Tag Archives: #COVID_19

Lockdown Diary of an Indian Dance Teacher

Like other performance artists, dancers and dance instructors depend on human interaction to convey their artistry to their audience. COVID situation presents unique challenges for dance instructors. Most dance teachers have had to replace their studio-based classes with online sessions, in line with the “stay-at-home” state guidelines. As they move their classes online, they are finding innovative ways to keep their audience and students engaged. 

I am an Indian dance instructor based in the Greater Seattle area, teaching Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance. As I have transitioned my classes to Zoom, it has been somewhat of a challenge due to various technical issues, as you can imagine.

Some funny moments arise from online classes:

Recently I have noticed a funny development…

My students were performing their mudras (hand motions) while chanting Sanskrit shlokas. As most of my younger students are US-born and lack fluency in their native tongues, I take time after each class to make them practice both the mudras and their accompanying shlokas. I teach my classes on a laptop connected to a large flat screen tv, with the sound ramped up. My daughters join me for some of the classes too and we perform together. 

My husband, who is an IT professional, sometimes sits and works in the adjacent kitchen area while I take classes. It seems that our shloka recitations have started affecting him too, as I can hear him repeating the mudras with us as we practice. During one of my online classes, I remember quizzing my students. “What is this mudra?”, I asked. “Kartarimukhaha” (a scissors shaped hand gesture), chipped my husband before the student could answer. The students and parents attending the call broke out laughing. He keeps humming these shlokas as he works around the house these days. I successfully implanted the Shloka bug in him finally after 16 years of our marriage during lockdown!

Pet dog “Sugar” was Aleyssa’s “horsey” during her online Indian classical dance class

In another incident, two adorable sisters, Aleyssa(8) and Ameyssa (5), were in the middle of their online Bharatanatyam class, working on a movement called “Araimandi” (a half-sitting posture where the dancer creates a typical diamond shape with her legs).  As Alyessa was practicing, her Labradoodle, Sugar, decided to run through her legs. She took it in stride and exclaimed that Sugar was her “Horsey!” So, in the middle of our class, there was my student, Aleyssa, riding atop her dog Sugar, like a princess on her horse! This ended when her 5-year-old sister, Ameyssa, came and held sugar’s ears and finally managed to stop her. Usually, an online session is very stressful for both teacher and student, but this incident made me laugh and brought in a much-needed bit of joy in this pandemic crazy homestay.

I am also inspired on a regular basis by my adult students. Most of them have kids at home and have to squeeze out time out of their daily schedules to attend classes. 

Pallabi tries to learn Indian classical dance online with her two active daughters running around her.

My student, Pallabi, has two active girls aged 4 and 7. Normally, when Pallabi would attend Bharatanatyam class, her daughters would play at the church nursery or at the park. After I moved the classes online, Pallabi decided to continue attending the online sessions. One day she was learning a complicated travel and sidestep, where she was trying to create a V shape on the ground with her feet, and as she danced, both her little girls were using that V-shape as a zig-zag path to run around. 

How she learned that complicated step amidst all the chaos that was going on at her home, is beyond me. This is funny as well motivating too, as it shows that if we are resolute in our focus, no chaos can be considered as an excuse.

I have also started teaching Bollywood dance lessons. I am currently teaching a sequence of Warrior queens from Period Bollywood musicals. For these lessons, students need to use props as swords. We were about to order these props and distribute them to the students but the lockdown came about before I could hand them over. However, the energy and positivity of my senior students came to the rescue. They decided to meet online and finish learning that sequence. For the prop swords, they turned to whatever they could get their hands upon in their respective homes. One took a rolling pin from the kitchen, another picked up her husband’s cricket game stick. Someone else picked up her kid’s toy arrow from a bow and arrow set, and another person grabbed a Jedi’s sword from her son’s desk.

Different dance props are chosen from around the home.

I am blessed to have these passionate people in my life. When I moved my classes online, I offered a discounted fee structure. However, all my students waived off these discounts and they pay the full fee amounts as they all think that more labor and prep time is involved in teaching online classes. I decided to contribute some of these earnings to other artistic communities, as a way of giving back.

Theatres, auditoriums, and other dance studios shut down across the country in response to COVID-19. Many studios are quickly exploring the option of teaching classes online. Many non-profit studios are asking for donations to help them stay afloat. Being a freelance Indian dance instructor with a decent IT job, I decided to donate online dance earnings to a dance studio named “Da Vinci”, which always provided space to people like us to continue our passion.

As the world continues an uncertain battle against the invisible COVID-19 virus, performing art communities worldwide have been among the first to be affected due to restrictions on public gatherings and concerts. The virtual world is flooded today with free offerings of all kinds of art, movies, museum tours, music festivals, dance concerts, music festivals, to keep up the morale of the world as it copes with the lockdown and the cultural climate. As a society, we need to help the arts survive as it helps with inner healing.

Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 

Immigration in Limbo, H-1B Holders File Patents

In this pandemic epoch of coronavirus, our H-1B workers respond to the national emergency. Around 3,310 biochemists and other scientists have worked together to develop a coronavirus vaccine through the H-1B program. 

Reflect and ponder. How can you imagine an America without them?

The proportion of H-1B workers to American companies has doubled its production rate due to workers’ ability to create new products and replace outdated ones. The product reallocation grows more revenue as a result.

However, the H-1B program is limited by immigration policies such as the H-1B visa lottery and the “Buy American, Hire American” policy. This cynical atmosphere of embracing diversity leads to difficulties in patenting an invention. HB-1 workers are leading the nation to promote mass scientific innovations. Yet, they have difficulties in filing patents caused by political and economic changes. 

Who are H-1B Visa Holders?

H1-B Visa Holders are immigrants who work in the United States under a “specialty occupation.” As provided by law, a person is required to have a minimum educational level of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. 

H-1B employees can work for no more than six years. If an employee was contracted for less than six months or if an employee successfully obtained a Green Card, then the six-year limit does not apply.

Recent statistics show that H-1B workers occupy nearly two-thirds of STEM professions.

H-1B visa lottery has affected the status of immigrant workers

On March 31st, 2020 the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) revealed that significant numbers of H-1B visa applications were denied due to a system glitch.

USCIS has not yet offered a remedy. It becomes clear that the H-1B lottery fails to provide an alternative system, affecting the livelihood of foreign applicants and beneficiaries.

President Trump’s “Buy America, Hire American” policy has added a burden to the status quo

The tightened policy ordered the Department of Homeland Security to issue H-1B visas to only the most-skilled or highest-paid workers. As a result, USCIS has increased H-1B visa denials and the number of Requests for Evidence to H-1B applicants.

Due to this immigrant policy shift, thousands of companies have lost their foreign employees.

Today, Indian Americans have experienced unfortunate situations due to their H-1B visa status – many have had their visas denied and are left unemployed.

H-1B workers are given a 60 days period to find another job. 

There is no guarantee that they can be hired in a fast and demanding environment. Unemployed H-1B workers have difficulty obtaining visas, making them an illegal resident in the U.S. As the government limits their potential economic contributions, the H-1B visa holders’ chances of patenting an invention become complex and bureaucratic.

Importance of a Patent Attorney

H1-B workers are leading the overall innovation in the American economy. 

Immigrant workers have contributed to designing machines, developing software applications, proposing business methods, and improving healthcare. 

The inventions of H-1B workers should be safeguarded in terms of its ownership, exclusive rights, and competitive advantage by hiring a patent attorney. 

For valuable reasons, hiring a patent attorney helps an H-1B worker in providing legal advice on how to get a patent, conducting a prior art search for marketability, and patentability of an invention, performing patent infringement, securing an economical patent cost, and litigating future cases in the proper court. 

J.D. Houvener, a San Francisco Patent Attorney, emphasizes the substantial need of hiring a patent attorney:

“In filing a patent application, always consider the professional guidance of a patent attorney. A patent attorney provides a clear understanding of a Patent Law and the complex process of a patent process. By hiring a patent attorney, you get things done right and give you the best benefit you need.”

Conclusion

The difficulties of filing patents as an H-1B visa holder, perhaps, are a call to amend these policies for the permanence and stability of our immigrant workers.

To make America successful, the government should uncap the number of H-1B visas and liberalize the security of getting green cards for immigrant workers. If the administration won’t make a move, great scientific innovations will be at stake.

As immigration policies might have tightened the rope of filing a patent, a patent attorney is always ready to lose the tension in the hopes of innovation and invention.

Rei Lantion is a graduate from Ateneo de Manila University and is an aspiring IP attorney. Professionally, she has a great deal of experience in writing, editing in patent law, working one-on-one with patent attorneys. When she’s not writing she loves playing D&D with her dog Oreo.

Dear PostModern Gandhi: What Is the Right Response to Coronavirus?

Dear PostModern Gandhiji:

A decade ago, when I was a first-year medical student, I worried that modern medicine and pharmacology were based on animal products.  I had been raised in a strictly vegetarian Jain household and had been taught to respect all living things.  Thus seeing monkeys and dogs in cages used for experiments and dissections disturbed my belief system.

Fast forward to 2020.  First the good news: physician training in American medical schools no longer requires animal dissection. But with the tragic coronavirus pandemic, my old concern about animals seems quite trivial.  It seems that we should do anything and everything to save humans from suffering.

Because I practice sports medicine, I’m not with the frontline of clinicians tending to those with COVID-19.  As such, I’ve been struggling to understand what Gandhiji would be doing if he were alive today.  What should I be doing?

Dear Friend:

Here are a couple of quotes from Gandhiji that you might find of value.  My own sense-making of Gandhian principles follow the quotes.

“There is a divine purpose behind every physical calamity.”

“I do not want my house to be walled in all sides, and my windows to be closed. Instead, I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Thank you for this opportunity to consider Gandhiji’s response to the coronavirus.  I imagine that he would have taken a multi-disciplinary approach.

Young Mohandas Gandhi had been both a trained and untrained nurse.  As a child, he had tended to his ill father by sitting at his bedside and perhaps massaging his father’s head and legs.  As a young man returning to India at the end of the 19th century, he confronted the Bubonic Plague and served his brother-in-law; while the ayurvedic treatments could not save his sister’s husband, he learned something about himself:  “my aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion.”  He famously used this aptitude for the healing profession during the Boer War in South Africa as the founder of the Indian Ambulance Corps.  And through the rest of his life, he nursed himself through many fasts and served those with serious illnesses.  His patients ranged from his wife and other immediate family to members of his ashrams and lepers whose stigmatized condition he championed.  I recall this medical biography to suggest that, as a man of science, Gandhiji would have surely been at the frontline today serving COVID-19 patients in the ER or the ICU. 

But Gandhiji understood that science has its limits.  He wrote, “To state the limitation of science is not to belittle it.”  I imagine that he would have recognized this crisis as an opportunity to head off larger crises. To be sure, he would have used his political talent to support organizations like W.H.O. to mitigate the socio-economic risks of future pandemics. But I believe that Gandhiji’s greatness lies in his multi-generational vision for humanity. The earth – all of it, and all of its creatures – was a Gandhian home.  Not only would Gandhiji have directly faced the respiratory challenges of the coronavirus, but he, also, would have used the present danger to open windows and minds to confront even greater ecological, social, and spiritual catastrophes like climate change, enduring inequality, and cruelty to animals.

Using his tools of satyagraha, swaraj, sarvodaya, and ahimsa, Gandhiji would have encouraged us to be in satyalogue with each other, in truthtalk, about what we’ve learned about ourselves and each other during this pandemic.  

Regarding your question about what you should be doing, I suggest using all of the gifts bestowed upon you from your religious upbringing and your medical studies; kindly consider how you can use that knowledge for your private spiritual growth and our public universal uplift.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza has published a compilation of similar Q&A pieces addressing dilemmas that we face in the 21st century.  His book Satyalogue // Truthtalk is available on Amazon.

Indian Girls Are Making Masks Global

COVID-19 isn’t a test of whether we can fend for ourselves. Rather, it’s the story of those who choose to fight for the rest of us. And that’s precisely what a hundred young girls from Uttarakhand, India are trying to do — but they need your support. 

Since the coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency in January, countless medical facilities have struggled to accommodate the growing need for surgical masks. Hoarding, misinformation, and price gouging have all contributed to the scarcity of masks in hospitals. And while masks should be a priority for all members of society, it’s absolutely critical for medical professionals and sanitation workers, who are directly exposed to infected patients on a daily basis for hours at end. A single mask could break a chain of infections and hospitalizations before it even begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, masks have proven to filter out COVID-19 particles, thus protecting you from those infected but also allowing victims of the coronavirus to avoid infecting others. These girls know what’s at stake. 

That’s why Uttarakhand’s students, with the support of the non-profit organization Educate Girls Globally, have pledged to sew fabric masks and distribute them among communities in need. With nothing but their grit and their sewing machines, they have already brought a nascent change to their locale by providing a nearby hospital as well as the Uttarakhand Police Department with more than one thousand cloth masks. And that was all in a month’s work!

It was after a representative from Educate Girls Globally reached out to me that I realized the need more resources, attention, and support from the rest of the world. At a time when healthcare professionals are being forced to reuse existing masks, it’s crucial to encourage public movements that make more masks available. With the help of Educate Girls Globally, we started a GoFundMe account in hopes of scaling this endeavor to the international level. 

These funds will allow the girls to purchase additional materials, as well as transport these masks to healthcare facilities. More than twenty hospitals in the United States desperately need masks  — both  homemade and surgical — to protect caregivers, hospital visitors, and volunteers

These empowered young girls from Uttarakhand want to raise $25,000 to distribute more than 50,000 high-quality fabric masks to hospitals in the United States. They tell a story of perseverance amid immense adversity and fear. 

With your small financial contribution, we can give this story the ending it deserves.

To donate, click here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

The Greying Population of India Hit with COVID-19

While parents left behind in India are terrified of COVID-19, their NRI children are impatient in a distant land to return back to them. We are worried about our loved ones staying far away. Recently, NRIs settled in US, UK, France, dealt with the rapid transmission of COVID-19. The nightmare of a rapid influx of positive COVID-19 cases among potential foreign returnees is petrifying and we must be wary for the most vulnerable populations in India.

In India, the number of working-age populations suffering from COVID-19 is substantial because of its large middle-aged populace, yet the elderly are just as likely of getting the infection, resulting in fatality; this is due to weaker immunity systems, presence of comorbidities, and slower recoveries from diseases.

A handful of research supports that 60+ people with pre-existing comorbidities like chronic lung, liver, kidney diseases, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and those dependent on immunosuppressive drugs have a higher chance of COVID-19 infection than the rest.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of COVID-19 associated deaths are among more than 65 years’ age group, with increased deaths in elderly males. Thereby, it becomes a challenge to fight the disease for India where the number of the elderly population is close to the combined population of UK and Italy.

The Health Ministry opined in April that “8.61% cases are between 0-20 years, 41.88% cases are between 21 to 40 years, 32.82% cases are between 41 to 60 years and 16.69% cases above 60 years“. Simple statistics from the current population structure can establish the vulnerability of the greying population- about 8% of Indian population above 60 years’ accounts 17 % of COVID 19 patients; while about 62% Indians 20-60 years have approximately 73% COVID-19 cases. Hence, the elderly is at no less risk than the middle-aged to this novel disease.

India has a propounding 140 million (UN projection, 2020) 60+ population. Majority of the districts across India have 7-10% percent elderly. While, many districts of Southern states – Maharashtra, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Punjab – have more than a 10% elderly population (Fig1: a). Based on 2011 Census, our map indicates that many districts of Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have a high proportion of 60+ elderly who are disabled (seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, and mental illness; Fig1: b). Districts with a higher proportion of elderly, especially disabled elderly, require special focus and regular monitoring in the framework of tackling pandemic.

Elderly Population in India, 2011.

(a) Proportion of 60+ elderly; (b) Proportion of 60+ elderly disable

 

Impacts on the elderly are layered. World Health Organization (WHO) has identified mental health as an integral part of overall health in correspondence with physiological, behavioral, and psychological wellbeing of older adults. Gerontological studies have established the association of inadequate social wellbeing and poor elderly health.

Proportion of Elderly Living Alone and The Prevalence of Different Diseases Per 1000

State Living Alone Mental Illness Depressive symptoms Hypertension Diabetes Asthma
Assam 386.90 20.80 656.20 252.80 59.00 80.10
Karnataka 343.10 117.40 592.90 237.90 141.60 72.10
Maharashtra 341.50 5.40 557.00 179.00 90.60 110.10
Rajasthan 378.30 6.10 452.00 142.90 42.00 78.60
Uttar Pradesh 316.00 28.20 552.00 133.60 28.80 100.50
West Bengal 350.00 4.10 567.30 245.10 67.30 64.30
India 341.00 26.80 554.30 181.60 65.70 89.80

 

 

  Source: Calculated from WHO-SAGE 2007 Data

The long lockdown in India is vital to avoid burdening the healthcare system and to suppress the chain of transmission of infection. It is mandatory to take “extra care” of the elderly because social distancing may lead to depression, anxiety, and mental illness, especially among the elderly who are living alone and/or are disabled. The vulnerability of the elderly with less social support can escalate in instances of accessing medical support, transportation, banking, food access, etc.

Income, medical security, and social support are major challenges during and beyond the lockdown period. Although, the central government has announced some financial-welfare schemes and guidelines/instructions in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the helplessness of the aged needs special consideration.

During this tough time, it is necessary for the government, stakeholders, social welfare organizations, and communities to stand in solidarity to provide the essential supplies (groceries, vegetables- fruits and medicines) to the elderly at their doorstep. We need to take precautionary steps to avoid infecting the older adults by sanitizing and frequently cleaning their belongings like, clothes, spectacles, canes, walkers, beds, toilets, chappals, etc. and encouraging them to get engaged in possible physical activities/works within the home.

In order to bolster our elderly loved ones, we need to assist them through social and mental connectivity. The void of connectedness can be minimized through phone, online calls, messages, or encouraging them to interact with friends/neighbors keeping a safe distance.  We all should stay connected with the aged while staying away to keep the world positive.


Subhojit Shaw is a doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, India (IIPS, Mumbai). His academic quest revolves around population aging, child health, and environmental health.

Aparajita Chattopadhyay with her two decades of teaching and research experience, has contributed well in the fields of public health, gender issues, aging, environment-development, and nutrition. She is a faculty of the International Institute for Population Sciences.

All views expressed are personal.

Reopening Colleges & Keeping Students Safe

Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California, is open for business this fall — but to get there, you really have to want it. Tucked amid verdant hills 23 miles east of San Francisco, accessible by a single road and a single entrance, the small, private Roman Catholic school receives almost no visitors by accident.

This, in the age of a pandemic, is good news indeed for its administrators.

“We can control who comes in or out in a way that larger, urban campuses perhaps can’t do,” said William Mullen, the school’s vice provost for enrollment. “Those campuses are in many cases more permeable.”

As colleges and universities across the country juggle student and staff safety, loss of opportunities and loss of revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, even seemingly secondary considerations — how many entrances a school has, how close it sits to community foot traffic, how food is served — loom large.

And while officials are loath to make broad guarantees about safety, they can’t ignore public health advice and thus are immersed in an effort to at least minimize the potential for harm. What that looks like will vary wildly from campus to campus, but in almost every case it will include attempts to limit close contact with others — a difficult job for educational institutions.

The stakes are enormous. Some universities are already projecting financial losses in the tens of millions due to declining enrollment and the uncertainty ahead. But at its core, this is a health problem that remains both simple and vexing: How do you open up a campus without inviting mass infection?

One preliminary answer: Don’t let too many people hang around at the same time.

“I would never use the term ‘make it safe,’” said Dr. Sarah Van Orman, who oversees student health services at the University of Southern California, a private school in the heart of Los Angeles. “I would say we’re going to reduce the risk to the degree possible to have everything in place.”

“I would never use the term ‘make it safe,’” said Dr. Sarah Van Orman, who oversees student health services at the University of Southern California, a private school in the heart of Los Angeles. “I would say we’re going to reduce the risk to the degree possible to have everything in place.”

On many campuses, that means reducing class size (even if it requires adding new sections), making large survey courses online-only, cutting dorm residencies by as much as 50%, limiting or eliminating common-area food service, and perhaps even alternating students’ in-person attendance according to class level (freshman, sophomore, etc.) by quarters or semesters.

That’s in addition to the protocols recommended by the American College Health Association. The ACHA, to which more than 800 institutions belong, has called for a phased reopening of campuses “based on local public health conditions as well as [school] capacity.” Its guidelines include widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolation or quarantine of both ill and exposed individuals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out even more daunting instructions for what a campus should do in the event of a positive test, calling for potential short-term closures of buildings and classrooms that might extend into weeks in the middle of a semester. Among other things, the CDC said, the scenario could include having to move some on-campus residents into short-term alternative housing in the surrounding community.

Van Orman is a past president of the ACHA, but her school has yet to announce a definitive plan for the fall. That puts USC in good company. Although a rolling survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that nearly 70% of schools are planning for on-campus education, almost every institution directly contacted by Kaiser Health News was actually planning for all contingencies, with fully or partly opened campuses simply being the best-case and most publicly touted scenarios.

Making a campus virus-ready could take all summer, according to officials at several schools. Most of them don’t yet know how many students will return, and about half the schools contacted by KHN said they’ve pushed back the decision deadline for incoming freshmen to June 1, a month later than usual.

Those decisions have huge ramifications for university budgets. Ben Kennedy, whose Kennedy & Co. consults higher education institutions, said most are planning for an enrollment drop of 5% to 10%. “They’ll experience the big financial hit this fall,” Kennedy said.

At Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., a projected $50 million shortfallprompted voluntary furloughs, suspended retirement contributions and construction stops. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported $50 million in unexpected costs, while Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California’s 10-campus system, estimated combined losses of $1.2 billion from mid-March through April in announcing salary cuts and some freezes.

At the same time, large-scale restructuring will be required at bigger campuses in response to the pandemic. Converting some multiperson dorm rooms to singles will become the norm at many schools, although not every campus — or community — is prepared to handle a surge of students needing to find other housing as a result. Solutions are still being studied to address those who will be in close quarters in shared dining halls, bathrooms and common rooms. Some schools plan to set aside dorms for students who test positive and need to be isolated or quarantined.

“Students with existing health issues will have priority for single occupancy,” said Debbie Beck, executive director of health services for the University of South Carolina’s 33,000-student Columbia campus. “Testing in the residence halls will be critical.”

Several schools are considering ending their fall semesters before Thanksgiving, which Beck said “would further reduce risks and control the spread of COVID” as students are sent home until January. Stanford University, meanwhile, is pondering a range of possibilities that include permitting only a couple of class years on campus, perhaps alternating by quarters.

A common misperception, several officials said, is that college campuses have been “closed” since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Although student life has been restricted, other parts of many campuses have remained in operation, particularly at research institutions.

“We have research departments and laboratories that really don’t work if you’re not there,” said Dr. Jorge Nieva of USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s difficult to do mouse experiments with cancer if you’re not doing mouse experiments with cancer.”

California’s two massive public university systems embody that dichotomy. California State University Chancellor Timothy White said the 23-campus CSU system, primarily instruction-focused, will mostly conduct remote learning. Napolitano expects the research-heavy University of California campuses to be open “in some kind of hybrid mode,” which many other schools likely will adopt.

“These kids are digital natives,” said Nieva, whose son was a freshman living on campus at USC before students were sent home. “A lot of what they’re experiencing, they’re perhaps better equipped to handle than another generation might be.”

Back in Moraga, Saint Mary’s will reduce dorm capacity, record lectures for online retrieval and institute strict guidelines to prevent the spread of illness — but it plans to continue a 150-plus-year tradition of close, personal education for its 2,500 undergraduates. In its case, being small is the biggest advantage.

“If we already only have 15 or 18 students in a classroom that can hold 30, then it becomes much easier to adapt to the new guidelines and protocols,” said Dr. Margaret Kasimatis, the school’s provost. “That’s a pretty good start.”


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

What Is Your Friend?

Covid-19’s social distancing protocols have resurrected and increased social connections. It looks like we all have an uptick in the frequency of video calls, large chat groups, and increased social media activity. I know many of us are now in touch with college groups, school groups, family groups, cousin groups, children’s school groups, neighborhood groups and so much more. There really was no reason for any of these interactions to have not taken place earlier – the infrastructure, technology, and people were always there. Only one thing seems to have changed – the incessant demands of the clock on our time. 

For some, caring for younger people or older people in their care, Covid-19 has been doubling difficult. But for several others, Covid-19 has presented us with a curious dilemma: Finding ways to spend time.  Covid-19 has affected people in several ways, and in recent chats and calls, one trend seems to be emerging: What is your friend?

A few months ago, one of our aunts was visiting and the family had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt)? How do you pass time?” I asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile, “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her students later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy. These people seem to be the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream is a book of many marvelous essays. The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. 

Then, there is the Eternal Self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old)

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on to explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

Finding something that makes us want to do something without tangible rewards is the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power. Covid-19 has given us the unique opportunity to pause and evaluate what we do with our time. Some have exceeded themselves on the culinary front, some others with photography, some have taken up gardening. I find it refreshing to see the Creative Self reviving in so many of us who have given in to the power of the time-bound social self for so long.

What is your friend?

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

An International Student’s Concerns

COVD-19 has caused worldwide concerns in the higher education space, especially in the middle of the ongoing decline in the number of international students studying at American universities. They are losing billions of dollars as reported in the March 2020 report of ‘NAFSA: Association of International Educators.’ There has been discussion on how it has impacted schools, colleges, next admission cycle, financial funding, how teachers are told to teach online. Most of the universities have moved to online teaching.

Some, like Boston University, are considering the possible postponement of their Fall 2020 semester, which will again put International students at higher risk because if they are not enrolled for a specific number of credits during a semester, they will not meet the visa regulations, initiating possible deportation proceedings against them. However, these are not the only challenges international students are going through, there are many more things we need to think about as we move forward. 

Take financial insecurity. Many of my American friends don’t know that International students are only allowed to work on campus for a limited number of hours to support themselves financially. These hours are further reduced during the summer semester for international students. Due to this unprecedented situation, international students are worried about how they will earn their livelihood and pay their bills with campuses closed. 

Traveling is extremely expensive at this point. Canada, India, and many European countries are on complete lockdown. International travel is expensive, and that is why international students choose to go annually or biannually.

Someone I know can afford tuition fees, but they depend entirely on their on-campus cafe’s job to pay bills. In these extremely uncertain times, the educational institutions are doing their best to offer most of their classes online, providing free food, supplies, and virtual support, but this is a temporary solution. International students have sustained the economy of American Universities and though international students may not be citizens or permanent citizens, they pay similar kinds of taxes on their income; another contribution to the US economy that has been impacted.

I have been worried about my friends and family. I am not at home to take care of my parents, and to seek solace, I have been talking to other international students. I realized that I am not alone, we are all stressed. One lost their family member, a few have economic challenges, my friend’s elderly parents are alone without any help. We do not know if traveling is safe, from both, an immigration and health point of view. 

Many students have invested their hard-earned resources for a dream to earn their degrees from America. University of Chicago’s Business Professor and Economist Anil Kashyap and Jean-Pierre Danthine at the Paris School of Economics are predicting a massive recession that will likely hit the job market shortly, which would be again detrimental for international students trying to find a job. Graduate students who are joining US schools from Fall 2020 also see an uncertain future because after they graduate in two or five years, depending upon what degree they are pursuing, may not have a stable economy waiting to welcome them. 

This situation is of global concern and everyone should take steps that are guided by morality and compassion. The American economy has benefited immensely from the contribution of immigrants. Far from home, they don’t have much direct physical support, unlike most other students, and everyone should come forward with a different approach to meet our challenges.

Saurabh Anand is an international Ph.D. student and a Graduate School Research Assistantship Block Grant (GSRA) fellow in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. A version of this article was first published in Duluth News Tribune.

World Health Organization: The Lost Genie

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore US President, Donald Trump. Known for not mincing his words and rarely playing diplomatically, he recently tweeted that, Corona Virus is a very bad ‘gift’ from China to the World. 

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266014911127306240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1266014911127306240&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Fworld%2Fvery-bad-gift-from-china-trump-in-his-latest-rant-on-coronavirus-pandemic-6431932%2F

Whatever Trump says or does makes a difference. He has provisionally suspended the funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accused the WHO of being Pro-China, mishandling the Corona Crisis. A few days back he wrote a letter to the Director-General of the WHO, threatening to exit the global organization. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

And now he has finally announced to end US’ relationship with the World Health Organization… 

It is evident in history that whenever any crisis emerges, it challenges all the previously existing structures, organizations, and institutions. A global crisis like COVID-19 is very much capable of either reducing our existing institutions as redundant or tagging them as completely outdated.

Donald Trump has put WHO in an embarrassing spotlight and while, we may or may not agree with him, we also cannot ignore a few basic analysis points.

WHO came into existence on 7th April 1948 and its identity centered around the global population’s health. WHO, as a global health body, should be held liable, accountable, and responsible for missteps regarding the current pandemic.

Covid-19 has threatened the very existence of humanity. The invisible attack has proved that the WHO is not adequate enough for serving Global Health.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, WHO failed to gather timely information with its epidemic surveillance system, and paradoxically praised China for its effort to contain the virus. 

China mislead the World, as well as the WHO, about COVID-19, many global reports clearly suggest. Whistleblowers were targeted by the Chinese government and human-to-human transmission was completely denied, initially. WHO should have kept a close eye on misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

WHO is obligated to inform communities about their rights and obligations with respect to health. Undeniably, acting as ‘Information Intermediary’ is the most vital function of WHO.

If one goes on to analyze the WHO’s Constitution, Article 1, states the objective of WHO is the attainment of the highest possible health for all. Article 2, highlights various functions of WHO, which include taking all ‘Necessary Action’ required to attain the highest possible level of health. Note that, Article 2(q), says that it is the function of WHO to provide information, counsel, and assist in health-related fields. Article 2(r), says that WHO work will be to assist in developing an ‘Informed Opinion’ among all the people about any matter related to health. 

Generally, there are few distinguishing essentials that determine efficient governance by any international organization.

First, the one who leads the organization makes a significant difference. Without a proactive leader, an organization as paramount as WHO may remain inert and passive. This is especially true in WHO’s context, where Article 28(i), authorizes the Director-General of WHO to take all necessary steps to combat epidemics.

Second, what power does the organization has if any member State violates its guidelines or recommendation?

According to the WHO’s constitution, Article 63 mentions that each member shall communicate promptly to WHO on important laws, regulations, official reports, and statistics related to health. Article 64 says that each member shall provide statistical, epidemiological reports in a manner determined by the Health Assembly. And Article 65 points that each member State shall transmit on the request of the Board such additional information pertaining to health.

To ensure the credibility of any organization, it is most important that its guidelines are binding on member States. In case any member violates its mandate, then the organization should have the power to penalize it. 

Lastly, the organization’s source of funding should be transparent and autonomous. Independent sources of funding make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of any organization. Financial autonomy plays a very significant role in making any institution equitable, fair, neutral, and bold in taking decisions. But WHO lacks financial autonomy and transparency in its funding.

USA has been the biggest donor to WHO contributing almost 15 percent of its total Budget under Assessed Contribution, the amount each member State pays to WHO according to the GDP. Over time, the Assessed Contribution has declined and Voluntary Contributions have risen, which include funds from private organizations. This reliance on Voluntary Contributions should be reduced to contain transparency of funding.

One thing that is clear is that the WHO has a GREAT responsibility in global health scenarios. The saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” but the saying holds true the other way around as well. At least some bare minimum power is needed to ensure the efficient working of any institution. If this great responsibility is not complemented with bold, autonomous decision-making power, then failure of such an institution shouldn’t be surprising at all. 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India). 

Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India).


Featured image by Thorkild Tylleskar and license here.

Image of Director-General by ITU Pictures from Geneva, Switzerland and license here.

A Parallel Pandemic in the Shadows: Women Affected

Coronavirus brings the simmering issue of gender inequity to a violent boil. 

A barrage of data can leave you with less information than the data dictates. For some, it has become a hobby to get instant updates on Coronavirus infection rates, death rates, and trends. 

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”, Maya Angelou advises. Yet, the reductive nature of statistics are difficult to escape. One data point can blind us to the barriers of entry, the treacherous path, the years of turmoil, the fallen and left behind, and the unseen. 

Numbers indicate that men are being affected by COVID-19 at higher rates. But where does that leave our women?

In the US, prior to the pandemic, the workforce was 51% women, revealed Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, at the May 22, 2020 EMS Briefing. A staggeringly high statistic, one that has taken many years to reach. From an inaccessible job market to wage gaps, having a workforce that was representative of women was an achievement.

However, from the time the pandemic began, that number has dropped to 47%. The last time such a distribution existed was in 2000 –  a complete loss of the gains made in the last 20 years, in a short 3 months. 

Global trends indicate that women are – on and off the frontlines – being affected by what is now being called the Shadow Pandemic. Dr. Estela Rivero,  Research Associate within the Pulte Institute for Global Development’s Evidence and Learning Division, shares that women are being burdened with the unpaid work that accompanies shelter in place orders. 

Unpaid work is defined by labor that has no direct remuneration; taking care of the house, your children, your children’s education, caregiving for the disabled and elderly all fall under this category. Imagine, if you were to hire someone to do said work, you would be paying them 24 hours a day. Women take on these extra tasks in conjunction with a part-time or full-time job. 

“Who is bearing the brunt of taking care of the children? Who is bearing the brunt of the online schooling?”, asks Dr. Beatrice Duncan, Rule of Law Advisor for UN Women, when she speaks about the increase in unpaid work by women. 99.9% of women, globally, are experiencing a spike in unpaid work and Duncan implores the collective to rationalize the impact of this gender disparity.  

Women are disproportionately impacted by unpaid work and caregiving during the pandemic, Dr. Estela Rivera informs. A quick look at the two tables above indicates that the burden of unpaid work has fallen on women prior to the pandemic. 

Coronavirus brings the simmering issue of gender inequity to a violent boil. Women, all around the world, with or without the pandemic, have been doing more unpaid work AND on average, work more hours (unpaid and paid) than men.

(Dr. C Nicole Mason, left; Dr. Estela Rivera, top-right; Dr. Beatrice Duncan, bottom-right)

“COVID-19 has, really, exposed some of the fragility of our economic, social and political systems”, Dr. Mason articulates. “We knew that there was something underneath the numbers. Even though women were in the workforce in record numbers, many women and families were still struggling to make ends meet. Measuring the economy by low levels of unemployment… didn’t capture the day to day realities of women and their families.”

Women are overrepresented in the health, education, and hospitality sectors, all of which have taken a hit during the pandemic and historically have lower pay. With unemployment for women jumping from 3% to 15% in the US, during the shelter in place, they are facing the loss of jobs, inadequate savings to survive the pandemic and potentially, having to make the difficult choice to choose work over their children. 

If women are to re-enter the workforce with equal footing, creation of new jobs, equal wages, increased basic pay, childcare provided by employers, flexibility with schedules, and social support systems for women, need to become part of the government’s structural dialogue. 

The economy and its jobs have changed and recovery requires adaptation. Otherwise, the violent boil will overflow, destroying everything in its wake. 

The path forward begs the question: What policies do we need long term for women and their families to succeed? 

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Corona Chronicles

I have a confession to make: secretly, I was kinda happy when India went into a total lockdown on March 25. Come on, I was feeling only what your average overworked, stressed out middle-class working woman felt. The disease was bad, but I was happy to take my staycation.

But I was not going to laze through 21 days. I had plans – house cleaning, writing, being the light of my family, getting lighter … all that good stuff. 

Day 1: Woke up with a sense of awe. We were witnessing history! Realized that there was no newspaper. Worse, no housemaid. For 21 days. An icy hand clutches my internal organs. A week, I can get by, but three weeks? 

Upside: Had a nice long nap in the afternoon. Felt really rested.

Day 2: My mother was absolutely right – housework never ends. No point in slaving, you have to do it all over again … in an hour’s time. New rule: no one allowed to walk on the floor or change clothes. And if anyone wants to eat the rice, sambhar, rasam, veg fry, and curds, they could use their fingers and palms only – no plates allowed. 

Upside: Have started watching re-runs of re-runs old shows.

Day 3: A day of realizations.

  1. My neighbor’s baby has colic. My neighbor has a baby. Really? Just exactly, who is this neighbor?
  2. A family that stays at home eats too much. I have to cook often and in large quantities. Ergo, more dishes. Aaarrrrgggh!
  3. Love my family. I just don’t want them around all the time.
  4. Eating healthy when confined to the home – an oxymoron. Also, how long will my stash of snacks hold out

Upside: Discovering the joys of binge-watching.

Day 4: I hate housework. I-HATE-HOUSEWORK. Once this lockdown is over, I’ll burn the house down. Finding it hard to binge-watch Friends and Big Bang Theory while wondering – ‘Who the h**l is doing their dishes and cleaning their apartments when they are at that d***n coffee shop or the Cheesecake Factory?’ This thought sucks the fun out of watching the shows.

Upside: Begun reading a book … more than a page at a time!

Day 5: Going to commit murder. A man in the next building keeps singing off-key and loudly along with his stereo. Hoping his family will do him in themselves. If they can’t, I volunteer.

Hearing about immigrants in cities trying to go home. Terribly sad for them. Okay, I’ll admit – my suffering is small potatoes. By the way, do I have enough potatoes?

Upside: Gave myself the day off. Read a wonderful thriller.  

Day 6: Dying of housework. Wiping all the torches, electric lamps and burned out bulbs, even gas stove – but no genie. I now know who I love the most – the maid. If anyone offers to bring my maid back in return for my family … well, I guess that’ll never happen (sob).

Sick of Friends. For just how long did this show run?

Upside: Today, a resident set things up so that we get veggies and milk packets every morning. Yay! 

Day 7: Today, my husband went out, as a volunteer for shopping for our apartment complex. I suspect he was just itching to get out of the house. When my hunter-gatherer returned from the mythical land called Outside, I made him give a step-by-step account of the entire half-hour trip. It took 45 minutes. A highlight of today.

Huge Upside: Husband took over the dishwashing duties. 

Day mmm-hmm: Missed a few days of journaling. Hell, missed a few days of life – got my dates wrong. I cheered when I found we had a couple fewer days to go of the lockdown. I have gone from being merely grouchy to being depressed as well. 

Upside: ?????

Day something or the other: Today, my husband got another chance to escape … needed salt! Bit down hard on a pillow and stay that way to prevent myself from asking him to buy a ton of snacks. 

Day sometime-during-week-two: Am all weirded out. Vocabulary stunted as we use only the words Corona Virus, Covid-19, lockdown, self-quarantine, shut up, and how the hell should I know. Still hate housework, but we now have a truce going. I’ll sweep, but the corners have to fend for themselves. If my boss can’t deal with it, she can do the work herself. Oh, wait, I’m the boss. Dang it.

Upside: All of us are healthy. We are all home, we are together. Watching TV footage of all the migrant laborers trying to get home – heartbreaking. Hunger and uncertainty in the camps – scary. And sick people in overflowing hospitals and the deaths … at least we aren’t going through that.

Day end-of-week two: Identified new syndrome – Lockdown-Induced Writer’s Block. Wonder if people will still be interested in the same things post-COVID. Still can’t get over the unreality of the situation. Is this lockdown a waste of time, or the best idea ever?

The mood around town is strange too. Most people are taking it as a time to relax. Some are going out anyway, once or twice a day. There is some seriousness but it’s not all gloom and doom. 

Summer is in full swing. The heat is killing. It’s enforcing the lockdown better than the fear of Coronavirus.

Upside: Birds are singing like gangbusters. We’re seeing bulbuls and parrots far more than before.

Week 3 beginning day-(Name starts with M or something like that): Conflicting feelings:

Happy because I’ve Corona eyes – dark circles are completely gone.

Upset, because I’ve Corona hair – shaggy and roots are showing.

Day Wed/Thurs. Week 3: Yay, only one more week to freedom. I am feeling far more upbeat than before.

April 15: India’s lockdown extended until May 3.

Hell, I’m putting all activities on hold as I concentrate on saving my sanity.

Good luck to you too!

Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Heroes of War

Heroes of War 

Bracing themselves 

heavy armor

coat after coat

danger is principal.

 

They enter war

an invisible enemy 

the fiercest predator

with an unidentifiable weakness.

 

Their compassionate hearts

drive a noble sacrifice 

for the protection of lives 

they never knew.

 

Heroes they stand

knowing and holding 

the fear of 

surrendering themselves to defeat.

*****

Rashmika Manu is a freshman in high school. She enjoys writing poems, playing volleyball, and traveling. She visits India often and has a desire to help the poor and needy in the future.