Producer, Educator & Writer
As the South Asian diaspora continues to witness the horrific scenes of mass funeral pyres and overrun hospitals in India, many in the Bay Area and across the country are finding ways to contribute to ongoing relief efforts rooted in community-based organizations in India.
They’re pioneering creative ways of providing help and assistance, like cross-continental video chats for doctor’s visits. As the country’s official death toll nears 220,000, with many saying that is an undercount, the need to help is only mounting.
“It is totally surreal,” said Harish Ramadas, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Association for India’s Development, on the contrast between the ease of getting a vaccine in the Bay Area and the pain and suffering in many parts of India.
Ramadas said he and many fellow AID volunteers cope with the disconnect between their lives in the rapidly reopening Bay Area and horrors in India by volunteering and fundraising as much as possible, and using their privileged position to advocate on behalf of others.’We have the access to technology, we have WhatsApp, we have phones, we have the internet, we can be creative and make a difference.’Zain Alam, co-creator of Doctors in Diaspora
AID is a mainly volunteer-run organization that has supported traditional development efforts in India for nearly 30 years. Ramadas said their focus is on grassroots partnerships, working in areas of social and environmental justice, health care, education and labor rights.
“We learn from them and the solutions that we help implement are all community-driven as opposed to a sort of top-down, paternalistic colonial approach,” Ramadas said. AID works directly with communities.
Shrinaath Chidambaram, who lives in Los Altos, is on the board of directors for AID. For him, it’s about more than the current news media cycle.
“I think first thing is for people to just go beyond the headlines and recognize that this is a multidimensional problem,” he said. “Hospital scenes and the crematorium scenes are heartbreaking, but there is a much bigger crisis yet to come,” Chidambaram said.Sponsored
AID is taking a multipronged approach — looking at four main aspects: oxygen shortages, supporting medical help desks, helping people stay home and promoting vaccine awareness. For daily wage earners, and migrant laborers, earning enough money and buying supplies in advance can be a challenge and nearly impossible in some cases.
“If not controlled in some form, it’s going to really lead to a disaster of epic proportions,” Chidambaram said of COVID-19 in India. The impact is already being felt in neighboring Bangladesh, as the federal government bans vaccine exports.
While AID has existed for many years and is a reliable grassroots organization serving many parts of India, others in the Bay Area are focusing donations and assistance to specific marginalized communities, like the transgender community, or hijra.
“While we recognize that everybody is in panic and running around, our community is being left behind,” Anjali Rimi told KQED.
“They are starving,” Rimi said of the trans community in India. “Other communities still have access to the internet to be able to order delivery or be able to go out.”
“We have now over 6,000 trans folks that have reached out for help,” Rimi said.
In addition to Bay Area efforts, newer initiatives have popped up across the country in the last week to meet the immediate needs of those in search of doctors and medical attention.
Zain Alam, along with members of the South Asian diaspora mostly based in New York, started Doctors in Diaspora just last week to connect volunteer doctors virtually to people in India facing a medical professional shortages.
“We were really, just really, really struck by what we were hearing from our families and India about the total lack of a response on the part of the state there,” Alam said. They are urging doctors from the Indian diaspora to sign up, as well as doctors in less impacted locations in India. Based on availability, doctors are then matched with those needing assistance in India for remote consultations. Others interested in supporting the project are also welcome, and Alam said they’ve just had the first round of calls this weekend. But they will soon be using an app designed for the pandemic, which will allow doctors and patients to speak without the need to reveal personal contact information.
Alam said the initial calls between doctors and patients underlined how critical this work is. Though they estimated each call would be closer to 10 minutes, Alam said most were closer to 20 minutes. “There’s just not enough medical professionals in India right now to speak to people — they don’t have time to talk to anyone,” he said.
Alam and others involved in the project hope to take advantage of the wealth, knowledge and resources of the diaspora. “We have a very specific ability to speak to the needs in India right now,” he said.Sponsored
While he acknowledged that often the American way to give aid is “throwing money at a problem,” he said, “this is a way that we can give that is a little bit more pointed than just giving money.”
In this case, the ease in which many in India and abroad are able to access technology makes the project possible. “We have the access to technology, we have WhatsApp, we have phones, we have the Internet, we can be creative and make a difference,” Alam said.
Back in the Bay Area, members of AID are also suggesting those in the U.S. lobby members of Congress to get the federal government to release vaccine patents.
“This is a situation where we really have a moral obligation to just put in everything we’ve got to help the people of India and other parts of the world that are in similarly difficult situations,” Ramadas said.