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COVID-19: Volunteering beyond qualifications

The pandemic is a massive humanitarian crisis requiring all hands on the deck. So, professionals from various fields are chipping in with volunteering efforts, sometimes in ways far removed from their workaday lives

Techie drives a hearse van

The pain of not having said a final goodbye to a young cousin who succumbed to COVID-19 drove Prasanna S. to volunteering.

For the last one year, he juggles two roles — that of an IT professional and of an ambulance driver. He volunteers with Uravugal Trust — which gives unclaimed bodies in Chennai a dignified burial — being at the wheel of an ambulance that transports COVID-19 victims to the cremation grounds.

“It was disheartening to see some bodies being marked “unknown” by hospitals. When I learnt about Uravugal Trust’s work from a friend, I joined them as a volunteer,” says 36-year-old Prasanna.

His IT work requires him to log in from 5.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. and he utilises the time outside this frame for volunteering. Besides steering the ambulance, it requires him to attend to the paper work with hospital authorities over an unclaimed body or doing the final rites.

“There are team calls that I have attended from the burial ground including my year-end appraisal.”

One of his early assignments had to do with cremating a couple who had died by suicide last year. Their bodies were marked “unknown”.

(Those battling suicidal thoughts may contact the State’s health helpline 104 or Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050).

The assignment shook Prasanna. He has since graduated to performing 15 to 20 bodies a day, on an average.

A resident of Perungalathur, Prasanna says he finds encouragement from his wife to continue with this volunteering exercise.

Says Prasanna, “A majority of the volunteers at the Trust are younger, and seeing their dedication motivates me to give it my best.”

Lawyer coordinates relief work

P.N. Swaminathan, an advocate with the Madras High Court, has been volunteering with Aranya Foundation, during the pandemic, donning a new role from time to time.

The Foundation serves cooked food to those waiting at government hospitals and those being treated for COVID-19, and dry ration to needy seniors.

Last year, during April and May, Swaminathan was on the field distributing food to the poor and the homeless. “On an average, every day, the Foundation was distributing 2000 lunch packets then. My friends and I would give away 400 packets to those living on the pavements around the High Court area,” says Swaminathan. In June, Swaminathan tested positive for COVID and was hospitalised for 17 days.

“Now I help coordinate with different groups. For instance, there should be follow-ups to calls coming to our call centre number. Our packing and distribution point is at Villivakkam and I work closely with them. My son Rithik Easwaran has also been helping me,” says the advocate, adding that the best way one can support the Foundation is by identifying those people who are not getting any help.

He cites an example. “Last year, while distributing food to the families taking care of the horses at Raja Muthiah Road, near Ripon Building, we came to know that one of the horses had died due to lack of food. Shilpam Kapur Rathore, managing trustee of the Foundation, took it up with the Animal Husbandry Department who after verification, brought them 40 sacks of fodder.”

Digital marketer ferries patients

C.J. Zeba has turned his Maruti Omni into a makeshift ambulance, complete with an oxygen dispensing arrangement. Zeba ferries people to hospitals for free.

“In my circles, many people have died of COVID-19 due to lack of timely medical help.

My neighbour’s death in particular left me devastated, and I thought I could use my vehicle to help people,” says Zeba, a father of two who does freelance digital marketing for a living.

Zeba’s modified Omni can often be seen parked outside Omandurar Government Multi-Speciality Hospital in Anna Salai.

“In a day, five to six people can avail oxygen support as I have kept two cylinders as back-up,” says the resident of Ayanavaram who is helped by his cousin A. Alexander.

Zeba points out that he lives near the Institute of Mental Health in Ayanavram, and plight of people around the hospital has encouraged him to serve the needy with food. He can be contacted at 9840338880.

Young volunteers at GH

Aniruth Vasudev, Seyad Abuthahir Aaasif, Rohith Kumar N, Pravin Kumar and Dinesh C are part of a 13-member team volunteering at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. These five young volunteers work on shifts — including the night shift from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. — collecting details of patients waiting in ambulances, check their oxygen levels and other parameters before passing on the information to the duty doctors. They also keep a tab on the availability of hospital beds.

Aniruth, pursuing MBA at Vels University, understands what is resting on their shoulders.

“A long queue of ambulances wait on the GH campus. Going to every caregiver and collating the details is a big responsibility,” says Aniruth.

Before joining the team at GH, he volunteered at Greater Chennai Corporation’s Tele-Counselling Centre.

How do they process their emotions? The youngsters point out that as many people who need help, there is often no time to mull over the unfortunate things that happen.

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