Imagine that someone you care for is fighting for life. He has COVID and is in desperate need of lifesaving oxygen. The problem is you can’t find any. With every minute you spend running around from one supplier to another, your loved one’s condition gets graver and graver.
The lines are long, and people have been standing in line since dawn, some even since the night before. You are desperate but have no idea where to go. You have called everyone you know for help, but most of them are in the same position. You go on all the social media sites you can think of and plead for help. The clock is ticking.
COVID gripped India hard during its second wave. But out of all that darkness that engulfed the country, there were sparks of light. Sparks that helped spread desperately needed light for so many.
Sometime in the middle of April 2021, Mr. Arnab Biswas and his friend Aanya Wig, noticed that Instagram was becoming inundated with countless SOS requests for oxygen, ventilators, available hospital beds, and other lifesaving resources that could help fight COVID, from people seeking help. However, those desperate requests for help were not reaching the people who could provide the help that was urgently needed.
The two friends, along with an associate consultant, worked hard to create a community, via the group chat service Discord, with the hope that they would be able to connect those in need of help with those that could help them get what they needed. But they realized that during emergencies, people do not have the time to scour through list upon list of distributors, hospitals, and suppliers.
They then decided that it would be much faster if they could somehow create a central node for all the data concerning resources that could be corroborated or verified, categorized, and made easily accessible to those who needed them. They created a master Google spreadsheet that contained verified information that was amplified via social media and could easily be viewed by people who needed help. The data was then edited and updated via the verification of team volunteers.
A 12th standard student named Avni Sood was among the first members to join the group. Avni helped to verify information regarding resources, called numbers to check for availability of supplies and check their prices. Information regarding providers for oxygen cylinders and availability of hospital beds needed to be verified every couple of hours because the availability of oxygen and beds were unpredictable.
Volunteers worked almost tirelessly in shifts from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m. the following morning daily. A major portion of their time was spent on making SOS calls for those who are searching for resources they need to help themselves or their loved ones. It was hard work and very emotionally draining. There were times when 2 or 3 people died within 10-15 minutes.
Now, that group called “COVID Fighters (India)”, which started as an effort to help share lifesaving information has grown into an extensive pool of resources for those in need of help. Within it, users can check where they may find oxygen cylinders, doctors give advice, people could mourn, share their stories, give encouragement, share mental health advice, and give hope to others.
Amid the chaos during the peak of COVID’s ruthless second wave, Anand Biswas and his friends found a way to give people access to verifiable information that they could readily use. People could express their grief, share their experiences, ask for advice, or simply be there for each other.
It was not all smooth sailing. Biswas found out early on that in an open forum, there will always be those who have malicious intentions. Some scammers took advantage of the desperation. He had to warn users that scammers do exist and how to avoid being victimized by them.
The toll on the team’s mental health was immense. For every person, they could help there were those that they could not. It was very hard work. There was no time to mourn or grieve or process emotions. So many people needed help, and they tried as hard as they could to help. There were times when, no matter how hard they tried, there were no positive responses anywhere.
Biswas and Wig made sure that the volunteers’ mental health was taken seriously. All concerns were promptly addressed and counseling, even therapy, was available when they were needed.
As the number of COVID cases has been dropping, the Discord channel has begun to share information regarding the availability of vaccines. They realize that the pandemic will keep claiming lives until vaccinations are made available to all wherever they may live.
Aanya Wig believes India will have to continue to carry the stain of the legacy of COVID for many years to come. So many people have died. There is a lot of pain. Almost every family has lost someone or knows someone who has lost someone to COVID.
Though both of them recognize the heartbreaking impact of COVID’s second wave, they believe that the Discord group will be able to continue to serve the country for a very long time to come. They realize that there will always be someone who requires help. The group may be used for times of calamities or other emergency-like situations.