“I dread checking my phone”

Coalition colleagues recount their experience of the India COVID crisis

“I dread checking my phone in the morning. Is someone else infected? Has someone else died? What news do I need to tell my elderly parents?”

The words of our colleagues are being echoed across the country as hundreds of thousands of Indo-Canadians bear the burden of waiting for news from friends and family in India.

“With the way the virus is spreading through India, and the death rate being so high, it's hard not to be afraid for everyone there, but in particular for the ones I love," says Christina Philips, of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

James Pothirajulu of World Vision Canada, echoes her sentiment. “As an Indo-Canadian, I share the grief, pain, and despair felt throughout our community and across India. I've been alarmed by shocking reports, including a recent story about the hundreds of bodies found floating in the Ganges River, presumably left by their families who could not get firewood for a cremation. This is simply unheard of in India.

“My mother, brother and sister are in India, and I worry for their safety every day.”

Our colleagues work for humanitarian aid organizations, members of the Humanitarian Coalition. They are communications, policy and programs professionals, and they are also Indo-Canadians.

Phillips says, “Most of us who work in international development do so because we want to help people. The stories of pain and suffering break your heart. And to keep going, it’s essential to maintain emotional boundaries.

“But when your work involves paying attention to a crisis that affects the people you love, there is no escape. Work and personal collide and it’s exhausting. It’s a heavy weight.”

Irfan Nakhuda, of Islamic Relief Canada, says that faced with the situation of his family back home in India, his usual emotional separation from “the crises humanity faces throughout the world” is impossible to maintain. “When the crisis hits home and affects us directly, we almost become paralyzed,” he says.

As a Coalition of 12 leading Canadian aid agencies, we come together to respond to international emergencies like the COVID crisis in India. We have all read the news and seen the images. We know about the lack of oxygen, the overwhelmed hospitals, the funeral pyres and the devastated families. We have heard about the cyclones and now the black fungus infection. We understand that there is a food shortage for many, and that lives and livelihoods have been disrupted for a long time to come.

We are all motivated in the work we do to respond to the crisis, but for some of course, it’s more personal.

As President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council, Victor T. Thomas says he receives calls every day from people who have loved ones who are suffering. In his other role as Chair of CARE Canada, he can be part of the work that he says makes “a positive difference in the lives of many.”

Simran Singh, of CARE Canada, offers an example, “The Humanitarian Coalition agencies are working through Indian-based counterparts to deliver emergency supplies and care. For example, we have opened two 100-bed COVID care facilities, and we are setting up four more with access to quality medical care, personal protection equipment and oxygen. I am grateful as an Indo-Canadian to know that my counterparts in India are working every day to save lives.”

Our colleagues’ stories are a reminder of the pain, but also the determination, and the hope.

Thomas says, “Every avenue is being explored to help the people of India during this crisis, and I encourage Canadians to assist and give to the Humanitarian Coalition in this time of need.”