Pandemic ushers philanthropy in Sikkim and neighbouring areas

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed in India may have put the nation on hold but this hasn’t stopped associations from conducting fundraisers while maintaining social distancing and lockdown protocols. With the Indian economy’s slowdown highlighted regularly in the news, those who are raising funds and donating to help economically backward communities that […] The post Pandemic ushers philanthropy in Sikkim and neighbouring areas appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.

Pandemic ushers philanthropy in Sikkim and neighbouring areas

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown that followed in India may have put the nation on hold but this hasn’t stopped associations from conducting fundraisers while maintaining social distancing and lockdown protocols. With the Indian economy’s slowdown highlighted regularly in the news, those who are raising funds and donating to help economically backward communities that would be facing a much tougher time than many of the privileged families and individuals who have a steady source of income and a roof above their heads. 

Crowdfunding has become a popular option among the youth as a way of raising finance by asking a large number of people for small individual amounts of money. Many crowdfunding sites like Ketto and Milaap have found footing in this territory in the last few years. 

Ketto does not charge platform fees for fundraising done on their site; they charge only for the funds raised on Ketto called a ‘Success Fee’ while no GST is levied. Around the world, the pandemic has not deterred people from raising funds or collecting donations due to social media sites like Instagram being used for promotions. 

Experts believe that physical fundraising and charity will have a significant impact this year, with events and functions bring being cancelled for at least the next few months. When forces such as the COVID-19 cripples the country’s economy, it causes non-profit organizations and NGOs to take a backseat as well. Some hurdles that fundraising could come across are:

  • The impact to the economy may lead to reduced disposable incomes which would mean people giving less to charity in a range of ways, from one-off and regular giving to challenge events.
  •  Postponed events and cancelled events for fundraising. Fundraisers often rely on social events to gather more donations for their cause. Postponing and cancelling such events have. caused problems to arise. 
  •  A significant drop in cash donations due to social distancing and lockdown norms.
  •  A small staff and difficult to round up volunteers for fundraising.
  • Inadequate resources.

The pandemic has also created a need for additional donations for research and to help those affected by the pandemic. The World Health Organization has started the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, where the donations will aid to “track and understand the spread of the virus; to ensure patients get the care they need and frontline workers get essential supplies and information, and to accelerate research and development of a vaccine and treatments for all who need them.” 

Nationally, the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was created on 28 March 2020. “The funds from this will be used for combat, containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic-like situations in the future”, states the website of PM CARES Fund with the Prime Minister as the ex-officio Chairman and Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance, Government of India as ex-officio Trustees of the Fund. 

Celebrities around the world have also started donating huge sums for causes related to the pandemic. While in India, Bollywood actor Kartik Aryan and Bengali designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee donated Rs. 1 crore each to the PMCF, while corporates like Tata Sons and Tata Trust have donated Rs. 1500 crores. 

Similarly, Sikkim has a crisis fund too. The Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) is an emergency assistance scheme for granting relief to deserving families and individuals affected by natural calamities or loss of life due to accidents or for medical treatment for major diseases. On March 27, an online portal developed by the IT Department of Government of Sikkim was launched by the Chief Minister P.S. Tamang. 

In a bid to maintain transparency, the CM also released details of the CMDRF on May 1, through a video press conference informed that Sikkim’s CMDRF has bank accounts. One in SISCO Bank and the other in HDFC Bank. Till date, the CMDRF has received donations of Rs. 113193.46 through both online and offline mediums.

Associations in the state and neighbouring areas of West Bengal have started various campaigns for donations towards helping the needy. 

Voyage, which deals with the management of solid waste, wastewater and energy efficiency – all falling under the aegis of Zero Waste Himalaya, is currently raising funds to provide relief materials to rag pickers at the 32 Number landfill at Singtam, who do not qualify for the distribution of relief materials being done by the Centre Government. 

Photo Credit: @voyage.zwh, Instagram

The lockdown has caused an involuntary blow to rag pickers who extract potential value materials from waste bins, trucks, streets, waterways and dumpsites. Many in Sikkim depend on waste for income generation, while also contributing to keeping the state clean, even though they aren’t affiliated with the Gangtok Municipal Commission. 

Photo Credit: @voyage.zwh, Instagram

Their primary source for income is through the selling of trash to the Siliguri scrap market but due to the lockdown imposing bans on intra-State movement, it has caused a significant blow to them, cutting off their source of income. Voyage has executed multiple relief materials distribution drives for rag pickers with the funds raised with materials and rations like rice, pulses, vegetables, oil, protein, salt, soap. The essential commodities kit has been donated to more than 50 rag pickers at 32 Number. 

Pritam Pany, Founder and CEO of Voyage says, “There has been an amazing response in donations with volunteers to distribute the materials to such a large number as well, we strive to achieve more donations so we can help a larger number. In normal times and more during the coronavirus pandemic safai karamcharis, waste pickers/ rag pickers are the unsung heroes so this fundraiser was done to help them. We intend to continue raising funds until lockdown restrictions are eased on intra-State movements so the rag pickers can start selling scrap and improve their income.” 

Voyage, with their NGO arm, also has an additional stitching livelihood project with 12 ladies who stitch face masks for sale. This project aims to encourage livelihood during the pandemic and to stop the civil society from buying N95 masks which are essential for frontline warriors. Funds are needed to buy raw materials and more tailoring machines.

Another donation program that has been set up is Shimpu Guras, an entrepreneurial venture by two Sikkimese youths for organic homemade wines. Shimpu Guras’ objective is to provide needy students with phones for online classes. 

“Online classes for college students and students are in full swing despite the lockdown, this might be to bring some form of normalcy to them. With each passing season, we buy new phones for the latest software, the best cameras and the best gaming experiences, and the old phone that you keep in case your new one breaks is oftentimes left in the drawer. While our blessings overflow some don’t have any,” says the duo. “As we know, with online classes in full pursuit, not all students have the technology to attend these classes- forget about a laptop, some do not even have smartphones. Therefore we are starting this initiative- please those who have extra or old smartphones, that aren’t being used, please donate to us, so that we can distribute to needy students. As the saying goes- count your blessings. We truly are the fortunate ones and we must help take along the unfortunate ones as well. Please donate generously, and you can rest assured that your old phone will be going towards a needy student who lacks life’s little luxuries.”

So far the venture has had people donate 4 phones within a week but they are hoping more people come forward for their cause. 

Most recently, on 25th May 2020, 3 youths from West Sikkim, Sonam Zigdal, Nosang Muringla and Yap Bhutia distributed health care supplies to the quarantine centres at Gyalshing and Pelling, to show their gratitude towards the frontline workers.

Photo Credit: IPR

They provided face masks, hand sanitizers, W95 masks for frontline staffs and hand sanitizer dispenser stands, which were then distributed to Pelling School, Kyongsa Girls School & Hostel, Panchayat Resource Center, Bega, Forest Bunglow Dentam, District Hospital Gyalshing and District Administrative Center, Rabdentse, West Sikkim. 

Charitable associations and individuals continue to raise funds despite the various hurdles they have to face in the lockdown. Last month, a few concerned youths from Kingston, Rhenock in an act of generosity during the lockdown submitted a request to the Government of Sikkim to allow two vehicles for transportation of goods from Rhenock Bazaar to border areas. 

Photo Credit: Sougat Sharma

From bearing the cost of ration for some to easing the mind of many who had no other way to reach a store, the people of Lingzey and Rhenock showed the true meaning of solidarity in the face of a pandemic. 

Further from Sikkim’s borders, young people to do more have joined the many who have been setting up independent fundraisers and charity campaigns. 

Sunny Singh Lama, Co-founder of Resto-G is a resident of Kurseong and he has used his startup’s charity arm, Project Bhook, to help daily wage workers and those affected by the Cyclone Amphan. 

He has always believed that if someone is unhappy, the quickest way to make them happy is through food. They started with their first charity initiative in 2017 which they called 1000 Smiles, where the primary aim of the project was to bring a little joy to underprivileged children.

“On the occasion of Children’s Day, we decided to take underprivileged children for some fun. We collaborated with many restaurants and hotel owners to make it possible. The reactions were priceless. This was the very first time we learnt about the happiness in giving,” says Sunny. 

“When the entire state went on lockdown due to the pandemic of COVID-19, marginalized communities were suffering from a lack of food and other basic needs It was then we decided to launch the second version 1000 Smiles, which came to be known as Project Bhook. The aim was to serve at least 1000 families so that no one should have to worry about missing a meal. We not only crossed that number but we successfully delivered ration kits to more than 1000 families in Kolkata.”

Image Source: @project_bhook, Instagram

“Currently, we started surveying the worst-hit regions from the cyclone Amphan. This time we have come up with both ration and hygiene kits. We are also planning to open a community kitchen in these affected areas. We have raised 3 lakhs – all helped by students from Delhi”, states Sunny. 

Another young person, a student at North Bengal University, Harshoda Pradhan started an online fundraiser through Instagram, Siliguri Humanitarian Services, to aid those living in the rural areas around Siliguri. 

“When I was in school I was really inspired by Humans of New York and me and a friend had collaborated to open a page called “Humans of Siliguri” but since we drifted apart and we were quite young, that page is still there but nobody uses it. I was always interested in social service and I carried on in my ways. Recently, I met some friends and we decided to distribute food to people who are in crisis. Hence the initiative.”

Image Source: @slghumanitarianservices, Instagram

They also do regular cleaning drives but with the ongoing lockdown, that hasn’t been possible. They have travelled to Panighatta, Naxalbari, Ambari, Darjeeling More (banjara’s), Dagapur, Mallaguri and Chattarhat, helping more than 500 people. “In short, we like helping people.”

She does, however, point out that fundraising was difficult because some people didn’t trust them but she doesn’t fault them for it since they still get positive responses every day. They’ve also helped feed stray animals, at the risk of being attacked by them and assure that they’ll continue with their efforts in the future. 

For every heart wrenching story of people propagating hate that one comes across, it is extremely heartening to see common citizens acknowledge their privilege, then think beyond themselves to act selflessly, and fix the world one act of kindness at a time. 

Donations are being accepted by Shimpu Guras and can be contacted at 8145117979 and 8972851003.

Donations are still being accepted by Voyage for more distribution drives. One can donate at https://www.voyage.org.in/donate.php  
Pritam Pany can be contacted at 8145117979.

The post Pandemic ushers philanthropy in Sikkim and neighbouring areas appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.