In August 2016, a team from the Rotary Bangalore District 3190, etched their names in history, by collecting 3034 litres of blood across 13 locations in Karnataka, over the course of 8 hours. It was a Guinness World Record for blood donation, and they still hold it today.
Among this team of volunteers was Lata Amashi, a 64-year-old who has been involved in serving the underprivileged in Karnataka for the past 17 years. Her energy and drive to make a change have made her a woman with a can-do attitude.
It is visible in all that she has been able to accomplish over the course of the last two decades, and it has made her the go-to woman for blood donation in Bangalore and at times, all of India!
Born and raised in Delhi, to parents who belonged to Karnataka, the desire to make a change began from her childhood.
“The seed of philanthropy was planted in me when I was a child. Both my parents were into social work, and my father was a senior official at the United Nations. Growing up, my parents were one of my biggest inspirations,” she says.
After finishing her degree in finance, she went on to work for the Syndicate Bank, a profession which she believed required vast reserves of compassion. While working as a senior manager, she would visit her local market vendors often and would use whatever savings she had to pay for the fees of their children.
Later, due to family commitments, she quit her job and became a lecturer at Bangalore University. This was the beginning of a simultaneous life in service to the underprivileged.
“I was part of another club before I came to Rotary Bangalore. I used to work with giving vision to those who had avoidable blindness. Over the course of eight years, I managed to get 30,000 cataract surgeries for the poor in Karnataka,” recalls Lata.
She goes on to add, “Helping people regain their vision, was a feeling of fulfilment that no money on earth can buy. It was humbling, and I immediately started asking what more I could do to help the people around me.”
Her desire to do even more life-changing work led her Rotary Bangalore District 3190. The Rotary Club is an internationally renowned organisation known for their various humanitarian services, and Lata became part of a team of like-minded individuals who were ready to work hard to give back to the community.
In her quest to work in community service, the realm of blood donation was something which found her, rather than the other way around.
“I was never involved in organising blood donation. It practically just fell into my lap! I took it in my stride though, and that was how I began to arrange blood camps across Bangalore”, she recalls.
While generally, tasks change within the Rotary, Lata was firm in her belief that if blood donation was her calling, then she would do the best job she could. She dedicated the rest of her life to serving the community, assisting them with health-related causes, primarily blood donation in association with TTK blood bank (although other banks have also assisted, in emergencies).
Her journey led her to step into unchartered territories and had its own share of ups and downs. However, each experience taught her a lesson, and she quickly became sought after for her ability to get things done.
The camps she has conducted have seen an eclectic mix of people, which she looks back on with awe.
“We have seen all kinds of people show up for blood donation. From biker’s associations to auto drivers, and even a small tailor, who insisted that we conducted a camp for his tailor association. It just goes to prove that though we may all be different on the outside, blood connects us all,” she explains.
The journey has been one filled with lessons, smiles, and at times, terrible sadness. On one occasion, Lata arranged for blood for a 10-year-old boy with dengue. The boy was so impressed; he started referring to her as “Fairy Aunty.” While he was in the ICU, he expressed his wish to eat a cake that she had baked, to celebrate his birthday, and Lata secured the permission to make it happen.
“The doctor said that it was impossible to have birthday celebrations in the ICU, but I somehow got him to agree, on the condition that it would be wrapped up in ten minutes, without disturbance to the other patients. I was shocked to hear that he had passed away the next morning. His mother called me later and asked me to attend the funeral, saying that I was family because I had gotten blood for her son. It hit me like nothing else ever had,” she says.
This event proved to be an eye-opener for Lata, as she continued to find ways in which she could do more for people. She continued to get cases where she would have to arrange for blood, sometimes for people who were in a completely different state!
Nevertheless, using her contacts and her skills, she was able to secure the resources to help save hundreds of lives, from grandfathers on the verge of death to youngsters whose parents lived far away!
It isn’t always easy, though. One of the biggest challenges Lata faces is that some people are just not bothered enough to give blood.
“On many occasions, I have approached people for blood donations and have heard a firm ‘no.’ When it isn’t our problem, it is easy to push it away from our minds. But I always say, you never know when something you were never bothered about becomes your problem. We need to wake up, and be more proactive,” she says.
She goes on to add, “The problems that I had 10 years ago are not the same ones I face today. Awareness is slowly creeping in, but you still find so many people reluctant to donate.”
Today, Lata is the chairperson for blood donation, and is the go-to for all blood-related matters, from arranging camps to obtaining blood on short notice! Apart from this, she, and the team at Rotary Bangalore Indiranagar, also hold another Guinness World Record for conducting the largest event for diabetes awareness, a campaign which she spearheaded.
One of her most significant challenges when conducting programs on such large a scale is funding. She recalls ecstatically, “For our diabetes campaign, I convinced BAL Pharma to back us on a five-hour flight!”
Sometimes, to make ends meet she has even had to pull out her own savings. This was what happened when she wanted to create impact through videos. The videos, which are subtly crafted to convert more people into becoming potential blood donors, cost upwards of 25 lakhs!
She says, “I went against my family. I was so sure that this message needed to be shared, and I pulled all my savings out of the bank. The Rotary Club gave me some money, and we had another sponsor, but I used 15 lakhs of my own money, and at the end of it all, my bank balance was zero.”
The video series, titled BleedHope, went on to win awards for its subtle portrayal and message. You can view the award-winning video below:
So, what does Lata Amashi see for the future?
With regards to blood donation, she would like to take the reach of her programs outside Karnataka, slowly creating an all-India network!
She has also stepped into the realm of stem cell research, and aid for thalassemia patients. Her new dream is to get as many people in India as possible to register for bone marrow donation in the worldwide registry.
“It isn’t like blood donation, where there are just eight types of blood. For bone marrow, it needs to be a perfect match, and the more people we can get, the bigger chance we have to save someone’s life,” explains Lata.
Lata Amashi is a woman who knows how to achieve the impossible, and is determined to fight against all odds to make a change. At 64, this jack of all trades is just beginning her journey.
She concludes by saying, “My biggest weakness is that I can never say ‘no.’ Until my health permits me, I will keep trying to do as much as I can to do my part in helping others. The feeling that because of your work, you have given someone a new lease of life–there are no adjectives that can describe it!”
If you would like to know more on how to organise your own camps, how to become a volunteer or donor, or know someone in need of donations you can contact Lata Amashi via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at +91 99805 93570.