Coronavirus Society

Build your own COVID-19 volunteer squad: strangers join hands online to tide through the second wave in India

Mobilisation forms the core of creating a COVID volunteer squad   | Photo Credit: Imaging: M Arivarasu

Social media in the COVID-19 world is a war room.

As 20-something-year olds across the country assemble — sharing screenshots, forming verification models and networking across States — relatives of patients find hospital beds, oxygen concentrators and hope.

Through the day and night (sometimes in shifts), strangers work together, armed with phones, laptops and an Internet connection, to help people through the current crisis.

If there is a word that characterises the past few weeks, it would be ‘relentless’, says 28-year-old Pooja Pradeep. Bengaluru-based Pooja (@pooja.pradeep) starts her day by posting a format for those who send in requests from across the country, while her team of eight gets ready to carry out the back-end work. The format that is shared reads: Patient name; Age; Oxygen Saturation; Other Health Status...

“I am not trained for this,” says Pooja, who is an educator and the founder of Letters of Love. “What I do for a living is far from getting blood, figuring out what ICU bed is required for a particular oxygen saturation level…especially with no resources or backing,” she continues. It all started when a friend asked her if she had any leads for an ICU bed for her mother. Her own parents being dental surgeons and hence vulnerable, aided the trigger. “It comes from a point of having the platform, power and privilege to do it.”

From a process standpoint, mobilisation forms the core of this exercise: what she needed were COVID Squads. A simple end-to-end mechanism is what she put together. “The squad is made up of three different teams: one is the request sourcing team, the second is the data streamlining team and the third is the verification team.”

Requests and their details are entered into a simple tracker (an Excel sheet). The data streamlining team scouts through relevant data via Twitter searches and other social media data bases that are updated frequently.

This is then shot out to the verification team. “They pick up the phone, and call, call, call. Call until they get verified leads and once they get at least two verified leads, the request sourcing team is informed. I, then, close the loop,” adds Pooja.

Verify, verify, verify

Every single person in the verification team of 21-year-old Gautam Monangi’s COVID Squad, makes at least 500 calls a day. They are turned away many times, but soldier on.

Formed only a week ago, Gautam’s (@gautam_monangi) is a larger squad of 25 to 30 people working across teams. They have been “thoroughly inspired by Pooja” who helped them come up with their own processes. In fact, days into forming her own team, Pooja had put up templates for anyone who wants to form their own crews.

“We formed one more squad a few days back, called the BBMP squad, comprising 10 members who can speak Kannada and directly reach out to the BBMP helpline,” says Gautam, a freelance filmmaker, who is coordinating from Kuwait. He adds, “I have never taken this kind of responsibility before in my life.”

Most squads have volunteers from across the world, who can work on different time zones.

#COVIDSquads to look out for:
  • Covid War Room by Sriharsha Karamchati (@sriharshakaramchati)
  • COVIDSquad by Kartthika (@karthikasiv)
  • COVIDSquad by Swathi CM (@swatz_swatkat)

Twenty seven-year-old Saroj Attal, a volunteer in Pooja’s squad, is recovering from COVID-19. She joined the squad on returning from the hospital, where she was admitted for five days. A data scientist with JP Morgan Chase based in Mumbai, Saroj has been streamlining data and building a platform for the squad between her many fatigue-induced naps.

“This work keeps me focussed. You need something to keep yourself engaged and busy. And it helps me have a purpose at the end of the day even if I am up for only a few hours in the day,” she says.

Giving a structure to unstructured things is her entire job profile, she adds. And, that is exactly what she is doing now. Having strangers-turned-teammates, whom you have known only for the past few weeks, to help through the crisis, also matters.

The highs and lows

The hardest part of the job is when someone gets back saying they wish to close the request, because the patient did not make it. “Even when they get the resources, it might not work in the best way. That hits hard,” says Gautam, adding, “Most of us are also dealing with our personal losses during this time and some in the group involve themselves in this work to make up for that,” says Gautam.

Online volunteer squads, equipped with verification models, are mushrooming across the country

Online volunteer squads, equipped with verification models, are mushrooming across the country   | Photo Credit: Illustration: Sreejith R Kumar

And so, keeping a check on the mental health of the team members then becomes important. “Some team members are not seasoned volunteers and they wouldn’t know how to balance or draw a line,” says Pooja. Occasional breaks and Zoom get-togethers are definitely a relief. Gautam’s team also has a psychology therapist on board who helps them recognise and record the importance of their work, on a daily basis.

As more groups mushroom across the country, a mass movement is taking form. “[A few days back], we were able to help an old couple with vision-impairments reach a hospital and we keep getting updates on their recovery,” says Gautam adding, “At the end of the day, if there is at least one person we could help, it makes all the difference.”

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 12:44:12 AM |

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