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Thursday, August 11, 2022
ArlingtonOpinionCommentary: Local effort aids India during COVID crisis

Commentary: Local effort aids India during COVID crisis

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by MANAV SABHARWAL, for the Sun Gazette

During the surge of the Delta variant of COVID, India was overwhelmed by the explosion of cases in its hospitals.

It was difficult to see the critical status and low oxygen levels of patients in local and military hospitals live on the news and over social media. In fact, some of my close family was impacted by shortages in basic necessities. It was difficult to watch without taking action.

In the summer of 2019, I had launched a non-profit organization – the Serve Humanity Foundation – with three goals: Education for All, Community Creation and Empowerment, and Access to Medical Care for All.

People were dying in India every minute due to a lack of access to medical care, so I used my non-profit and launched a GoFundMe to raise more than $80,000 to procure and send over 125 oxygen concentrators to several hospitals and NGOs in India at a time when India’s health-care system had collapsed.

It took weeks of e-mails and calls to friends, families, and corporations to donate . Navigating through the medical systems to get hold of these concentrators while they were in extremely short supply was a challenge itself. Even after we procured these ventilators from different vendors in New Jersey and California, getting them to India became another problem, as we were in the thick of the pandemic and flights were limited. In fact, Air India had stopped all commercial flights and we could only send ventilators through cargo planes. Distributing ventilators to organizations that were in dire need was especially challenging, but once the ventilators made it to the facility I got an extreme sense of relief and gratitude.

In 2019, before founding my non-profit, I met Mrs. Sarva Rajendra, the president of Sahasra Deepika, a non-profit organization that houses and educates 80-100 orphaned girls every year in Bangalore, India. Mrs. Rajendra explained to me how her parents founded the organization when Sushma, a young girl, was abandoned by her mother at the gate of their residence. Sushma shed tears for months on end, wailing in hopes that her mother would return, but she was forced to accept the fact that her mother was gone. Despite the fact that this traumatic experience left Sushma at a disadvantage with little opportunity in her life, she has been able to graduate from college, get a job and start a family, all with the help of Sahasra Deepikaa.

Unfortunately, Sushma was one of many girls who had been abandoned and left at a front door or on the side of the road, as this is a common response to people’s inability to finance a child in India. Thus, Mrs. Rajendra’s parents turned their home into what is now Sahasra Deepika in order to provide girls who have been deserted by their parents with an education and an opportunity to chase their dreams, like Sushma.

That same summer, I visited the organization and taught the girls some of my favorite activities as a child (basketball, jumprope, hopscotch, etc.), with the goal of putting smiles on their faces. Through further conversations, I learned that despite their unfortunate circumstances, these girls remained optimistic and dreamed of being doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers and other ambitious professions.

On my last day there, the girls at the organization even made hand-made cards, thanking me for visiting and teaching them some of my favorite games. This moment made me realize that despite the fact that these girls had less opportunity than the average girl in India, they were grateful for all they had.

Upon my return from Bangalore, I set out to help these girls by founding the Serve Humanity Foundation. I continued my efforts during the summer of 2020 by developing a tutoring service, from which the funds raised would be donated to Sahasra Deepika. I developed a curriculum centered around McGraw Hill Education for grades 1-9 and recruited a team of high-school and college students as tutors. All funds raised from the tutoring services were sent to Sahasra Deepika to aid in the education of the girls there.

Seeing the implementation of new books and technology through pictures, and observing the positive change to the communal structure of Sahasra Deepika, made me eternally grateful that I had met Mrs. Rajendra, as without her I never would have launched my non-profit.

Ultimately, the Serve Humanity Foundation has raised upwards of $100,000 to date. We are continuing our work by organizing educational campaigns in front of grocery stores and other public areas within Fairfax County with low COVID-vaccination rates in an effort to create awareness about the benefits of the vaccine.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my community!

Sabharwal is a student at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria.

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