Because Hunger Cannot Wait – How Isha COVID-19 Helpline Helped (Part 1)
This is a two-part series about the Isha helpline which was launched by Sadhguru. In part 1, we cover what went behind making the helpline work and share some experiences from the volunteers who were witness to some heart-rending situations of people struggling for basic sustenance.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread and parts of India went into a necessary lockdown, economically weaker sections of society such as daily wage earners started to suffer from a lack of basic nutrition. Anticipating the looming hunger crisis, Sadhguru immediately launched a helpline where people in need could reach out for support.
About 50 Isha volunteers from the “western zone” in India rallied around within two days of Sadhguru’s announcement about the helpline. Initially there were 30-40 calls a day which soon burgeoned to 90-100 calls a day.
The volunteers left no stone unturned in their effort to serve those in need.
- Standard hunger kits were prepared, which would last a family of 4-5 for about 7-8 days.
- Volunteers connected with Government agencies and forged partnerships with NGOS who could help.
- For people who had access to stores but no money for food, volunteers made online payments on their behalf.
- Special packets were prepared for migrant labor going on longer journeys, containing more durable foods, water bottles and Oral Rehydration Salts.
Providing a reliable platform for individuals who wanted to support those in need, the helpline enabled volunteers to be a part of the solution. Isha volunteers from the western part of India served the Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa, and together they helped over 17,000 people in just six weeks!
After serving its purpose successfully, the helpline was decommissioned on 16 May 2020. It was a lifeline for many when their need was most dire.
Here are some sharings from the helpline volunteers from the “western zone” who ensured that every single person in need was provided the support they required.
Helpline Volunteers Share Their Experience
Kalpana: “He said that his family had not eaten for two days and all he had were a few handfuls of wheat which he will soak in water and give his children, because his gas cylinder had also got over. That was my first call to solve a Corona helpline case. It was late evening and I could not help him but I couldn’t sleep that night. When we gave him the ration kit the next morning, he cried.
“That was just the beginning. Many such stories poured in every day. The first few days we didn’t know how to help them. Many areas were within a containment zone in Mumbai, Pune and Gujarat; we didn’t have the right Government contacts, and we didn’t know many NGOs working at the ground level who we could partner with. But within just 2-3 days the #BeatTheVirus team that was formed for helping with starvation cases logged on and the 83000 83000 helpline got cracking. Inspired by Sadhguru’s message ‘Hunger cannot wait,’ there was some strange fever that had consumed the entire team.
“We’ve taken a conscious call that we will not step out and risk ourselves yet we will do something. As Sadhguru has said, first you take care that you don't get the virus and if at all you get the virus, that nobody else gets it from you.
“So after completing the morning Sadhana we were animatedly on calls and messages, finding solutions, helping one another and escalating all cases that needed immediate action. Each one appreciating one another when cases got closed. We knew that 24 hours were not enough for what we needed to do.
“I felt an expansion within me. Doing housework while taking calls, unabashedly asking sponsors to support for specific cases, requesting Government officers – no stone was left unturned. I experienced that help came from unexpected quarters when I was approaching from this sense of unlimited responsibility. Days felt short when I hit the bed late into the night.
“Sadhguru darshan at 6 PM for those 43 days gave me an energy that cannot be described. Despite all the pessimism that prevailed externally, there was a sense of calm and balance that came when we sat for the darshan.
“I remember that during one darshan Sadhguru had tears in his eyes when he said that, ‘hunger can be debilitating.’ I am sure many of us cried. It made our resolve stronger that we need to get food to every person who was needy and had reached out to us.
“With Sadhguru’s grace many doors opened for us. We worked with some amazing Government officials who responded promptly despite their busy schedules, NGOs who rode this journey with us with empathy and sincerity, donors and sponsors who gave with a large heart.
“This has been one of the most intense periods of my life. Intense Yoga sadhana, housework sadhana and Corona helpline sadhana.
“I thank Sadhguru for the opportunity and all team members for playing along so beautifully.”
Narayanan: “My phone rang to inform that the daughter of one of our meditators had passed away. While the first concall was happening for the #BeatTheVirus campaign on 15 April, I was out here at the funeral, and once I got back home I stumbled upon an eerie silence for the next couple of days.
“One morning this message beeped on my phone ‘Anna, society needs your help, please come out of silence soon.’ From that day onwards, every moment the only thought has been that no one should die of starvation.
“During the initial days of campaign, I was struggling between campaign volunteering and managing all household chores including cooking all by myself since I’m caught here alone at home. But as the days progressed, everything just happened smoothly with the thought that someone received food today.
“Although during the campaign I haven’t been directly speaking to any of the people in need, but reading the comments from the volunteers who were in direct contact used to shake me up. When I recall some stories, it still sends shivers down my spine thinking about their situation.
“To ensure that I was ‘Fully On’ every day, Sadhguru’s daily darshan came in as a blessing. That 45 minutes would just pump in the energy for the next 24 hours.
“I don’t remember how many numbers I must have dialed, left right and center, blatantly asking help for someone whom I don’t even know but only knew they don’t have food for tonight.
“I bow down to Sadhguru for giving this opportunity and bow down to all the volunteers here who ensured the fire doesn’t burn out...”
Dipali: “When Sadhguru said during the daily darshan that nobody should die of starvation and that providing daily nourishment to starving people is the responsibility of the community, these words touched me deeply. I wanted to go on the field and help needy people. That urge was so strong that I got this opportunity to be part of West COVID Helpline.
‘Madam hame kuch nahi chahiye, bus hamare muluk pahuncha dijiye’
Madam, we don’t want anything, just help us reach our hometown.
‘Madam khali ek din ka ration bacha hai’
Madam, I only have food to last one more day.
“All these things took me to lot of emotional turmoil. So many people who actually wanted to work but due to lockdown couldn’t earn daily livelihoods. Migrant laborers miles away from home asking for food, touched my heart. Many days I couldn’t even sleep - with a strong desire that by tomorrow I want a large group of people to somehow get food. Supporting government officials, reaching out even in containment areas, all this could happen with HIS grace.
“I want to thank the whole team of West COVID Warriors, most of whom I have not met. And for the spirit with which I could touch so many lives, I want to thank Sadhguru. In a way it touched my life.
“The day it was decided to close the helpline, I had tears in my eyes. This whole drive was my baby and it helped me to break my limitations in many ways.
“Thank you for showing me what I’m not, for showing me what I could be. Thank you endlessly.”
Dr. Asmita Sawe: “As a medical student during my internship days I had traveled for medical camps in remote villages, and it was always a pleasure to help these people but at the same time heartbreaking to see how difficult their lives were. While volunteering during the COVID crisis it brought back the same mixed feelings. It always reminds me how tiny we are and how little we can do.
But I felt blessed to be able to do my bit of ‘little’ to help others.
“I will like to keep participating in these kinds of activities always.
“People here in the team of volunteers were very helpful. My team head Deepali akka was very encouraging and appreciative. Encouragement and appreciation makes us all strive to outperform ourselves. Though the task in hand was huge, she was always breaking a big task into small steps and made it feel very easy. Thank you, akka.
“I would surely like to add that it was a roller coaster ride with feeling worried and sad for these people. Getting proper information from these people was a task sometimes. Tracing all government contacts by googling as fast as we could, trying to reach out, communicating with all the government officials and NGOs possible, trying to get help at the earliest, to strategizing how and which is the easiest way to get these cases the help that they need.
“And then when the help was provided to them, the happiness I felt made all those roller coaster rides worth it. Volunteering has made me more observant and grateful towards my own life. A big thank you to Sadhguru and Isha Foundation for giving me this opportunity. I am feeling blessed.”
Jaspreet: “One day we got a call from one of the journalists who was reporting for NDTV; he was covering the migration of the laborers – many were walking from Mumbai towards the border of Maharashtra, and there were people collapsing because there was no food or water on certain stretches.
“So then we started distributing with support from local NGOs. We gave them bananas, jaggery, chana, ORS Solutions and water - things that would last long and not spoil. We got very good feedback for that. They told us ‘It was so thoughtful, we can really use this during the journey.”