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The Covid 19 Emergency Programme in Karuna-Shechen

By Matthieu Ricard on June 24, 2020

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A New India/Nepal Emergency Programme in this Covid-19 Crisis. Support Them, Make a Donation!

The people of India and Nepal are currently going through an extremely trying time. The health, economic and social crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are particularly severe for several reasons.

In India in particular, the economic downturn caused by the March lockdown immediately and severely affected millions of people who depend on their daily income to survive from day to day. And it has further isolated and weakened vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities, the homeless, single-parent families, etc. Thus, these crises have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.

This explains the disturbing images, relayed by the media, of thousands of day labourers fleeing on foot from India's big cities to their home villages. These arduous journeys, sometimes hundreds of kilometres long, were their last chance to avoid starving in the cities where they worked.

On the other hand, India and Nepal are particularly shaken today because their health and hospital systems are not sufficiently developed and robust to cope with a crisis of such magnitude. With a total of more than 440,000 (1) cases, India is the fourth most affected country in terms of contamination. Unfortunately, India's social welfare system does not have the capacity to care for so many people. In Nepal, where the epidemic did not really break out until May, contamination is accelerating. In June, the number of cases rose fivefold to 10,000 (2). But the capacity for testing and hospitalization is very low.

India and Nepal are seriously short of hospital beds, but also of ventilators for people who need to go to intensive care. In Mumbai, gymnasiums and office buildings have been requisitioned to accommodate Covid-19 patients because of the saturation of hospitals, where a bed is sometimes occupied by two patients (3).

That is why we are launching today, together with the humanitarian NGO I founded, Karuna-Shechen, a Covid-19 Emergency Plan to take concrete and direct action in India and Nepal. Our teams have prepared a concise and clear page to present to you what this emergency plan consists of. To learn more, please click here.

We want to do everything we can to help as many people in need as possible. And in order to do so, we call upon your solidarity, compassion and generosity. You can donate quickly and safely, directly on the Karuna-Shechen website.

Compassion in action: the heart and motor of Karuna-Shechen

"Putting compassion into action" is the origin and core business of Karuna-Shechen, the charity organisation that I founded twenty years ago.

Compassion is that mental attitude that drives us to act to relieve others of their suffering. When we began to use the resources of Shechen Monastery in the 1980s, or to donate the income from the sale of my writings from 2000 onwards, to underprivileged people in the countries in which we lived, it was compassion that inspired and guided us. Personally, I wanted to make "compassion in action" the core value of the organisation. And I am very encouraged to see that, twenty years later, the members of the organisation embody this motto more than ever through their actions. I wish to share with you a very good example of this.

During the confinement, the director of Karuna-Shechen in India, Shamsul Akhtar and his teams, spontaneously showed a generosity and compassion that honours the association.

Initially, when the Indian banks had temporarily suspended a large part of their activities, and as a result Karuna-Shechen employees and service providers were no longer receiving their salaries, our director in India decided to compensate his employees himself, with his personal savings, while waiting for the bank transfers to resume.

Then, in order to help the most isolated and suffering people during this crisis, our director took an initiative that perfectly embodies compassion in action: having heard of the difficulties and isolation suffered by disabled people and migrant workers during this coronavirus crisis, he mobilized his network of contacts in Jharkhand- one of the poorest States in India where Karuna-Shechen is very active - to draw up a list of these people in the region in need of food or financial aid. Using this list, he organized and carried out food and food distributions for these people, which he financed out of his own savings. He then informed his colleagues and employees of his actions. Quickly, the employees of Karuna-Shechen in India got together and launched an "Emergency Support Fund" in order to help the people suffering most during the crisis. New food distributions were organised and, in total, several dozen disabled people and several hundred migrant workers were supported. This altruistic initiative finally turned out to be a "pilot project" for the above-mentioned Covid-19 Emergency Programme, which we have just launched. The idea was also to launch this "pilot project" to see if it was really effective, and then to propose to the association to take over and implement it on a larger scale.

A system of microcredits was also set up to help local people start their own businesses, enabling them to start earning an income independently. Some people have, for example, taken advantage of a loan to start growing vegetables, part of which they will sell in the markets. As soon as the confinement eased, seeds could be distributed to families who had the capacity to plant them so that they could feed themselves in the long term.

These spontaneous measures, taken by the Karuna-Shechen teams on the ground, give me great pleasure. I am particularly pleased to see that, in these difficult times, the members of Karuna-Shechen do not fail to embody by their actions the "compassion in action" which, in my view, is the heart and driving force of Karuna-Shechen.

Karuna-Shechen: a special place and approach in the humanitarian community

The beginnings of Karuna-Shechen began in the mid-1980s, when together with Rabjam Rinpoche we started modest initiatives, such as cash distributions to provide people living in the Himalayan region with the resources they needed to develop their own projects. Thus, from the very beginning, Karuna-Shechen was the result, the realization of an impulse of the heart, guided by compassion for all beings. It is with this aspiration in mind that I have devoted all my income to it.

Although Karuna-Shechen initially focused solely on the Himalayan regions, we have now broadened our scope of action and hope to be active in other parts of the world in the future.

Thus, compassion remains the foundation of our actions, while throughout its twenty-year journey, our organisation has become highly professional and organized: we now have branches in America, Europe and Asia, which call upon the generosity of our supporters and donors to help more than 300,000 people each year in India, Nepal and Tibet, where our teams include more than 150 professionals, particularly in the fields of health and education. The good virus of compassion - the Karuna virus - (as you know, "karuna" is the Sanskrit word for "compassion") is shared by the growing number of our collaborators around the world, and continues to guide and motivate our actions.

I therefore wish to express my deep and humble gratitude to each and every one of our donors. It is thanks to the people who support us financially that we are able to help so many suffering people. In these very difficult times for millions of human beings, we count more than ever on your generosity and benevolence, which we need in order to be able to continue supporting an ever-increasing number of people.

Notes

(1) Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/coronavirus

(2) COVID-19 pandemic data/Nepal medical cases, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:COVID-19_pandemic_data/Nepal_medical_cases#cite_note-208

(3) Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Patients share beds as coronavirus cases overwhelm Mumbai’s hospitals, The Guardian, 29 mai 2020,
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/29/india-mumbai-hospitals-overwhelmed-coronavirus-cases