As coronavirus cases continue to spiral in India and hospitals are stretched beyond breaking point, a group of school students from across the country are working around the clock to help Covid-19 patients in critical condition.
Early in April, Class 12 students Tia Garg and Suhani Daruka received a frantic phone call from a peer in desperate search of an ICU bed for a Covid positive family friend, whose condition was quickly worsening. With the help of a crowdsourced database, set up by the two girls and a dedicated team of volunteers, they were able to locate a free ICU bed within hours.
It was in that moment Tia and Suhani, students of DPS Vasant Kunj in Delhi, realised that they were onto something big. “We saw that our database saved someone’s life and it was just our first or second day working on it. That was when we knew we weren’t just putting out information. We were actually affecting lives,” Tia, 17, told the indianexpress.com.
In August last year, the two teenagers, both avid debaters, launched an online youth forum called ‘Uncut’ — a platform for young people, who like them were housebound amid the coronavirus pandemic, to discuss current affairs, politics and popular culture. But when the second wave struck and thousands were turning to social media in search of oxygen cylinders, plasma and medication, the ‘Uncut’ team decided to shift their focus to Covid relief work.
Since then, they have been able to assist hundreds of Covid patients in distress with the help of expansive state-wise databases, updated and verified almost “every hour” by a 55-member team of volunteers who work in shifts through the day. The team has also launched a 24-hour volunteer helpline on Instagram, where they have been connecting Covid patients and their loved ones with verified medical resources.
Between online classes, preparing for their board exams and manning their 24×7 Covid helpline, the members of team ‘Uncut’ have not slept for more than “four hours a day,” Tia said. “Since school is off at the moment, we have been scheduling shifts around our tuition classes.” While new resources are constantly added to the database, they are verified by the team only until 8 pm every day. “After that, nobody really takes our calls,” explained Shivanshi Chandna, head of PR at project Uncut.
“All of our members have been divided into teams based on the state for which they are maintaining a database,” Shivanshi said. “So they are constantly tracking WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, finding leads for medical resources and verifying them.”
When the group’s social media handles were flooded with requests for Covid relief earlier this month, they decided to “outsource” their Instagram helpline. They shared a form on the photo-sharing app, inviting student volunteers to pitch in and support their initiative. “At least 50-55 people from across the country got in touch. We then set up a new account specifically for Covid relief. So the volunteers are solely working on responding to DMs on that account,” Shivanshi said.
The team found that people in distress are often unable to scour through all the databases available on the Uncut website themselves. Instead, the team’s volunteers pitch in to call the numbers listed in the database on behalf of the Covid patient, until they are able to find a viable lead.
“A lot of people have gotten in touch with us and thanked us for helping them. We have reviewed messages from people saying that they got a bed only because of us. We keep posting their messages on the volunteer group to encourage them to keep working,” Shivanshi said.
But not everyone who reached out to Team Uncut had the same luck. While the volunteers continue to work hard to connect Covid patients with potentially life-saving medical resources, the sheer number of requests they receive on a daily basis makes it nearly impossible for them to help everyone who gets in touch. When this happens, the team tries not to get too discouraged and focuses on the bigger picture.
“It is very disheartening, but at the same time we know that we are doing as much as we can,” Shivanshi said.
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