‘Humanity is one—if we don’t support each other in a disaster, we don’t belong to it’
Father George Kannamthanam
This concept of us all belonging to the large human family, makes me ‘get up and run’ every time there is a disaster happening anywhere. We did it for tsunami in 2004 through the Suamanahalli society. We did it again through my present organisation, Project Vision, for the Nepal earthquake in 2015, and the Kerala floods in 2018 and 2019. We were in the last stages of the rehabilitation project for the flood victims with the construction of about 25 permanent houses in Kerala when 2020 arrived with a big bang: the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Watching its outbreak in early January, we responded quickly. Seeing China needed help, we got in touch with Father Jijo Kandamkulathil CMF, of the East Asian Delegation of Claretians in Macau, to see if we could supply facemasks. Since sending surgical masks via parcel service met with a lot of hurdles, one of the staff members of Project Vision travelled to Macau with 10,000 masks. Eventually Father Kandamkulathil coordinated the distribution of over 50,000 masks to mainland China, the United States, New Zealand and Spain.
Our second response was to set up an online counselling service called Coronacare.life. Project Vision offered a multi-language platform where through which people could share their anxieties and fears and receive medical advice and from doctors and professional counsellors. Soon it grew into an international platform offering help in major world languages, including Chinese and Arabic.
Coronacare.life has since been handled cases and calls from Europe, the US and even Africa. The Catholic Health Association of India, the Sisters Doctors’ Forum of India and the Camilian International Task Force are some of the partners in this initiative.
Soon we realised that the economic impact of Covid-19 would be bigger than the disease itself in countries like India. Project Vision brought together other like-minded organisations like AIFO and ECHO, our regular partners in disaster management, to create Coronacare Bangalore, to respond to the economic struggle of the people due to lockdown.
With the help from the Claretian Missionaries in Hong Kong and Macau, and a charity organisation run by Father Kandamkulathil, the Grace Education Foundation, Project Vision set about raising 10 million Indian rupees ($1,023,387) to help about 1,000 families.
Survival Kit was the name we coined for the support materials to be given to the families. The idea was to enable the families to survive this financial crisis while the lockdown is in place, with most families losing their monthly or daily income from work. We decided to provide about 20 kilos of provisions including 10 kilos of rice and five kilos of wheat flour for a family to survive for two weeks.
We decided to target the most vulnerable groups during a conference call among all the partners. It was clear that we had to get scarce resources to the most suffering sections. Thus, the partners were asked to identify such groups in their neighbourhoods and among their contacts.
The first distribution was among the Rohingya refugees’ settled near Hebbal in Bangalore. AIFO focussed on the Hansen’s Disease (leper) colonies across Bangalore and beyond. ECHO could reach out to the migrant groups from various places, organising food packets for more than 20,000 people. Project Vision worked closely with those with disabilities, the transgender groups across the city as well as those affected by HIV. Big Family from Chenai, provided financial support to more than 250 visually challenged persons. Thus, we ensured resources reached the people on the peripheries of society.
Our strength was our partners. We could identify the most needy groups and families through organisations working on the ground. As it was known to the groups that we had the Survival Kits for distribution, those agencies working with the communities got in touch with us. We asked them to connect to the vulnerable groups and organise the distribution to them directly.
We worked through the Sama foundation to reach to the persons with disabilities, the KNP+ to extend support to the HIV affected, the Good Quest Foundation to identify the transgender groups, and so on. It was this networking with various organisations that enabled us to connect to about 10,000 families in need.
Our main challenge was to raise necessary resources. East Asian Delegation of Claretian Missionaries and the Grace Education foundation together raised more than a million rupees ($100,000). We received major support in the form of 2.5 million rupees ($250,000) from the Power Grid Corporation of India, an undertaking of the government of India through its Corporate Social Responsibility fund. Project Vision Chennai raised half a million rupees ($51,300) from another CSR fund.
Other religious congregations like Schoenstat Fathers, the Ancille Sisters and the MSFS Fathers also contributed to the funds. The rest of the 10 million collected came from individual donations from families, friends and the public, using social media platforms. Project Vision had hardly 10,000 rupees ($1000) in its bank account when we started the work. We have experienced, more than once, that when we start to help with any disaster, the needed resources always come. That is Hope—which is also the name of our registered organisation.
Everyone prays very hard in times of disaster. If there is no help coming, people will lose faith in God and in humanity. Coronacare Bangalore ensured more than 120,000 people will survive this disaster in faith and hope.
The need remains huge. If you wish to reach out to the needy in India, you can get in touch with the Claretian Missionaries in Macau or in Hong Kong or get in touch with the Project Vision: www.theprojectvision.org
Father George Kannamthanam, a Claretian Missionary (CMF) based in Bangalore, India, and his charity organisation, Project Vision, have undertaken disaster relief operations both inside and outside India in times of natural calamities since 2004. Father Kannamthanam and his organisation are grateful to their generous donors, for cooperating with the Lord’s miracle of feeding the multitude through multiplying a few loaves and fish, by feeding over 120,000 people.
When the government announced a national lockdown due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the last week of March, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and slum dwellers faced death, not only from the virus, but also due to starvation. Project Vision, which was sending help to the worst affected nations, including China, soon had to focus on feeding those in its own neighbourhood