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COVID-19: Sewa International’s 2500 volunteers are spreading their wings far and wide to meet needs

Cover photo: Vanishree Rao, Marietta Mask Makers of Sewa.

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, May 28, 2020: The Atlas shrugged as a pandemic unlike any other unleashed its fury on mankind. But the resilient human race rose to the occasion, in more ways than one. Despite its grievous consequences, acts of kindness, generosity and empathy have engulfed the universe, reinforcing faith in humanity.

NRI Pulse recognizes these humanitarian acts in our series, Giving, Dil Se in the Time of COVID-19, featuring contributions of the Indian-American community. Amongst the very many organizations stepping up to the plate, Sewa International, a Hindu faith-based nonprofit in the USA is spreading its wings far and wide to reach out to people in need, volunteering in over 20 countries, addressing various issues that have burdened society as a direct or indirect effect of the COVID crises.

Thus far SI has engaged over 2500 volunteers raising over $700K, distributing 280,000 3-ply face masks, 25,000 4 layer / 4-ply face masks, 70,000 KN95 masks, 30,000 N95 masks, 80,000 homemade / DIY masks, 3000 gallons of sanitizers, 30000 pair of gloves, 5000 face shields, 5000 hair bonnets, 3000 isolation gowns, 2000 shoe covers, 200 infrared thermometers, 50 pulse oximeters, 50 protective helmets, 1000 protective goggles, and 100 liters of Lysol / disinfectants. SI has reached out to over 800 organizations through their Sewa Sankalpa campaign. SI has held 67 COVID related webinars catering to over 75K viewers. SI has also donated over 4500 hot meals and food kits and $80K to food pantries.

Well known for serving communities, especially during natural disasters, SI has offered support to over 25 disaster recovery situations in the USA and abroad. But the current disruption is quite different, explains Swadesh Katoch, SI VP, Disaster Recovery. “Other disasters were limited to a particular area, in a particular state, or a particular country at most. But COVID 19 is right now all across the world. All countries across the globe are impacted by the virus along with facing economic crises.  There is shortage of PPEs for frontline workers, and people stuck at home need emotional support as they go through anxiety of uncertainty, amongst so many other issues,” says Katoch.

Sewa has created a Sewa Sankalpa campaign to bring together organizations in the USA to commit to a Pledge for Service to care for community members by providing necessary non-Medical COVID-19 support. In return, SI pledges to work with the organization to build capacity working shoulder-to-shoulder for the partnering organization to be able to be effective in providing this service.

“In Atlanta, 27 organizations have signed Sankalp Patra with SI, to show solidarity in working together as a team. Few of the volunteers from other organizations working with us include HSS, VHPA, Aim for Seva, Heartfulness, Food 4 life, among others,” noted Katoch.

The Atlanta chapter with 411 volunteers clocking in 611 hours has tended to 42 non-medical, plasma, and immigration cases, donated over 3000 DIY, over 17,000 surgical, over 2700 N95, and 2300 KN95 masks, and 425 non-perishable items.

“Every Sunday, SI volunteers are serving food to medical staff including doctors, nurses in hospitals, to homeless people every Wednesday in downtown Atlanta. We are distributing 3 ply surgical, N95, K95, and DIY masks to different clinics, doctors, hospitals, first responders including sheriff’s office, police stations, fire departments,” stated Katoch.

“Our community is doing such a good job in helping our community as well as local communities here. We are collecting groceries and distributing to food banks and cities. Over 100 women in our hot meal drive cook meals as and when required, and over 100 women are making DIY masks,” said Katoch.

Atlanta chapter has held 7 webinars relating to various topics including CGI updates, awareness, and impact on small business.

“Recently Daaji, the Global Guide of Heartfulness, in his profound knowledge and wisdom had given a clarion call to one and all to become Serving Citizens of the World. He had said that in such times, Prayer is not enough and each one has to take action to serve in whatever capacity we can. Practitioners of Heartfulness meditation in Atlanta are undertaking numerous service projects along with Sewa International, Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office and various corporates to those in need of mental calmness, food, relief from stress and anxiety. Please contact atlanta@heartfulness.org for any such needs,” stated Sanjay Sehgal, Atlanta lead, Heartfulness.

“Over 50 AIM for Seva volunteers have stepped in to help with Sewa Helpline to take calls and support those in need and we are also assisting in food preparation for medical staff and the needy. We are in contact with the needs of Sewa and provide help as required in different areas,” said Eshwar Money, Atlanta lead, AIM for Seva. “We are in good hands with Sewa leading this effort as they have international relief help experience worldwide. It is an honor for AIM for Seva to partner with Sewa International for communities across the US,” he added.

“We are happy to join hands with SI to serve the community during this time. Over 40 volunteers are helping in making DIY masks. Along with supporting Sewa, we are making DIY masks to help our devotees who are in healthcare facility,” said Rekha Pradeep, of Ananthadi Rayara Matha (RAMA) organization.

What started as a DIY project with kids, turned out to be a complete volunteering project for Marietta’s Vanishree Rao. Having worked with Sewa for many years, Rao wanted to volunteer to make masks. But with majority of volunteers were in Alpharetta, she started her own local team. “We call ourselves Marietta Mask Makers of Sewa,” says Rao who got over 40 volunteers in her area to help her with the task. “This little project of ours made me learn that you just have to dream and share your dream. There are many people around you who are willing to work hard to make your dream come true,” adds Rao. They have made close to 1500 masks thus far.

Weaving a comprehensive plan to tackle a multitude of matters, SI is offering varied services through 8 helpline centers with over 200 volunteers who work in four-hour shifts have helped 150 international students with food, travel, grocery, accommodation, served 600 food deliveries to frontline workers and seniors, aided over 50 cases that required family services including medical, funeral, hospitalizations and guided over 50 cases with physician and attorney assistance.

SI has also set up a unique program for COVID-19 survivors to donate their blood plasma for a therapy to save severely ill patients with respiratory failure. SI’s online registry for the convalescent plasma therapy program connects donors and recipients who want to participate in the COVID-19 treatment and also set up a phone hotline to help them. Thus far, SI has over 60 Plasma donors, 19 recipients, with 4 patients served via online plasma registry. 

SI stepped in to help 45 COVID19 impacted Bhutanese families in Atlanta and over 50 families impacted economically. “We were told that there will be 85 families that need help with groceries. We made 107 packets will all groceries and PPEs. We had another 50 bags of mix and match. In the middle of distribution, we realized many more families are coming and we need more groceries.  We immediately bought rice, wheat flour, lentils and cooking oil for another 50 families from nearby Patel brothers.  In total, groceries are distributed to 210 Bhutanese families,” said Katoch.

As nations rebuild toward a new normal, Sanyam (Self-restraint), Sahakar (Cooperation), and Sahayog (Collaboration), as the SI website puts it, seem to be the key to a smoother transition.

As of May 17, 2020, 4,743,181 people have been infected with the virus, 313,703 have lost lives, and 1,826,254 have recovered worldwide. In the US, 1,507,798 have been infected, 90,113 have lost lives, and 339,232 have recovered.

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