Last year in May, WHO India and UNICEF had organised a virtual meet of faith-based organisations in India and the state government officials in Mumbai to connect them on a common humanitarian platform for a collective fight against COVID-19.
In his address that day, Rajesh Tope, Minister Public Health and Family Welfare, Maharashtra had stated, “The role of humanitarian actors in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 by providing communities with much needed guidance, support and empathy is critical. Faith-based leaders can promote positive practices during such challenging times because people trust and look at leaders as the real Corona Warriors.”
A year later, with India in the grips of a devastating second wave of the pandemic, these faith-based organisations are writing the biggest inspirational religion story of our lifetime and forcing us to ask ourselves: How can I help my neighbour? How can I give back to community?
Faith on the Frontline
Many religious leaders are encouraging their congregations to engage in charity, whether it’s direct financial contributions or unique ways of service. Like the Sikh community in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, which has created oxygen ‘Langars’ on gurudwara premises for people to walk in and get oxygen for free. In Sikhism, a Langar is the community kitchen of a gurudwara, which serves meals to all free of charge, regardless of religion, caste, gender or economic status. NGO Khalsa Help International and Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha started a langar at Ghaziabad's Indirapuram Gurudwara with beds, oxygen cylinders, concentrators and masks, set up in a large tent equipped with fans and coolers. For those who are not able to enter the premises due to the crowd, volunteers help to carry oxygen cylinders to their vehicles. These langars are operating round the clock with volunteers doing 12-hour shifts. Food is also being prepared in the langars, for distribution among homes of the needy and COVID-19 affected.
Catholic churches all over the country have also pitched in. The Bangalore Archdiocese has offered its churches as makeshift hospitals for COVID-19 patients who are unable to get hospital care. Recently US-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS) announced that it will support more than 50 hospitals in smaller Indian cities through the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI). CRS’ collaboration with CHAI will provide medical services to more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients. This support includes the provision of personal protective equipment kits; medical supplies and disinfectants; staff surge and volunteer support; food for recovering patients; and psychosocial support for health care workers.
Love thy neighbour
Since the pandemic began last year, in Kalyan, a suburb on the outskirts of Mumbai, St Thomas Cathedral & Pilgrim Centre has been distributing food kits with rice, dal, sugar and other essentials to COVID-19 affected families and also differently abled persons in the nearby areas. Under the initiative of the vicar, Fr Kuriakose Kalaparambath, a COVID-19 task force of volunteers was formed to help provide meals to the homes of impacted families.
One of Mumbai’s oldest and most revered churches, St Michael Church Mahim and the famed Shree Swaminarayan temple in Bhuleshwar have now become COVID-19 vaccination centres. BAPS Swaminarayan Temple of Vadodara has converted its Yagnapurush Sabhagruh to a COVID-19 facility. The facility is equipped with 500 beds, oxygen facilities like liquid oxygen tanks and piped oxygen lines, ICU beds and ventilators.
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Many mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) have also been turned into COVID-19 care facilities to aid patients. In Mumbai, Shahnawaz Shaikh, popularly known as the Oxygen Man, has been lauded on social media for selling his SUV to provide oxygen cylinders for free to COVID-19 patients. He took this initiative after his business partner's pregnant sister, a COVID-19 patient, passed away in an auto rickshaw due to lack of oxygen.
The Rehman Education and Charitable Trust estimates it has provided 300 oxygen cylinders to those in need this April. The Trust was set up five years ago by Mufti Mohammad Sarodi, a religious head, in Kosamba, situated 52 km away from Surat, with the objective of providing free education, food and health care services to people from all communities.
Then there are examples of communities rising over religion to embrace humanity - a group of young Muslims that go by the name - Robinhood Army, helped in performing the last rites of a Hindu COVID-19 victim in Assam's Karimganj. Similar incidents have also been reported in Lucknow and Madhya Pradesh.