“Mazhab nahisikhata apas mein bair rakhna,
Hindi hai hum, watan hai Hindustan hamara.”
These lines aptly describe the selfless service of dedicated COVID volunteers working to serve those irrespective of caste, creed, and faith. They reflect the essence of being an Indian and of devoting oneself to help others. Among such people are a group called ‘Mercy Mission,’ who are working round the clock to save lives and bidding a dignified farewell to victims of COVID.
Mercy Mission was born on 21st March 2020 in Bengaluru. Realizing the enormity and gravity of the challenges lying ahead, a group of NGOs operating in Bengaluru across various fields and activities decided to join hands and agreed to work together to take the fight against COVID head-on.As the word spread, some other NGOs also joined. Mercy Mission overgrew to become a coalition and collaboration of more than 25 NGOs- the HBS Hospital, The United Foundation, Project Smile, Lifeline Foundation, Humane Touch, Thanal, VCET, Humanitarian Relief Society, Swabhimaan, HWA trust, Palm Trust, Healing Touch, Cigma Foundation, AlAnsaar trust, amongst others.
Although it was challenging to manage the unforeseen situation filled with emergencies, deaths, fear, and distress, the years of experience of various NGOs associated with Mercy Mission enabled it to go ahead with excellent coordination and dedication.
Soon after Mercy Mission was launched, Mercy Angels swung into action immediately to distribute dry ration kits and food kitchens. During the lockdown of several weeks in 2020, Mercy Mission NGOs distributed 83,000+ dry ration kits worth approximately Rs 8.5 cr spread across 300 localities in Bengaluru and more than 25 towns across Karnataka. Also, Mercy Mission NGOs and affiliated groups operated 33 Mercy Kitchens across Bengaluru, where they cooked and distributed 14.5 lakh food packets. Mercy Mission volunteers also picked up and facilitated 12.3 lakh food packets given by donors such as Wipro, Atria, Compass, Prestige, BBMP, among other organizations.
Mercy Mission also operated an ambulance service for the transport of COVID deceased in Bengaluru. Mercy Angels carried out the last rites of more than 400 COVID victims in Bengaluru based on their faiths. Mercy Mission NGOs also supplied free medicines, distributed PPE kits to front-line workers, organized medical camps, elder care, and blood bank activities during the lockdown period.
Mercy Mission is also engaged in awareness campaigns on COVID and social distancing in the slum areas in tandem with government authorities. It opened a free online clinic to provide sound medical advice to all. More and more COVID cases started increasing in the city; Mercy Mission operated oxygen centres, providing oxygen cylinders until patients could source scarce hospital beds. One of its core NGOs, HBS Hospital, started providing COVID services with 56 beds in July 2020. Mercy Mission facilitated HBS to open and operate an Oxygen Centre serving 32 patients (recovered or with mild symptoms) close to the hospital. In August 2020, Mercy Mission commenced coordinating plasma donations and recipients in the city.
The year 2020 ended, but Mercy Mission was still striving to save lives as the year 2021 again witnessed a surge in deaths due to the second wave of COVID. Dwelling on the present scenario in Bangalore, Ali Sharief, Mercy Mission, the secretary said, “We had to upscale Mercy Angel’s operations in April due to surge of deaths in the city. We have made 250 last journeys in April alone, based on one’s faith, to crematoriums, cemeteries, and burial grounds. Three hearse vans and 29 volunteers are working incessantly to meet the demand.” He further informed that various teams of volunteers are working across town providing this service. Vans have been supplied by Halai Memon Jamath, Project Smile, and HBS Hospital for this activity.
Mercy Mission is currently operating six Mercy Oxygen Centres across Bengaluru; a volunteer team of 18 is handling the centres. Mercy Mission launched a free Mercy Clinic Mobile App to give sound medical advice, the correct information, and guide people. Several doctors have enrolled and are providing online video consultations.
Mercy Mission commenced coordinating plasma donors and recipients separately. During the first wave, 550 patients received plasma. Since April 2021, the demand has surged. Project Smile and TUF organized Antibody Testing Camps along with Jeevan Raksha, and 35 potential plasma donors were identified out of this drive.
Ali Sharief says, “To reduce the burden of exorbitant pricing for ambulance services to patients, Mercy Mission has a total fleet of seven ambulances equipped with oxygen to transport patients.” He further adds that Project Smile is operating, managing, and maintaining the operations of the Ambulance fleet. Nominal charges on a not-for-profit basis are recovered to enable operational sustainability. Mercy Mission has also developed a modern, hygienic kitchen facility to prepare a nutritious full meal for the doctors, hospital staff, COVID patients, and the poor.
MM has also worked towards vaccine awareness campaigns, and Lifeline Foundation across 15 slums has done talks. Vaccination camp was conducted by one of the member NGOs- HWA Foundation, on 29th April 2021. BBMP provided free vaccination, and 47 people got vaccinated. HBS Hospital also got permission to work as a Vaccination centre.
A centralized public helpline was setup by Mercy Mission to cope with emergencies, operated by Project Smile, in association with TUF (The United Foundation) to reach out to the patients requiring an ambulance, oxygen, plasma, and guidance services. A team of 50 volunteers and 20 staff are operating the helpline.
With the support of APPI (Azim Premji Philanthropy Initiative), Mercy Mission also facilitated HBS Hospital to open and operate an oxygenated centre having 32 rooms. “This centre hosted patients recovering from COVID who were fit for discharge but needed close monitoring. It helped enhance hospital capacity and free beds for critical patients. During the first wave, 250+ patients benefit from it,” points out Ali Sharief.
One of the Mercy Mission NGOs, HBS Hospital, became a dedicated COVID facility in April with 50 beds. It is among the few hospitals providing dialysis to COVID patients. In response to the massive requirement for oxygenated beds, HBS is adding beds to admit and treat more patients.
As the pandemic is still hovering, Mercy Angels, too, are spearing ahead. As Tanveer Ahmed, Mercy Angel, said, “I have isolated myself from my family and staying in one room. Family support has given me the strength to continue with the work. We do it for the sake of the Creator and humanity.”
Sadiq, another Mercy Angel, adds, “[Sometimes] even the relatives don’t come near the victims, so it is our moral duty to give a dignified farewell to the victims.”