SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world with the rising numbers of infected and deceased as well as the unemployment rates and lockdowns. Many countries rely on government aid to assist with famines and healthcare shortages. However, the people of Kashmir, a region on the northern border of India, have helped themselves in ways that make them real heroes.
Kashmir Is No Stranger to Crises
Kashmir has been accustomed to crises due to its decades-long insurgency against India. This is why communities and volunteers responded quickly at the beginning of the pandemic. The volunteers have worked in healthcare but with schooling as well.
In July 2016, violent protests injured several Kashmiri people. Ambulances only had the capacity to carry about four patients at a time without life-support systems. This was when the real heroes arrived; a swarm of volunteers came and put the wounded on stretchers and hurried them to the nearest operating room. This was not the only way people would help. In urban areas, people use community savings to help the poverty-stricken. Volunteers have started “free schools in homes, mosques, wedding halls.”
That same year, in Hasanabad, Srinagar, volunteers started a community school in a congregational hall for religious ceremonies; however, when the number of students increased to more than 400, it moved onto the site of a religious school that had been closed for three months. Khalid Hussain Dar helped found the school. During the region’s previous insurrections in 2008 and 2010, he provided free education for students.
Tania Ahmad leads a group of girls studying chemistry at the Ibrahim mosque in Srinagar’s Bemina area. Ahmad, a former teacher, had quit her profession after getting married. She decided to help after hearing about the community school in the district. Volunteers worked hard to make the endeavor more institutional regardless of the fact that only a few of the 15 teachers in the school are school educators.
Response to COVID-19
As COVID-19 struck Kashmir, its people have pitched in to help each other. The region has been dealing with healthcare insufficiencies and military lockdowns combined with negligible outside aid. With international aid already being stretched thin, the people of Kashmir are stepping up to help.
One example of this is Aamina Jan. At an understaffed Kashmiri hospital filled with COVID-19 patients, 45-year-old Aamina Jan spent two weeks caring for the unwell despite having any training as a healthcare employee herself. Her husband had contracted COVID-19. After taking notice that the medical department was overwhelmed and unprepared, “she took elderly patients to bathrooms, fought for oxygen cylinders and medication for patients, and even helped to clean several patients.”
Further instances of heroic acts from the region include nongovernmental organizations running ambulance systems to transport patients to hospitals. In addition, Mosque-based welfare alliances and community revenues have given financial assistance for Kashmir’s inundating unemployment, and volunteers have organized burials when family members are unable.
Volunteers Helping in the Community
The people of Kashmir have further demonstrated their resilience with young volunteers during COVID-19. Faheem Mir, a freelance journalist from Rafiabad, India, assembled a volunteer committee from his village that supplied all necessities to people’s doorsteps. This was meant to prevent large gatherings in shopping areas to keep in line with the social-distancing guidelines. With an ineffective health system, their village would likely not be able to stop the expansion of the virus.
Adjoining villages have echoed this hard work when a Srinagar local named, Hakim Ilyas supplied personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to frontline workers. In order to assist the healthcare professionals in handling the hardships of the crisis, they organized kits at a regional level. Ilyas contracted tailors to manufacture the PPE kits, which volunteers delivered a few days later.
The heroic acts of governmental organizations helping the world’s poor can only accomplish so much. Where outside aid has faltered, the people of Kashmir have become their own heroes. The people of this Indian region have proven their self-sufficiency from citizens volunteering at the local hospitals, providing free education at non-school based locations and neighborhood volunteers assisting their communities.
– Shalman Ahmed