Houston, TX–Hindu faith-Based Sewa International contributes $50 million to fight COVID-19, Sewa said in a statement.
“What a commendable effort, and what a fine example of bringing organizations together to serve the country during the pandemic,” said US Congressman Ami Bera, speaking as the Chief Guest at the unveiling of the Sewa International report, showcasing the $50 million impact the Hindu faith-based organization has had, partnering with more than 500 other organizations since the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting life in the country from early March last year.
The report, titled “Joining Hands: A Community Effort to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was released at a virtual event on Feb. 6, 2021. Congressman Bera is the Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the longest-serving Indian American Member of U.S. Congress. As a trained physician himself, he said he understood how much of a challenge the pandemic had posed the nation and the world. “Sewa International’s work, and especially their ability to bring others to collaborate in tackling the pandemic, is therefore significant,” he said.
Representatives from national emergency and disaster management organizations took part in a roundtable discussion offering viewers their expert analysis of how the pandemic took by surprise most people, how community and disaster relief organizations can join hands and leverage the help and expertise of the national organizations. Participating in the discussion were Gina Cross, the Acting Director of AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), Dinusha Weerakkody, Emergency Management Specialist of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Carol Flores, Texas DCMP Grant Coordinator of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD), and Damian Morales, Manager of Disaster Services, OneStar Foundation.
The event began with a video summary of the work done by Sewa International and the impact it has had on communities across the country. Included in the video were commendations of Sewa’s work: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who urged Sewa to keep up the good work and said that “Sewa International represents the best what America has to offer”; Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was “thankful for Sewa’s work and charitable contributions,” and how Sewa had over the past fifteen years had grown from a small to a mid-size charity organization, and been recognized by The Houston Chronicle as “one of the top 100 charitable organizations in Houston”; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation said that “this is the time we come together to serve humanity in whatever capacity to help people…”; Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji of the Avadhoota Datta Peetham offered a prayer to Lord Dattatreya to “bless Sewa International… so that it could help those in need”; Sandeep Chakravorty, Indian Consul General, New York, said that many Indian American community organizations had reached out to the Consulate and worked to ensure that those who needed help were “inconvenienced the least”; Chaitanyamurtidas Swami of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha said that Sewa International’s work was of critical importance both to the larger American community as well as the Hindu communities across the country; and Sri Paripoornanda Swamiji of Sree Peetham urged organizations to “join hands with Sewa International… to bring both change and clarity” in this time of need.
Acting as the emcee was Prof. Anurag Mairal, Adjunct Professor of Medicine and the Director, Global Outreach Programs at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, Stanford University. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and a Faculty Fellow and Lead for Technology Innovation and Impact at Center for Innovation in Global Health. Moderating the roundtable discussion, he asked the experts from FEMA, AmeriCorps, NVOAD, and OneStar International what were the main takeaways, ten months laters, for how we can be better prepared to deal with COVID-19, what they learnt about community responses to the pandemic, and what advice would they offer community organizations about what should they avoid/do less of, and what should they do more of.
The event was streamed live via Facebook, and more than 1,400 people had logged on to view the event.
The Sewa International report identifies 125 of the more than 500 organizations that Sewa volunteers worked with across the country raising money, distributing food, face masks and other PPE, offering help to stranded international students and travelers, participating in food and PPE drives, offering hot meals to the hungry, and managing ten hotlines responding to calls for help from around the world.
“We did not know what would be demanded of us in this pandemic situation. It was a first-time experience in dealing with the kind of medical/health disaster that has affected the whole world. Ten months into it, and more than a million volunteer-hour commitment later, partnering with hundreds of organizations who put their trust and faith in us, we believe we have made a difference in our local communities, across our forty chapters, in 28 states, around the country,” said Arun Kankani, President, Sewa International, inaugurating the session. “This report itself, compiled with the help of young student volunteers, is an emblem of the kind of work we do and of our philosophy of serving selflessly,” he said.
Detailing the nature and content of the report, Karuna Kankani, a member of the team that compiled the report said that a number of people, organized into numerous teams, were responsible for seeking the data, collating the data, editing the report, designing the report, and organizing the event for the release of the report.
“Disbursing more than $2 million that were raised through direct donations and government and institutional grants, and distributing about $50 million worth of food, PPE, medical supplies, and groceries, serving more than 750,000 people in big cities and small towns, our 5,000 volunteers from 28 states have made a bold statement about selfless service,” said Syam Kosigi, Vice President, Organization, Sewa International.
“As we realized that other Indian and Hindu cultural and religious organizations wanted to pitch in and offer their help and support, we started an initiative titled, ‘Sankalpa Patra,’ a ‘letter of commitment,’ that these organizations signed on to committing to work together in the time of this deadly pandemic. We have been honored and blessed to work with these dharmic organizations, those who identify themselves as Indian American and follow the precepts of serving selflessly, serving everyone without discrimination, and considering the world as one family. The ‘Dharma’ communities in the US represent only about one percent of the American population, but our work this past year shows that we can and do add a large drop into the bucket of good work done in the country,” Kosigi said.
“Our volunteers have been working hard to support and help people across the US, as well as in India and other countries where Sewa International has its presence. In the Bay Area, for example, people suffered not only because of the pandemic but also because of wildfires. Many people elsewhere suddenly lost their jobs, could not attend school, and had to fly back to their countries when international travel almost came to a standstill. The elderly, the sick, and the stranded had to be taken care of. It was amazing to see how our volunteers – with their special skillsets, community networking, and knowledge – set up and managed hotlines, monitored WhatsApp messages, and delivered aid and advice almost instantaneously. It was exhausting in the beginning, but it was satisfying too knowing what we could do to help dealing with this pandemic,” said Sandeep Khadkekar, Sewa International’s Vice President of Marketing and Fund Development. “We are truly a voluntary organization with our Board of Directors, our Executive Leadership Team, and our Chapter leaders all giving their time, their energy, their commitment freely. Our administrative costs are about three percent, and we have now partnered with hundreds of similar organizations to deliver help in these times of need,” Khadkekar said.
Sewa International, a leading Hindu faith-based Indian American nonprofit organization, has extensive experience in disaster rescue, relief, and rehabilitation operations having responded to 24 disasters in the US and abroad. In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, Sewa volunteers helped in the rescue of nearly 700 people and have served thousands of affected families since then through their case management service. Sewa raised over $3 million for Hurricane Harvey recovery, Sewa continues to rebuild homes and greenhouses that serve as a means of livelihood. Sewa International has also rendered relief in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2018 and Hurricane Imelda in 2019. Sewa teams in the San Francisco Bay Area continue to build and donate tiny homes for those rendered homeless in the California Camp Fire of November 2018.
Among its other accolades, Sewa International has been recognized by Charity Navigator – the premier nonprofit rating agency – as the number five among the “10 Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions.” Sewa has for the last three years continuously scored the topmost-rated 4-star from Charity Navigator and has earned perfect scores for its Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency.
For more information on Sewa International and its activities, please visit www.sewausa.org.
For more information on Sewa International’s efforts to support communities nationwide during the COVID-19 crisis, please visit https://sewausa.org/covid-19.
The Dharma Network Report can be accessed here.