As an Indian living thousands of kilometres away from home, Aswini Sivaraman says seeing the devastating COVID-19 situation in India is like “watching a rage of fire from a distance and just simply being unable to do anything.”
“You just feel helpless and you feel guilty because … I personally feel so privileged and lucky and fortunate to be so far away from what’s happening there,” said Sivaraman, who hails from Chennai and lives in Toronto.
India is grappling with its darkest chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with hospitals filled to capacity, medical oxygen supplies running short and morgues and crematoriums swamped as cases approach the 20 million mark.
As international aid pours into the country in response to the crisis, the Indian diaspora in Canada is rallying behind the relief efforts.
Inspired by a friend who is mobilizing help on the ground, Sivaraman created a comprehensive resource document listing different ways the Indian diaspora and non-resident Indians can donate and volunteer.
In addition to various fundraisers and organizations to give money to, the document also includes ways in which the Indian diaspora can stay involved online, such as through petitions and social media.
“Keep tweeting to or commenting on social media posts of politicians in power in India urging them to do more, to do better,” the document states.
Sivaraman, who is actively using Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to get the word out, said she has noticed an uptick in urgent calls for either help on the ground or requests for contacts and resources for contributions during India’s second wave — something she did not see during the first peak last year.
“For me, it was very important that the document was inclusive and robust and gave the right and updated information as possible,” the 35-year-old social media manager said.
New Delhi native Sabina Vohra-Miller lives in Ontario’s Peel Region — one of the largest Indian diasporas in Canada.
As the co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, she is on call daily with a coalition of doctors on the ground to help figure out what aid they need to send to India.
Others are also trying to help on an individual level.
In a previous interview with Global News, Toronto resident Zinnia Abbas Bookwala said she has tried to pitch in for a few personal requests for monetary aid to help patients get the required treatment within the right timeframe.
“The situation back in India is extremely alarming and concerning as I have lot of family back there,” said the 32-year-old who hails from Mumbai.
“The alarming shortage of hospital beds and oxygen tanks is extremely concerning,” Bookwala added.
Money, oxygen and more
Oxygen for India is a United States-based organization that is attempting to raise nearly $1.5 million to provide 3,500 oxygen cylinders and 700 concentrators free of cost.
The main idea is to free up hospital capacity for those who need it most while providing oxygen at home for those who can recover without hospitalization, said Hans Taparia, a representative of Oxygen for India.
“Money that’s donated right now can be deployed and utilized right now,” Taparia told Global News from New York.
As of Monday, almost $614,000 had been donated.
“This is money that has to be deployed immediately because we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people that could lose their lives over the next several weeks,” Taparia said.
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor with the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia, believes Canada should be sending more money to charities like the Indian Red Cross, as it also helps feed impoverished families who are experiencing the worst of the crisis.
“Money is the main thing right now. In short term, it gives people enough food, it clothes children, and helps society get through this,” he said last week.
In an email to Global News on Sunday, a spokesperson for Health Canada said the Canadian government has “identified medical equipment that could be donated from its emergency stockpile, such as ventilators.”
It was not immediately clear which supplies will be sent, or when.
Sivaraman said beyond monetary help, finding ways to bridge resource gaps — for example, by sharing viable and verified leads online with family and friends — could also go a long way in alleviating India’s COVID-19 suffering.
“Funds are needed right now, but if the diaspora community has the ability and means to stay involved and participate more and look at other ways to get involved, we should, because this unfortunately does not look like it’s ending anytime soon.”
— With files from Global News’ Redmond Shannon, Hannah Jackson and Katie Dangerfield.
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