When India went into lockdown because of the Corona virus pandemic in March 2020, a group of common people from various walks of life formed a pan-India online community to answer distress calls and provide support.
It was the brainchild of Mahita Nagaraj of Bengaluru. She set up Caremongers India on the social networking site Facebook after many of her friends living abroad asked for help in keeping a check on their ageing parents in India. Today, the community has 39,000 volunteers.
Caremongers India offers help to those most at risk of health complications due to the virus including the elderly, the disabled, those with pre-existing health conditions and anyone with infants at home. It has WhatsApp groups coordinating in every city and state, matching requests with the closest available volunteers.
Mahita handles their helpline alone, responding to emergency calls and messages. People from around the globe including Canada, UK, USA, Ghana, Singapore and New Zealand have sought their help.
Tales of kindness abound. In April, a woman just out of surgery in Bengaluru wanted to return to her family in Tirupati over 250 km away. A volunteer got an ambulance to transport her. A volunteer brought medicines for an HIV+ man who had run out of the drugs using a photo of the doctor’s prescription.
A senior citizen in Mumbai with blood cancer and a pelvic fracture needed red rice, one of the few things she was comfortable eating. But no shop stocked the rice at the time. A volunteer who had some, delivered it to her house but refused payment for it. The lady thanked him with a hand-painted card.
People write to Caremongers looking for pet care, house helps, caretakers and even spare gas cylinders. If Caremongers cannot help, they redirect the request to other civil society groups or non-profit organizations.
Goa has a similar tale of compassion for our furry friends. At ‘Cohiba’, a popular restaurant in Goa, the staff prepares vats off rice cooked with meat stock and scraps. This ‘doggie biryani‘ is then picked up by volunteers and dropped off at the beach where lifeguards distribute it among 150-odd stray dogs. Tails wagging furiously, the dogs line up for their daily meal.
In the absence of scraps from the beachfront restaurants once the lockdown started, they had started going hungry. Divya Sharma, from the company providing lifeguard services for Goa’s beaches, describes how the dogs would come charging at people out of hunger and dehydration. Her company put out a call asking for help with vessels and ration for a community kitchen for dogs.
The people’s enthusiastic response was unexpected. Cohiba offered the use of their premises and help from their staff. Other residents stepped forward with ration, meat and money. Soon, the ‘doggie biryani’ became a reality because everyone joined hands to feed the strays.