Air warriors

54-Shahnawaz-Shaikh Everyday hero: Shahnawaz Shaikh sold his sports utility vehicle to raise money to help patients | Amey Mansabdar

PASCAL SALDANHA, 54, is a mandap decorator from Malvani, a suburb of Mumbai. As his wife, Rosy, is a kidney patient, Pascal stocks an emergency oxygen cylinder. Last month, a friend told them about a school teacher who was unable to get oxygen for her husband who had tested positive for Covid-19.

When Rosy heard the story, she insisted that the emergency cylinder be donated to them as their need was greater. The Saldanhas’ son, Shalom, said that as news spread on social media, they got more calls for help. Rosy suggested that her jewellery be sold to buy more oxygen cylinders. “My health is anyways not good,” said the 52-year-old. “It was better to buy more oxygen and save the lives of Covid-19 patients.”

Her husband and son reserved an emergency cylinder for her and purchased and donated eight cylinders to people in need. Once a cylinder was empty, they got it refilled and sent it back. Shalom said their initiative helped save the lives of at least six patients. Many more have got oxygen cylinders from them.

As their story became better known, crowd funding platform Ketto got in touch and helped the family start a fundraising campaign. The campaign has raised more than Rs31 lakh so far, against a target of Rs50 lakh. Using these funds, the Saldanhas plan to buy ambulances equipped with oxygen cylinders, dialysis kits and other medicines to be donated.

Another Mumbai resident, Shahnawaz Shaikh, sold his sports utility vehicle to raise money to help patients. “Last year, a close friend was desperately looking for a hospital bed with oxygen for his pregnant sister,” he said. “She died before he could find one. I decided then that I will buy oxygen cylinders and donate them.”

With the money he got for his SUV, he bought 200 oxygen cylinders and set up a control room. People who needed oxygen could call the control room and then collect the cylinder from his storage facility. They had to produce a Covid-19 positive report and a prescription for oxygen.

Shaikh, who runs the NGO Unity and Dignity Foundation, has tied up with oxygen plants and dealers to get empty cylinders refilled. “We helped around 5,000 people last year,” he said. “As the requirement for oxygen has been much more in the second wave, I got every cylinder refilled. We have already helped over 1,000 people this year.”

Several organisations have also stepped up in the hour of need. Two Sikh youth congregations in the city collaborated with the Red Crescent Society to provide oxygen cylinders to patients. They now have around 65 cylinders. A couple of Jain temples in the suburbs were recently converted into Covid-19 care facilities with oxygen.

While the administration has been rightly lauded for its management of the crisis in Mumbai, the efforts of individuals and other entities have also been vital.