Accessibility May 13, 2021
Top India para sportspersons offer help to disabled & non-disabled people affected by Covid-19 pandemic
Three top para sportspersons of India are reaching out to offer financial help to NGOs and individuals offering help to people affected in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of Covid has been felt most by disabled people and this is their key priority. But they are also supporting organisations reaching out to non-disabled people.
Three top para sportspersons of India – Shams Aalam, Vibhas Sen and Javed Choudhari – have come forward in this time of crisis to lend financial support to organisations and individuals reaching out to support people most affected in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aalam, who is a paraplegic swimmer, Sen, a Paralympic fencer, and national wheelchair basketball player Choudhari are alumni of the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP). This is an international leadership development programme launched by the United States Department of State to promote gender equality and disability rights around the world.
Stunned by the impact of the second wave of the pandemic, the para sportspersons reached out to the GSMP for financial help so they could help out disabled people, who are among the most affected by Covid.
“The GSMP gives us grants to carry out various activities in India and this time we thought why not ask for financial support to help people affected in the Covid-19 pandemic”, says Aalam, a paraplegic swimmer who has won medals at several international events. “We sent them a proposal and the GSMP, The Centre for Sport, Peace, & Society, University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame responded with a grant of US$10,000. The money is being used to buy rations, oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and food”.
“We’re reaching out to NGOs and individuals in India in metros and Tier 1 to Tier 2 cities”, adds Sen, who is a strategic marketing consultant by profession apart from being a Paralympic fencer. “Until now we have reached out to almost 1,500 people and distributed rations for 30 days, meals for migrants, wellness kits for homeless, and medical devices for doctors and nurses”.
Covid impact felt most by disabled people
The para sportspersons are prioritising disabled people for financial help as they are the most affected but are helping NGOs working with other marginalised groups as well. “Our primary target group is people with different abilities as we understand their needs and feel they have been further marginalised after Covid”, says Sen. “Having said that, we cannot win this war against Covid if we don’t help everyone as the virus will continue to mutate”.
Among the organisations to receive financial support to help Covid affected people is the Red Boys Foundation in Mumbai, which works to empower children living in slum colonies.
“We changed our focus to Covid-19 support last year after the lockdown”, says Shahnawaz Shaikh, a member of the foundation. “We partner with other NGOs to support needy people and have also provided cooked food to the Mumbai Police”. Red Boys Foundation is using the financial help extended by the para sportspersons to supply ration kits to disabled people in different parts of Mumbai. “We have identified the first set of 25 persons with disability and hope to support more in the coming weeks”, says Shaikh. Each ration kit consists of ₹1,500, rice, dal, and other essentials.
Some of the other NGOs to receive financial aid to provide support to Covid-19 affected disabled and non-disabled people affected are Uday Foundation and Doctors for You.
Priority for persons with disability
India wheelchair basketball player and GSMP alumni Javed Choudhari is organising oxygen concentrators for a government hospital at Lonar taluka in Maharashtra.
“The taluka hospital in Lonar is the main health facility for people living in this region and everyone is coming here for treatment”, says Choudhari. “There are patients waiting for nearly four days to get a bed here. The hospital is short of essential supplies and infrastructure and we want to help boost that in any way we can”. Two oxygen concentrators have been provided to this hospital so far. Choudhari is also reaching out to Faith Organisation, an NGO in Kashmir that supports the elderly and widows. “Our aim is to prioritise disabled people but this is a time when everyone is affected so we will help everyone we can”, adds Choudhari.
The para sportspersons are overwhelmed by the scale of the need. They are getting appeals from organisations in Bihar and Odisha, especially in small town and rural areas where the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is being felt the most. There are no facilities here for disabled people in regular times and the pandemic has worsened their plight. To ensure support actually gets to the needy, the para sportspersons are taking the support of social workers. In Mumbai they are working closely with Tabinda Shaikh, a social worker who has been working to support Covid affected people from last year when the pandemic broke out.
“We are distributing rations in Bhiwandi and Kashimira outside Mumbai”, says Shaikh, who is associated with the Indian Muslim Relief Charities and has worked with actor Sonu Sood in the drive to support Covid affected. “I am in touch with a network of organisations and verify every appeal for help when needed before distributing the financial help. Our focus is on the underprivileged. Everyone is struggling and we would like to help all those who reach out”.
The para sportspersons are using social media platforms to reach out to organisations supporting disabled people affected by the Covid pandemic. So far they have distributed 40% of the financial aid they have received. This has gone out to organisations and individuals in cities like, Shimla, Jammu, Mumbai, Delhi, Madhubanai and Saharanpur.
“We are thankful to the GSMP and the other organisations in the U.S for supporting us”, says Aalam. “Persons with disability are most vulnerable to Covid and in need of support”.
Access to vaccines is another major challenge disabled people across India are facing. This is something the para sportspersons plan to take up as well. “We are planning to start a fundraiser to help persons with disability get vaccinated”, says Sen. They have reached out to Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla. “Mr Poonawalla has promised to help us in this regard”, adds Aalam. “We hope to target Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Patna in the first phase of the vaccination drive for persons with disability”.
By their actions, these para sportspersons are helping to shine a light at a time when India faces its darkest moment.
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