As Covid ravages India, the diaspora pledges help

A collective of 30 student groups has raised $275,000 in six days. Epic. As Covid ravages India, the diaspora pledges help via @nbcnews

As Covid ravages India, the diaspora pledges help Photo

After a concerning call with his mother in New Delhi about the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis in India, Priyank Lathwal said he felt an urgent need to help. 

Lathwal, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, quickly launched a fund and has, along with Shyamli Badgaiyan, a Harvard Business School student, helped unite 30 Indian and South Asian student groups from across the U.S. to drum up support. 

“I had switched on the news and then my mom called me and said, ‘Things are going really badly,’” Lathwal said. “When that happened I thought that, ‘Well, I need to do something about it.’”

Lathwal’s page, “Help India Breathe,” raises money for oxygen and other supplies. Badgaiyan, who also has Delhi roots, had started a fundraising initiative through the nonprofit Give India’s fundraising page. Together, they raised about $275,000 in six days. 

"I was so anxious this last week — there was just so much despair and just sadness and helplessness,” Badgaiyan said. “Ever since Ive started doing this I do feel so much — I dont want to say better — but at least like I’m being able to channel some of that anxious energy into something productive.”

A spokesperson for GoFundMe told NBC News that since April 17, fundraisers related to Indian Covid-19 relief have raised more than $2.1 million. These campaigns also have a global reach: GoFundMe calculated that 23,000 donors from 77 countries have contributed so far.

Lathwal, the president of Carnegie Mellon’s Indian Graduate Student Association, said he began hearing from students who were worried about their family members in India. Official numbers released by the Indian government said the country has passed 218,000 Covid-19 deaths, and many experts worry the number could be much higher.

The devastating second wave has severely overtaxed India’s health care system, with many hospitals having to turn away patients because of the lack of beds and medical oxygen. The White House announced Friday that travel from India into the United States would be restricted.

Lathwal and Badgaiyan’s fundraising project is just one of several being organized across the United States to benefit Indian Covid-19 relief. Connecticut resident Sujata Srinivasan first began raising money for Covid-19 patients in India early on in the pandemic, using GoFundMe to collect funds for a hospital in the Southern Indian city of Vellore. As the severity of the third wave became clearer, she knew she wanted to mobilize her contacts once again.

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