- Twinkle and Himanshu Kalia run a free ambulance service in NCR
- Ronita Krishna Sharma breastfeed newborns who lost their mothers to COVID
- Dr Harmandeep Singh is a Doctor from New York who is working in India
New Delhi: The second wave of COVID-19 may be etched with traumatic memories of suffering, struggle for survival and the pall of death. But it will also be remembered for the spirit of many Indians who came forward to share the distress, agony and mitigate the pain of fellow citizens. From ferrying COVID patients to performing last rites, from feeding the sick and the hungry to coordinating help for oxygen cylinders, beds and medicnes, these COVID warriors led by example and restored faith in humanity during the darkest hour of the pandemic.
At the Banega Swasth India’s Saluting The COVID Heroes Townhall, Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan virtually met, acknowledged and congratulated some of these extraordinary heroes and their sefless initiatives.
Here are some exemplary work being done by organisations, corporates and individuals to help people affected by the pandemic in different ways.
‘Ambulance Couple’ AKA Twinkle and Himanshu Kalia
Twinkle and Himanshu Kalia have been running a free ambulance service in the national capital. Twinkle, a cancer survivor, is India’s first woman ambulance driver. The couple joined the Townhall and spoke with Mr Bachchan who asked them to share the thought behind this initiative. Mrs Kalia explained,
My husband was 14-year-old when my father-in-law met with an accident. They changed 6-7 hospitals but couldn’t get an ambulance. Back then, he pledged that, if God allows, he will do this ‘sewa’, to ensure that no other child or family has to face the struggles that I am facing right now. When I got to know about this, I felt proud. In 2002, we got married and there was an ambulance, all decked up, standing outside our wedding hall. Now we purchase ambulances on EMI. During COVID, we were getting over 200 calls and we and our team of drivers, all were working for 22 hours a day. No one cared about the day or night.
Talking about the dedication of his wife towards the cause, Mr Kalia said,
Twinkle was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was undergoing treatment – first operation then chemotherapy then radiation. Doctors strictly asked her to rest because her veins became weak. But the way emergency cases came in India, people were running towards hospitals and there was a shortage of oxygen. From some places we got a call saying it has been two days and the dead body is lying at home, nobody is ready to pick it up. There was so much pain and it was our attempt to heal the pain. The satisfaction and peace that you get is that we could save some lives. If the driver has gone somewhere then I drive the ambulance and when I am not there and some emergency case is there, Twinkle herself drives the ambulance. We have helped people reach the hospital and put in every effort for the cremation of people as well. When I asked her that you were not able to get up from the bed to cook food then how are you able to do this, and she said, I don’t know from where I get the energy and strength.
Ronita Krishna Sharma Rekhi offered to breastfeed newborns who lost their others to COVID
A production manager by profession and the mother of a young daughter, Ms Rekhi volunteered to breastfeed newborn babies who lost their mothers during the second wave of COVID-19. At the townhall, she told Mr Bachchan how it all started,
This all started one day when I was just sitting and going through my Twitter account and read about a little baby who lost his mother to COVID and there was an appeal from I think one of his family members that they need human milk because the baby was a premature baby. When it’s a premature baby, lot of them don’t take formula milk and when I read that, at that time I was in Guwahati, my hometown, I had gone there to deliver my baby. At the time cases were really increasing in Assam, and I thought to myself that maybe there are children here who must have has lost a mother or must be in need of breastmilk. That is when I thought that I would also want to contribute because being a new mother with a baby at home, I could not go out, I could not do anything. I was feeling helpless because I remember, last lockdown, with whatever little we could, as a society, as a responsible citizen, I went out and did my bit. But this time I was a new mom and I thought this is the only thing that I can offer. I just put it out on my social media saying if there is any baby in Guwahati who is is need of human milk, I am there. I will be more than willing to breastfeed that baby or I will offer them my milk.
Ms Rekhi also shared her husband’s reaction to this initiative, she said,
The moment I shared this on my social media, my husband came out, he read it and said, you wrote that you are going to offer your breastmilk or you want to nurse a child. Are you sure you want to do this? I said of course, I am and I just looked at him and said, are you okay about it? He said I am absolutely okay about this. There is no harm. And for me, the biggest thing is, we say that our children must learn how to share and when my baby will grow up one day, I will tell her that the biggest sharing that I could on her behalf was my milk.
Dattatraya Sawant ferrying critical COVID cases in his auto rickshaw for free
A government school teacher and a part time autorickshaw driver in Mumbai, Dattatraya Sawant ferried critical medical cases in his auto during the second wave of COVID-19 as there was a shortage of ambulances and what was available was beyond the means of some people. Mr Sawant also joined the Townhall to talk to Mr Bachchan about his initiative. He said,
In Maharashtra, when the lockdown began on April 15, the situation in Mumbai and everywhere else was really bad. For me, both offline and online classes were shut and the condition of people I saw was bad. People were finding it difficult to go to the hospital; they were not getting ambulance on time or were expected to pay a high price. I thought I can use my auto for the people of my area. I made some changes in my auto and started day and night service. I could help 50 patients on time and this is something to be happy about.
Dr Harmandeep Singh Boparai serving on the frontlines of India’s fight against COVID
Dr Harmandeep Singh Boparai is a frontline worker from New York who returned to his hometown, Amritsar. When he witnessed the crisis India was going through, he decided to stay back and train medical staff in COVID protocols. He is currently working with Doctors Without Borders at a 1,000-bed hospital in Mumbai. Dr Boparai at the Townhall told Mr Bachchan that COVID-19 is a global war against an invisible enemy. He said,
Whether the front is New York or Amritsar or Mumbai, it’s the same fight. And with all that I learnt from my experience fighting in New York, if I weren’t able to bring it back home to India, to my people at a time of crisis, it wouldn’t have been worth it. So it was a no brainer to come back since things got so bad here during the second wave. The actual day to day is vastly different here than New York because we know the healthcare infrastructure is very different in the US. One of the things you quickly learn is that we all here share the same humanity and when you look in someone’s eyes, especially your patients or your colleagues and see them at their most vulnerable, then you get inspired. You transcend the fear and that’s one of the great lessons that we have learnt. It is one of the great honours of my life to work with people, who in some cases, literally given their lives to help others and I don’t think there is any greater service than that.
Dr Marcus Ranney and Dr Raina Ranney helping people in need for medicines through their unique initiative
Dr Marcus Ranney is a Mumbai-based doctor and along with his wife Dr Raina, he started ‘Meds For More’, a citizen-LED initiative to collect unused and unexpired medicines from recovered COVID-19 patients, which are then donated to primary health care centres in rural districts across India. Dr Marcus told NDTV,
During the first wave of the pandemic, I was a frontline volunteer working in the slums here in Mumbai and I got to see firsthand the challenges that this virus posed, both in terms of people’s lives, their health but also the effect on livelihood, the burden of the cost of medicines and the economics of it. So during the second wave of the pandemic, my wife and I were thinking how we could help people, one afternoon, a member of our domestic staff called to say, his son has been diagnosed with COVID and asked if he can show me the reports. I said, of course, come and as we were talking about how we may help, I suddenly realised that in the building that we live, I had 3 patients whom I had been treating for COVID and they had recently come out of their quarantine. So I put a very simple message on our building group asking anyone with any leftover medicine to send it to our home and if it was okay then we would make it available. And that’s how we saw that if one building could come together to help save one life then just imagine what a locality could do, what a city could do, or now in need, what a country could do for herself.
Dr Raina further said that their mission is to collect the medicines from big cities like Mumbai and deliver to rural areas.
We started in Mumbai but we are now actually active in 10 other cities and the idea is to collect the medicines from the cities where we have access, where there is affordability amongst people and then divert these medicines towards rural areas where there is less access and affordability. We have a website whereby someone can login and they can choose to either donate medicines or become an ambassador to collect medicines for this particular initiative. And from there, once the collection has happened, we have 4-5 collection centres in every city that are a part of Meds For More and from these collection centres, our medicines go to NGO partners who we have tied up with and from there they go to either charitable trusts which service slums or to the primary health centres in the rural areas. This is how these donated medicines reach the people who need them the most.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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