requests and another to verify everything that internet & WhatsApp forwards brought to us. Our team of Robins continuously kept updating the sheets for the availability of oxygen cylinders, oxygen cylinder refilling plants, plasma and hospital beds etc. We never shared a lead with anyone unless and until we personally verified, each of them".
Besides helping patients with hospitalisation, the RHA has been actively distributing free cooked food for patients/home quarantined people, distributing ration to people in need like daily wage workers, artist community and escorting senior citizens to vaccination centres.
Black fungus -- a new challenge for volunteers
In the last four days, there has been a dip in the number of Covid-19 cases in the state, however, the volunteers see no relief. Another challenge for volunteers is to help patients to procure injections for the Mucormycosis or 'black fungus', declared as a notifiable disease in the state under the Rajasthan Epidemic Act 2020.
On Thursday Rajasthan recorded 7680 covid positive cases and 127 deaths. As per the health department, the state has around 100 black fungus patients present.
"The number of requests have only increased over the past few days despite supply chains improving in certain areas. This has led to focus shifting towards newer areas and cities. Also, with the rampant rise in cases of black fungus infection, a lot of ambiguity & anxiety persists in the communities" says Swati of #COVIDJaankari, an organisation providing valid resources, information & volunteers with those in need across all pin codes of our country
"During the latest wave of Covid-19, close family members tested positive, ringing alarm bells galore. Given the sudden surge of demand and growing sense of anxiety, supply chains took a hit and as a result, we faced hurdles to procure essentials in our native cities. The idea stemmed to fulfill this need of bridging the information asymmetry prevailing in the eco-system and thus #COVIDJaankari came to life - with the sole purpose ", she added.
Another challenge for the volunteers is to get the data from rural areas, where people are not familiar with social media. "A team of 150 members, friends and volunteers in urban and rural Rajasthan keep gathering information about those who need help in this hour of crisis. I and my team worked tirelessly in this situation whether it's acquiring a bed, an ambulance, Remdesivir injections etc. From helping people in odd hours to exhaustive sessions of gathering verified leads by connecting with administration and government we try doing all of this", 24-year-old Girish Kumar Sharma, also a member of Indian Youth Congress, told Outlook. He owes the spirit of volunteering to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and National Congress Youth President Srinivas B V.