HYDERABAD: Hello, namaste from Hyderabad. This is regarding the suicide case of Abhinandan Reddy (name changed) in San Francisco. I am his brother, when can I call you. I am clueless. Please help us to bring back the body.
Sorry to message at this time, but my sister who lives in New Jersey suffered a sudden cardiac arrest today and is in critical condition. We are in near a small village near Mahaboobnagar. Can you please help us with her health update? We are worried.
These are some typical messages that Mohan Nannapaneni and his organisation TeamAid.org receive on an average day. The messages are then circulated locally connecting the city’s volunteer to the distressed person and thus begins the bond with TeamAid and the Indian in distress about his loved one.
“Do you need help while you are abroad? We are here to provide support and hope for people in dire need of help. We strive to be the main point of contact for family and friends who are experiencing issues such as trauma, loss of a loved one, or grief in a foreign country, far from home. We are a 501(3), non-profit organisation with an extensive social network,” says Mohan about TeamAid and why or how they help individuals cope with life-altering situations such as disasters, accidents, and deaths by working with the community, embassies, funeral homes, and airlines.
Mohan is an NRI settled in Boston with roots in Guntur and current home in Bhadrachalam where he has spent over Rs 1 crore of his personal savings to rebuild government schools. He may be a man who Telugus take pride in, but he says when someone approaches him for help, he ceases to be of any region or nationality and wants to be a ‘human first’. In 2000, his company was in the Inc 500 companies in the US and even today volunteering for TeamAid could mean a loss of $250 an hour, he is willing to spend 18 hours helping out people, simply because he finds soul satisfaction. Incidentally, it is voluntary work and nobody needs to pay them for their services.
His stint with such distress calls began when he was with Telugu Association of North America (TANA) in various capacities ranging from treasurer to president between 2007-2017. When he felt that help was being done on region or caste basis, he decided to establish TeamAid in 2017 and partnered with 80 national organisations to help people in emergencies for people living abroad. “We become the extended family and take care of what needs to be taken care of. In the last three years, we have handled 10 to 12 critical cases a month arranging from suicide, homicide, domestic violence etc.
Usually, whenever someone in India hears a bad news about their family member or friend, they first approach the local politician who may or may not how things work here. Then, it is a string of calls and loss of time until we typically step in.” TeamAid has become the central point in New York and they have people from all over India call them. They have volunteers across the US and have a master list of funeral homes that charge the most reasonable rates. They work with five consulates in the US and handle hundreds of cases in a year but document barely 20 percent of their work on the website for lack of time. “We also keep their names anonymous and we don’t want them to be exposed unnecessarily,” says Mohan.
Who they work with
Cremations, burials, coordination with friends, family, hospitals, funeral homes, airlines, embassies, employers of the deceased
What can be done
- Visitors to the US should start paying for repatriation when they buy their ticket. Just like health insurance takes care when you fall sick on foreign land, repatriation can help if a person dies. Nearly one-tenth can be saved with his in case of a sudden death.
- A formal written legal will if one is living with family in the US
- States such as Telangana and AP should set up corpus funds to help their state people in the US during such times to help the distressed
- The Indian government must waive off the step involving the Airport Health Organisation for bodies that come from US and Canada as this is just a redundant step
What not to do in distress
Do not trust people in India who have never visited abroad and have no clue of the procedures there
Cases they handled recently
- 38-year-old Warangal resident who was found dead in his apartment in November 2020 in Buffalo, NY. He had not visited his family in four years and because of Covid-19, his body could not be released for a long time, until they got the necessary documents. Then they conducted his funeral according to his religion, telecast it live for his family and sending ashes to his family back in India.
- Coordinated the burials of a mother-daughter duo from Peru living in New Jersey.
- Two American Vietnam war veterans with no family or money. TeamAid handled their burials following a religious rituals
What they can do
- Guide the affected people in getting back social security benefits
- Help releasing seized bank funds to the heirs
- Guide people in handling property or loans/liabilities of the deceased
How it works
The moment TeamAid receives a call for help, the person who approached them needs to fill in a simple form with details. Then the form goes to 12 national coordinators who then press the local volunteers into service. They have 3,000 volunteers and almost everyone is always available for help, despite their jobs, families, hobbies, vacations etc.
“Incidentally, every time we help a family, they, in turn, become volunteers for us. They know that trauma they went through and are happy to join us. They are grateful for what they received.”
What happens when you hear bad news about your loved one in the US and you are in India, clueless about how things work? Be it an accident, death, suicide, cyclone, panic is one’s first reaction.
Addressing challenges - from health insurance procedures to funeral home coordination to talking to embassies for the deportation of the dead bodies - is Telugu NRI and former TANA President, Mohan Nannapaneni and his organisation TeamAid in the US.
“We are here to help any person from any nationality whose dear ones are in distress in the US,” he adds.