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Virtual volunteers from Chennai wrestle virus

Earlier this year, Grace and her family were struck with hardship when the entire unit, except her father, tested positive.

Published: 25th May 2021 06:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th May 2021 10:42 AM   |  A+A-

Grace and Preethi Emmanuel

Express News Service

CHENNAI: "My grandfather late TVK Natraja Chandran, a former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer and a judge, used to go out of his way to help anyone in need. He normalised the act of helping a fellow human being instead of glorifying it. So to be empathetic of another person’s struggle and to lend a helping hand are qualities I imbibed from him at a very young age,” shares Grace Emmanuel, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) aspirant, who along with her sister Preethi Esther Emmanuel, has been virtually rendering support to families affected by COVID-19. The sister duo has been leading a battalion of volunteers from across the globe, providing life-saving, verified information on bed availability, food providers, oxygen resources, medical helplines and other medical information.

Over the last month, the initiative, which was flagged on a small scale, on their respective Instagram handles, has augmented. Now, verified, real-time updates are stretched to groups on WhatsApp and Telegram too, making their reach wider. “We were initially focusing only on providing Chennai-based updates. But with time, despite our short bandwidth, we decided to focus on other districts, other south Indian states and few cities in the country as well,” tells Grace. With the help of a mixed bag of volunteers, the sisters have been able to develop a reliable, accessible online repository.

Taking over tragedy

Earlier this year, Grace and her family were struck with hardship when the entire unit, except her father, tested positive. In the fight, the family lost its senior members. “My sister and I tested positive, and were in home quarantine and recovering. Our mother was hospitalised along with our grandparents. Her lungs were 60 per cent affected. While mom made progress, we lost our grandparents to the virus. It shattered us,” she painfully recalls. During the time, Grace points to how there was a lack of resource providers and an abundance of unverified information on the Internet. 

“Our family stepped into 2021 with a lot of renewed faith and hope. But unfortunate incidents sent us down a spiral. We didn’t want to grieve for long or blame the system. Instead, we decided to help others who were in a similar situation or worse. During this time, we managed to find a hospital bed for someone who was struggling to find one and that started us off on this journey,” says Grace, who has currently put a pin on her IAS preparations and taken to volunteering full-time for the cause. “I don’t regret my decision. Being an IAS officer means helping people and prioritising them. I am doing that now. I can always go back to preparing for the exams but now, this is my focus,” she adds.

Reaching with resources

Under the guidance of Grace and Preethi, dedicated groups on different social media platforms – for emergency cases, food, medicine, leads for hospital beds, oxygen and field volunteers — have been created. “For one month, Preethi akka and I were managing it ourselves. Now, many people have stepped in as volunteers; not only from Chennai but from across the globe. From calling hospitals to verify leads for beds to finding the right oxygen concentrator resources, they do it all. The family is growing every day. What is heartwarming is that those who have benefitted from the information come back and share updates to help other people in need. There is a beautiful cycle of receiving and giving back happening in the process,” she explains.

So far, thousands have benefitted from the Emmanuels’ resource handles and Grace notes that their approachability has made a difference. “In this journey, we too have become a part of several families, grieving over losses and feeling the joy when there are recoveries. But the human resilience is what has amazed me. Even when people have lost someone close, they come back to us and thank us — for just being there for them in times of need and guiding them,” shares the alumnus of CSI Jessie Moses School and Loyola College. On average, Grace and Preethi work on compiling, verifying and sharing information for 16 hours a day. 

“We, like the many volunteers out there, are glued to our phones and laptops, without time for any basic task like eating food, bathing or brushing our hair. I don’t remember the last time I looked into the mirror. But doing this feels like a calling. It fills my heart. In some ways, despite the chaos, it gives me a sense of peace, especially when I know someone has got a bed and when survival chances increase. Having had Covid makes us more empathetic to a person’s situation. We know it is a draining process. So we are offering help in any way we can. But please remember, not stepping out unnecessarily and not enabling the virus to spread is volunteering too and perhaps the greatest help we can do to humanity now,” she adds.

A wider reach
Over the last month, the initiative, which was flagged on a small scale, on their Instagram handles, has augmented. Now, verified, real-time updates are stretched to groups on WhatsApp and Telegram too, making their reach wider.

For details, visit Instagram: @Grace_ emmanuelrajan, 
@preethi_emmanuel 
Telegram link: t.me/chennaicovidresourcesbygrace



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