“Hello! Do you want to find out where you can get an RT-PCR test done?” asks Vaishnavi Nandkumar, answering the Miranda House COVID help desk, cutting straight to the point.
The help desk that started out as an initiative to help the Miranda House community on April 22 has over the past three days started getting calls from complete strangers calling to seek help with finding hospital beds, oxygen, RT-PCR tests, doctors, plasma, ambulance services, food for patients and psychologists. The task at hand for the students is to verify every lead that they get and update a resource document so that those calling in for help can be directed to a credible source that can help them.
Srishti Sensarma, who is heading the operation, says her college principal Bijayalaxmi Nanda came up with the idea and a few students started it to help the college community. But soon, their phone numbers spread like wildfire and phones have been ringing ever since.
“On my first day after our numbers got shared outside the college community, I got a call from someone at 6 a.m. who gave me the vital statistics of her 30-year-old son who needed immediate hospitalisation. In these times, it is almost a miracle to find a bed but I made calls to multiple hospitals and finally pleaded with the emergency staffers at GTB Hospital and then directed her to take him there,” she narrated.
The mother reached the hospital and got an emergency treatment that saved his life, said Ms. Srishti. “While we can’t arrange beds, we can help point people who are helpless in the right direction,” said the 20-year old student.
Ms. Srishti adds that most people call in a state of panic and are unable to process what needs to be done. This is where her team that has grown to over 500 volunteers out of which 50-100 are actively involved step in. The team verifies leads and that come constantly and makes calls to find out if a resource is credible. “If we verify 500 leads from social media, about 5% turn out to be genuine,” she adds.
Help in return
The students who have helped out people in crisis have also received help in return. “A clinical psychologist who we helped out offered his services pro-bono and some of us have reached out to him to avail his services as the emotional toll is massive. It is tough but we are doing whatever we can to help those in need,” said Ms. Srishti.
Ms. Nandkumar says that the members of her team are mostly college students and are not trained to handle such calls. But they are doing their best to guide people who call crying for help.
Commenting on the work of her students, Ms. Nanda said that they were showing tremendous organisational skills and putting all their effort into arranging help. “Only 25% of our students are from Delhi-NCR and we are trying to tie up doctors from across the country to help our students if they need help. We have even contacted our alumni and corporates to help out at this time,” she said.