Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid relief for India: Quick on the uptake

Prasun Sonwalkar
Filed on May 13, 2021
People take part in Cycle to Save Live, a 48 hour, non-stop static relay cycle challenge at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in north London to raise money to help coronavirus relief efforts in India. — AP

Khalsa Aid and BAPS Swaminarayan temple have stepped up efforts to raise critical funding and send much-needed medical equipment to India from the UK

A large number of organisations have been raising funds and sending vital medical equipment to India, but two stand out for the speed and scale at which they got their acts together: Khalsa Aid and BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir. Long established in the United Kingdom, they are among those known for providing support for several projects in India and elsewhere, often featuring in Britain’s mainstream news discourse.

The iconic Shri Swaminarayan temple in Neasden in the London borough of Brent recently completed 25 years of its existence. It functions as the hub of charity and community activities as well as the European headquarters of the group that has temples across the UK and Europe. Its BAPS India Covid Emergency Appeal has attracted large number of donations, while its innovative ‘bikeathon’ challenge raised over £500,000 in a short time as 750 riders — including London Mayor Sadiq Khan — joined the 48-hour, non-stop static relay cycle challenge, covering more than 7,600km — the distance between London and New Delhi.

Says Mayak Shah, trustee at BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha UK: “We are all aware of the critical situation is currently in India. In life, you have two choices: either sit down and do nothing, or roll up your sleeves and do what you can and here we have launched an international emergency appeal campaign to support the BAPS relief efforts across India. We raised over £500,000 which will help our ongoing relief work on the front line in India.”

Khan, who was this week re-elected London Mayor, adds: “I have visited the temple many times over the years and its generous and hospitable community has a special place in my heart. It has been heart-breaking seeing the virus wreak havoc in India and other parts of the world but London’s communities have been a driving force in supporting the international relief effort and they reflect the very best of our city’s values.”

As part of the relief efforts, the temple sent 54 oxygen concentrators and other emergency medical equipment to India on a chartered British Airways flight, joining similar equipment donated by BAPS devotees and supporters from the and BAPS charity organisations in Kenya and Uganda.

So far, the material sent includes 30,000 litres of medical oxygen provided for patients; 130 oxygen concentrators supplied to Covid hospitals; 44 metric tons of liquid oxygen provided for patients. A 500-beds field hospital has been set up in Atladara, Vadodara, while 30,000 N95 masks have been distributed to medical staff, besides 6 million ration kits of flour, rice, pulses and spices distributed to the needy and 2.6 million meals resourced from fresh vegetables.

As the crisis in India topped news agendas in the UK and elsewhere, the first to hit the headlines for providing quick relief was the Slough-based Khalsa Aid, which organised one of the first flights to takeoff from Heathrow for India, loaded with 200 donated oxygen concentrators, on May 1. The special Virgin Atlantic flight was piloted by senior first officer and Khalsa Aid volunteer Jas Singh, who secured space on the aircraft for free.

Another flight followed with 200 more concentrators, while two more flight-loads of equipment ready. The organisation received funds and equipment from a large number of donors, including from beyond the Indian and Asian communities, and fields thousands of calls offering help every day. It has also launched a Panjab and India Medical Appeal.

Ravinder (Ravi) Singh, who founded the charity when struck by the plight of the refugees in Kosovo in 1999, told the media that the organisation receives desperate calls from people in the UK whose friends and family in India are in a desperate situation: “The messages continue to come through the social media inboxes, emails, office phone calls, mobile phone calls — desperate calls for help. And we feel helpless, there’s not much available machinery-wise in India at the moment so it is a real tragedy unfolding.”

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