For Bhagyashree Karlekar, a 92-year-old resident of Pune, news channels used to be a window to the world at large. But not anymore. The coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe only amplified her stress and feelings of helplessness.
As new cases began to emerge in India, and the city, the nonagenarian decided to move in with her 70-year-old sister-in-law.
“I am a diabetic with severe back issues. My sister-in-law also has trouble completing household chores. We were dependent on the domestic help, but she also had to stop coming. What do two dependent senior citizens do in such a situation?” she mentions.
As luck would have it, Karlekar found the number of Gauri Phalke, a volunteer in Pune who is ensuring that even amidst the lockdown, senior citizens and other needy people receive the help they need.
Karlekar called Gauri reluctantly and with slight embarrassment, asked her for help.
“I told her all of my problems. I was helpless. I was crying. But Gauri told me that her volunteers would ensure I get my meals on time and that I had nothing to worry about. The gentle manner in which she spoke was all I needed,” says Karlekar.
For the past few weeks, three volunteers associated with Gauri’s Friends @ Senior Citizens take turns in delivering essentials to Karlekar’s home, and the nonagenarian is having a slightly easier time, dealing with the lockdown.
If you live in Pune or the Pimpri-Chinchwad and require urgent help, please call Gauri on 98229 81267 or Sonali Rasal on 94225 17939, and they will assist you.
Pune wakes up to the needs of the elderly
Pune has registered at least 31 positive cases of COVID-19. Fortunately, some of these patients are recovering, but as India enters stage 3 of the pandemic, it is all the more crucial for all of us to take care and stay at home, unless stepping out is necessary.
Senior citizens like Karlekar are frazzled at this situation and many feel helpless.
Sonali Rasal, a 45-year-old architect, understood this concern, and when a senior citizen in her poetry group vented about how she often needs someone to pick up her medicines and the COVID-19 lockdown was making it seem like an impossible task, it got her thinking.
“If she was that tense, I was sure there were many others like her. So, I formed a WhatsApp group of eight people who are spread across Pune and who would take up the responsibility to help people in need. Gauri, an old architecture classmate of mine, was one of them. But the way she took charge of the situation brought more organisation and stability to the group.”
After christening this initiative as Friends @ Senior Citizens (FSC), the members posted their private numbers as helplines across social media.
Within the first 24 hours, the group was expanded to a hundred members, all ready to help out in Pune or the Pimpri-Chinchwad (PCMC) area. On the second day, there was another addition to the group that further validated the group’s initiative.
“ACP(Retd) Rajendra Joshi, joined the WhatsApp group and after commending our efforts, assured us that he would handle any security concerns of the members. He made it mandatory for volunteers to provide their Aadhaar and/or other identification, to click photos whenever they completed a task and also roped in senior traffic inspectors and commissioners of Pune and PCMC area. This helps our volunteers greatly on the roads,” Sonali says.
Sonali and Gauri started the group on 19 March, and by the 26th, they had already helped close to 900 people across Pune!
From groceries to medical emergencies
When Sonali started the group, she had hardly imagined that it would have around 300 volunteers within a week. The vision was to deliver foods and other essential goods to senior citizens. But over the past few days, the requests have ranged from cooked meals to medical emergencies.
“We once got a call from a pregnant lady asking if someone could rush her to the hospital for a check-up. Then there was a call from a diabetes patient asking if someone can give him an insulin injection. Thankfully, we have a few doctors in our groups who could rush to do the needful,” Sonali tells The Better India.
The Better India’s “BETTER TOGETHER” initiative has brought together civil service officers from across the country as they help migrant labourers, daily wage earners, frontline workers, and all those who need our help most in these troubled times. You can join us and support them in this fight against COVID-19.
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The compassionate volunteers, who have joined the group and are helping out strangers living far or near, are undoubtedly its biggest strength and their boundless energy and enthusiasm keeps it going.
All through the day (and even night), Gauri and Sonali forward requests from people across Pune and PCMC. Volunteers living nearyby pick up the tabs and give a certain time frame when the task will be completed. Another member of the group (Anuja) maintains the records of when the request was sent, who is attending to it, the bills and the photographs that show the work was completed.
Rules to follow amidst the COVID-19 lockdown
Managing 15 WhatsApp groups and more than 300 volunteers is not an easy task. Especially when the group consists of all strangers united by the single mission to help out those in need.
When ACP (Retd) Joshi joined the group, he brought in a certain level of professionalism and gravity. Now, even amidst the increased police presence, the volunteers feel safe thanks to his guidance.
Gauri tells TBI, “Additionally, we have mandated that all our volunteers carry their ID cards and RTO papers and wear a helmet if they are on a bike. Additionally, they are to wear a mask and gloves at all times while on duty. They are asked never to touch railings, lift buttons or door knobs. Instead, they call the person when they reach the location and ask them to come out. If that is impossible, volunteers can use a sanitiser pen to ring the doorbell and their leg to open the door. One can never be too safe in these times.”
It is heartwarming to see how hundreds of strangers have united to help hundreds more in an unprecedented crisis. The lockdown is difficult on everyone but if the capable help out the dependent in such dire times, we can come out of this stronger.
If you or anyone you know in Pune need the help of FSC, please call Gauri on 98229 81267 or Sonali Rasal on 94225 17939.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)