New Delhi: The coronavirus pandemic has hit us hard, however, it has also taught us what we can do if we come together. A 17-year-old student from Delhi has been doing commendable work to help people amid the pandemic through his initiatives 'Hum Kalakaar' and 'Covid Connect'.
Manan Ahuja, a student of Vasant Valley School in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, started Covid Connect soon after recovering from the viral infection in April this year. "I was grateful that I did not have major symptoms. Though I lost family members," he told Times Now.
When Manan realised the difficulties people were facing to get medicines, oxygen cylinders and hospital beds, he decided to connect people to the resources they needed.
Initially, some of his friends joined him to verify the leads for resources. The group worked with people working on the ground to connect with those in need.
"Covid Connect is a part of a larger initiative Hum Kalakaar that I started last year during the first wave. I play the piano. There were no concerts or piano classes. I was looking for a platform to express my talent," the Class 12 student.
Manan organised a fundraiser to let people express themselves through art such as creative writing, dance and music. The event raised Rs 26,000 from around 300 participants. The funds were used to help migrant labourers through an NGO called Oxfam India.
"Later in 2020, when things were getting somewhat better, we also organised a book drive to distribute books to underprivileged children," he said.
Talking about the problems the team faced during the second wave of Covid, Manan said, "It was an overwhelming situation. It was difficult to find resources. People were dying. There were instances when we arranged a bed and the patient was being taken in the ambulance. But they died before they could reach the hospital."
He continued, "When we would call at the hospital, the staff would scream at us, saying, 'You're calling just to ask this?' We had to handle the situation calmly. We tried to make them understand that we were eventually going to connect them with the patient. In other cases, we asked them if we could call later."
The team divided into groups and each group looked after one specific resource. "We were verifying hundreds of leads every day," Manan added.
The team of Covid Connect expanded after collaborating with other organisations. Volunteers from other cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata joined in to help connect people with resources.
Manan shared how they ensured that the leads were trustworthy. "We got in touch with people working on the ground. It is evident when some people are selling in black. One is that they ask for advance payment. We asked the vendors to share their location to tack them. Many cut the call immediately. In fact, I caught seven people," he said.
"When a senior citizen contacted us for help, their neighbours came to their support. They told us while you arrange the bed, we'll get an ambulance," he recalled.
With the reducing number of Covid cases across the country, the team has downsized now. "Right now, we're still verifying leads and also focussing on the vaccination drive by educating people and helping them book slots," Manan added.
"We took it lightly last time. We thought we were returning to normalcy. It took us an apocalypse to come together," he said.
He has also organised an interview series with health professionals to discuss topics such as mental health amid the pandemic, mucormycosis (black fungus) and the impact of Covid on children.
Hum Kalakaar is organising another fundraiser on June 13 to help children who lost their parents to Covid.
"The pandemic has shown us the importance of a community. There is a sense of great compassion in people," the 17-year-old said and urged people to follow the rules and get vaccinated.