COVID-19: Kashmir's NGOs step in to deliver oxygen, food and support

COVID-19: Kashmir's NGOs step in to deliver oxygen, food and support

COVID-19: Kashmir's NGOs step in to deliver oxygen, food and support

During Ramzan in Srinagar, traditional charities channelled their efforts towards helping those battling the coronavirus.  

Srinagar: The SOS arrived in the dead of the night – a frantic young woman sought the urgent help of volunteers at Social Reforms Organisation - Kashmir (SRO Kashmir), desperate for oxygen for her mother.

“The phone rang at 3 am," a volunteer at SRO Kashmir recalls. "On the other end was this girl, weeping bitterly as she spoke of her Covid positive mother. Her oxygen saturation level had dropped considerably and she was gasping for breath. So an ambulance was sent immediately and oxygen support was delivered within an hour. The next morning, a family member dropped in to pick up an oxygen cylinder from us. He declared that her survival would have been impossible had we not intervened in time.” 

A few nights later another heart-breaking SOS call to the NGO revealed a family of four that had tested positive and three of them had already been hospitalized.

“The fourth family member was a 65-year-old man who was left alone at home. He was positive but stable. Within a few days, however, his condition had deteriorated. Our team members immediately went to his aid after learning about his condition. We provided him with meals, medicines and also got him hospitalised the next day. The volunteers took care of him till he recovered. Today, he can't believe that he actually survived this darkest hour of his life,” the volunteer said.

Many local NGOs like SRO-Kashmir have taken on the mantle of saviours in this second wave of COVID-19, catering to needs as diverse as supplying oxygen to adopting the role of caretakers.

Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed, Project Director of Oxygen Kashmir at SRO Kashmir, said their volunteers have taken on this herculean task head-on, and work right from daybreak till midnight.

“We have 15 volunteers on the ground who work from 5 am till late in the evening. Of them, three volunteers remain awake till Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal eaten before fasting in Ramzan). They cater to patients and SOS calls during the night. Then, there are 12 volunteers at the backend. They create the database, monitor inventory, and maintain the data on equipment with people and their details,” he said.

A volunteer with Athrout which is running free 24/7 ambulance services. (Picture courtesy: Athrout)

SRO Kashmir’s main focus is on oxygen. It provides oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, non-invasive ventilation machines, and other equipment. Besides, it offers ambulance services, burial services, plasma donation services, and runs a food programme for those affected by the lockdown and loss of livelihood.

“All this comes with a set of challenges. First, people don’t return the equipment easily. Second, we are unable to procure new equipment as there are no supplies. That said, we still try to cater to at least 70 per cent of the 80 calls on an average we receive every day,” Sayeed said.

The NGO is planning to create a more robust and real-time system for tracking the availability of oxygen cylinders and concentrators with them in the coming days.  “We are on it, and it will soon be up and running so that attendants don’t have to suffer any inconvenience.”

Srinagar-based charitable organisation Athrout is also doing stellar work on the ground with the aid of more than fifty volunteers. 

Athrout is running a free 24/7 ambulance service. “We have six ambulances fitted with oxygen and two are designated exclusively for Covid positive patients. We have also hired ambulance drivers who can drive during the night time,” an official with Athrout said. 

In order to proactively respond to the crisis, Athrout, in collaboration with the district administration, has created a 100-bed oxygen facility at Haj House. "Besides, we are also offering free PPE kits, hand sanitisers, masks, and pulse oximeters to the family members of those in home-quarantine and the attendants of those Covid positive patients admitted in hospitals,” they said.

Relief being handed out by NGOs range from food materials to household goods and safety equipment. (Picture courtesy: Athrout)

Help Poor Voluntary Trust, another local NGO, is chipping in with ambulances and first-of-its-kind hearse services to transport the dead with dignity, with vehicles that can carry up to three bodies at a time.  Ali Muhammad Lone, who is the incharge of hospitals for the NGO, said that more than 100 volunteers are working with them. Besides, oxygen support, the trust provides free of cost medicines and other health care services across Kashmir.

“We have 150 oxygen concentrators and distribute them on a rotational basis. We give away 10-15 cylinders on a daily basis. Besides, we have 11 ambulances (one critical care and 10 oxygen-fitted),” Lone said.

A burgeoning need for home-cooked food for hospitalised Covid positive patients, their attendants and families in home isolation is taken care of by food delivery services in Srinagar like Tiffin Aaw, who provide free food under ‘Food for Kashmir’ initiative.

“In the second wave, we began receiving distress calls from Covid affected families and patients. We realised the need for serving them hygienic, healthy food to combat the disease in this difficult hour. We also decided to deliver food to those who suffered the loss of livelihood due to the pandemic,” said Rayees Ahmad, owner of Tiffin Aaw.

With an eight-member team, Ahmad delivers around 100-150 free food boxes every day across Srinagar including to all the major hospitals in the city like SKIMS, Soura, Chest Diseases hospital, SMHS, GP Pant Children Hospital, JLMN, and Kashmir Nursing Home. It's a challenge to ensure that the orders are not jumbled during distribution, he says. 

Rayees plans to add to his team in future and is currently appealing to people to donate a vehicle.” We are in dire need of another delivery van beside the two that we already have. The graph of inquiries is increasing and we want to ensure that we cater to 400 people daily,”

Team Tiffin Aaw delivers food to COVID-19 patients (left) while a volunteer with SRO Kashmir distributes relief (Pictures courtesy: Tiffin Aaw and SRO Kashmir)

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