In April 2021, the United States experienced a steady decline in the COVID-19 cases, resulting in portions of the economy opening up. However, for people in India, the worst had just begun due to the second wave of the pandemic. The new variant of concern doubled the number of infections and deaths in the nation of 1.3 billion in population, sparking a humanitarian crisis due to the shortage of medical resources for critically ill patients, resulting in an alarming number of people losing their lives.
What emerges from the crisis is a story of three entities that didn’t know each other who, out of their compassion and vision, collaboratively raised $50,000 to help their fellow human beings in India.
In response to this crisis, Dallas-based philanthropists and founders of the HungerMitao movement, Raj & Aradhana Asava, initiated a matching donation challenge on Facebook of $25,000 and raised $12,343.
The three entities combined fundraising efforts – Taiwan Center Foundation’s $11,620.00 and HTHF’s donation of $1,037, was added to the $12,343 raised by Raj & Aradhana Asava challenge on Facebook for a total of $25,000. This was matched by a donation of $25,000 from Raj & Aradhana Asava – resulting in a final donation amount of $50,000.
These funds will be sent to India through Indiasporato help set up COVID-19 Care Centers. The 10 bed COVID-19 Care Center, for a period of three critical months, will provide over 120 patients care for seven days each; and 7,000 people will be benefitted through outpatient services and utilization of various logistical support.
A true story of what humans can achieve when they put their hearts and minds together!
In addition, responding to the same crisis in May, HTHF also raised $17,500 to send 2,000 oxygen concentrators and help set up an oxygen plant in India.
For additional information or to donate, check out each organization:
Valley Verde to sell culturally-meaningful and hard-to-find seedlings for families to ensure food security and comfort during pandemic and economic uncertainty
Today, Valley Verde launched a new offering of seedlings for culturally-preferred produce at a price point that communities can afford (even offering a discount to low-income shoppers). With unemployment and the cost of living high and a crisis like COVID-19 hitting our community, a backyard or porch garden can provide economic security and a nutritional safety net for families in need.
“Families want to grow healthy, fresh, organic, and affordable culturally-meaningful organic produce like Thai basil, bitter melon, chayote, and chili peppers in their own gardens. We are here to help them every way we can,” said Raul Lozano, Founder of Valley Verde. “People can grow their own food and eat it, share it, or even sell it to other families in the community.”
Diverse South Bay communities can have difficulty finding seedlings for the healthy, culturally-meaningful, and organic produce they would like to grow and eat. When families must rely on big stores and corporations for food access it can be easy to feel disconnected from their cultural food roots. With this new effort, Valley Verde is making it easier to grow the vegetables that our communities want.
Valley Verde has provided participants in gardening courses with homeland seedlings for four years, and is now expanding this opportunity to meet community demand. This includes opening an in-person nursery at 59 S Autumn St. on Saturday, March 27th where families can buy seedlings and have access to resources for new gardeners.
Lozano added, “Food unites our communities and nourishes our souls. Planting seedlings in a home garden or community garden is a critical first step to food security. Harvesting foods from our heritage is also a way of investing in the future and creating the community we want to see.”
To tell this story, we can offer media:
Interviews with Valley Verde representatives (Languages: English, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi)
Interviews with local growers/gardeners (Languages: TBD)
Site visits to the nursery, including on the day of its grand opening – Saturday, March 27th, 9am
Photos and b-roll of gardens and people working in their gardens
Seedlings will be available for sale at:
59 S Autumn St., San Jose, CA (Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-4pm)
Homeland seedlings for sale (at prices ranging from $5.00 – $10.00) include:
Chinese bitter melon
Alok – bottle gourd
Satsuma long eggplant
Squashes and zucchinis
Thai hot chili and other peppers
Habanero, jalapenos, and serranos
About Valley Verde
Valley Verde is a San Jose-based nonprofit focused on increasing self-sufficiency, health, and resilience through a culturally informed community based food system. We own greenhouses and help local residents plant gardens to promote food security. We offer monthly workshops and one-on-one mentorship in a variety of languages (including Spanish) to help home gardeners have a successful harvest. We want to support our community as they build resilience through food sovereignty by providing culturally preferred vegetable seedlings, environmental education, and supporting the development of edible gardens.
Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.
Covid-19 has impacted many but the sex workers across the globe have been the worst affected. The entire industry has come to a standstill amidst the protocol, with their livelihoods at stake. Most of them are on the verge of starvation and struggling to make their ends meet.
Alarmingly, there are over 800,00 sex workers in India. Spread across eight large red light areas and over 16 small clusters scattered across the country. The lockdown and covid norms have made thousands of them penniless prone to deplorable conditions. The social stigma and discrimination deny them basic moral support or cooperation from the nearby communities.
With no proper government documents or basic identity records, like adhaar card and ration card, the community does not qualify for any of the government subsidies released during the pandemic. Majority have failed to pay rent for months and are threatened with eviction by rowdy landlords. With school going kids and family to support at their hometown, the plight is daunting, leaving them helpless.
Abandoned at the mercy of various non-governmental organizations, their ordeal for basic needs is horrifying to note.
In Oct 2020, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) proposed to recognize sex workers as ‘informal workers’. However, many organizations came forward citing the risk of decriminalization of prostitution. After a month-long legal battle, the NHRC advisory, which was issued by a panel to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the human rights of women sex workers, included them under the section – ‘women at work’. But whether the provisions under the government scheme would reach them in time remains a question to ponder.
Not just in India, the sex workers worldwide are among the hardest hit in pandemic and continue to suffer destitution. Unknown to many, March 3rd was the International Sex Workers Rights Day.
In 2001, over 30,000 sex workers in India staged a protest to raise awareness of their rights. Organized by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, they gathered in Calcutta for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who wanted to revoke their permit. The event had a huge impact globally and since then sex workers across the world commemorate the day every year. Programs are organized to spread awareness about the abuses sex workers face and the violation of their human rights.
This year, unfortunately, it’s a fight for survival. In the wake of International Sex Workers Rights Day 2021, Tell-A-Story unveils the appalling story of Indian sex workers, the hidden truth, and the harsh reality behind the red light areas of India.
Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.
After his father passed away, 11-year-old Nirav and his mother left India and moved to Chicago. His mother wanted to live near two of her sisters, looking for a better life and a culture where she could raise her son more independently.
Nirav went on to earn his undergraduate degree from California State University, Long Beach, with the assistance of financial aid. Having experienced the positive influence governmental assistance could be, he knew his path involved giving back and it led to his pursuit of a Master’s degree in Public Health at Benedictine University.
Nirav completed an internship in public health in Tanzania and Kenya, where he met some Peace Corps Volunteers and became interested in following their path. He served as a health Peace Corps member in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Once he returned, he found his way back to the Peace Corps as a member of their public affairs team. Nirav is keen on spreading the message of seva to his South Asian community.
What does it mean to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?
“It’s all about building bridges of peace and friendship, whether it’s with your neighbors, family, or friends in different countries. It’s about giving back and making sure that when we leave this place, we leave it better than it was,” he said. “During my internship, I recognized that my passion was in serving the global community in the public health sector. It was a turning point in my life. I wanted to use the talents I developed overseas to serve communities that needed them most.”
Nirav followed his passion and applied for the Peace Corps, eventually serving as a health Volunteer in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Over a period of three months, he learned Chinyanja, one of the local languages in the south-central African nation, with the help of trainers and his community. Nirav lived with a host family in the Eastern Province, working over a period of two years on health initiatives.
During this time, he was a coordinator for the Stomp Out Malaria project, relaying preventive health messages to the community. He also implemented a USAID/CDC-led project called SmartCare, an electronic medical record system that provided individuals with a wallet-sized plastic card that gave medical facilities access to their medical history. The card helped ensure continuity and improved quality of care at critical times.
It wasn’t easy…
“The whole experience opened me up for challenges and helped me see the world through a different lens. For example, people in my community initially thought I was Muslim in Zambia because of my brown skin. I was able to explain that I was Indian-American and follow Jainism as my religion. Jains don’t eat eggs and meat, so my mother sent me care packages with spices, crackers, beans, and rice every three months or so. My Zambian family took good care of me, making meals with ingredients I gave them,” he said.
With the cultural pressure of marriage mounting, Nirav began making wedding arrangements with his fiancé whilst in Zambia.
Nirav kept in touch with his fiancé during service through long-distance phone calls; he would bike to the city to recharge his internet service. About midpoint during his service, Nirav took a week off and joined his fiancé in Mumbai, India, where they were married. As Nirav’s service drew to a close, his wife, mother, and in-laws visited Zambia, and he took time off to go sightseeing in places like Cape Town, South Africa.
He managed to appease cultural expectations and chase his goals. Despite the challenges, he was able to reconcile the two things.
Benefits of joining the Peace Corps…
After completing his service and returning to America, Nirav used his non-competitive eligibility (NCE) to gain employment as an adjudicating officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where he interviewed applicants seeking work permits and permanent residencies. Peace Corps Volunteers are granted NCE hiring status, which makes it easier for federal agencies to hire those who meet minimum qualifications for a specific position. Eventually, he returned to Peace Corps, this time as a federal employee.
“My passion to serve made me come back to Peace Corps. I love this agency, the mission, and the team I work with. I value the opportunity to inspire others to serve abroad, and to be a voice in the South Asian community for this awesome mission,” he said.
Nirav wants to get his global volunteerism message to a South Asian audience. His goal is to inspire South Asian U.S. citizens to explore nontraditional career paths and volunteer in areas they are passionate about.
“As an immigrant, I appreciated the opportunity to excel here in the U.S. and valued the opportunity to give back as a volunteer in a safe and secure environment,” he concluded.
Tamim Choudhury is a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps. Having volunteered as a guest lecturer at a rural school in Bangladesh, he knows the value of community building and has witnessed how Peace Corps Volunteers have made a grassroots development in South Asia.
The other day, while airing out and refolding my sarees, I realized I hadn’t bought a saree in many years! A few days before Deepawali and my birthday, I knew I had nowhere to go but that was no excuse – after almost a year into the pandemic, I wanted to look and feel good.
I am a bit wary when it comes to buying sarees. An experience I had a few years ago changed how I shopped for sarees. A smart and savvy salesperson at a store was pressuring me into buying a saree. Through casual conversation, she told me weavers spend 12-14 hours each day weaving the saree and dyeing it. Each saree, she said, takes 20-25 days to complete and many times weavers forgo their meals just to fulfill the suppliers’ demand, and they get paid Rs 100-150 ($1.50-2.00) a day depending on the type and design of the saree. The silk saree I had selected was priced at Rs 5,600 ($80) but the weavers had only gotten paid about Rs 2,000 ($30) for all the hard grueling work they put in. I walked out of the store feeling terribly sad for the weavers. I decided then, if ever I bought a saree from a store or online, it would be from someone who valued the hard work of the weavers and compensated them rightfully.
Many of these weavers and artisans are daily wage workers who work in extremely poor conditions and are not treated well. Their hands and body take a beating because of the long hours they put in. Added to this are the corrupt middlemen who stand to make a profit by paying these workers just a measly amount. If this is their plight in ordinary days, one cannot begin to imagine what they must be going through during these times when Covid has literally snatched their livelihood away. Also, weavers don’t get their jobs back until the existing stocks are all sold. With business affected, weddings, and festive gatherings postponed, these artisans are literally left to fend for themselves! With nowhere to turn they are forced to look for an alternate livelihood. Though tremendously skilled in their art many of them lack the technological skills to sell their weaves directly and hence are exploited by the middlemen.
Sarees are a symbol of our culture and heritage, and they are associated not only with our stories and sentiments but every saree also has the weaver’s emotions, identity, and voice woven into it. We simply cannot let their looms go silent and their voices die.
Hence, while shopping for sarees online, I look for organizations and vendors who work directly with the weavers and give them their rightful dues. That was when I stumbled upon Shobitam (meaning Grace in Sanskrit) started by two enterprising sisters Ambika and Aparna, right here in the US. What drew me to them was not just their beautiful, unique, and aesthetic sarees but their generous philanthropic work.
The sisters are not just your regular entrepreneurs on a mission “to help women look good, feel good, and do good” but also believe in giving back to their weavers and artisans. They consider the weavers their backbone “and it is their work behind the beautiful sarees.”
Shobitam “wants to be evangelists for them and give back, their goal is to make a difference and popularise lesser-known weavers.” Seldom do we come across a small business that has incorporated this philosophy in its infancy.
Shobitam launched a program Shobitam Cares at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown in India. More than 50% of the proceeds from summer were used to provide grains and other edible essentials to 800+ families across our weaving communities in India. Shobitam Cares also empowers rural women, encourages kids in these families to go to school, and adopts ethical and sustainable environmental best practices. After the lockdown restrictions were eased, “we continued our efforts to give back to the community with our initiative called Shobitam GIVE”, which helps non-profit community organizations in the USA who are doing good work and helps with food and education for children.
Shobitam’s other mission is to popularize lesser-known weaves, art, and educate customers about handlooms and the work that happens behind the scenes. They have been promoting Madurai Sungudi cotton sarees making customers and weavers happy. Similarly, due to the penetration of synthetics and unnatural methods of production, oftentimes, customers are unaware of what goes into the making of Handloom silk or a Kalamkari art or a Vegan silk saree, so Shobitam has taken upon this to give these artisans a much-deserved boost.
Ambika and Aparna are not only making women of the Indian subcontinent look and feel good but are also crusaders to the weavers and their families they work with. And yes, I ended up buying more than one saree from them!
Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture.
From day one it’s been our mission to contextualize Indian heritage and culture as it relates to the Indian American diaspora, hopefully providing a safe space for minority voices.We strongly believe that that local, in-depth journalism is at the heart of an informed public. The stakes have never felt higher than they have in 2020—but that only strengthens our commitment to producing high-quality journalism you can count on.
The funding we raise during NewsMatch will set us up for 2021, allowing us to continue filling a critical need—producing reporting that informs our readers on important issues and holds our leaders accountable.
Here are just a few examples of reporting in 2020 that our readers helped fund:
Ten children from the ages of 3 to 13 based in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey took to Zoom to organize and create Team Anti-Coronavirus. Their goal? To raise funds for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients at the Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC) in Vellore, South India.
“I had a lot of fun making cards and artwork with my baby brother,” says Anoushka. “My dad is a doctor. I want to help other doctors like him and all healthcare workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients.”
Anoushka is collaborating with her teammates Advaith, Ilakkiya, Neil, Nikhil, Oviya, Pragnya, Prisha, Shreya, and Veera. The youngsters have raised $550 so far by making cards, wearable art, and shrinkable charms for family and friends in exchange for a donation to a Go Fund Me campaign launched by journalist Sujata Srinivasan, whose son is part of the group. Srinivasan was motivated to contribute following her personal experience at CMC when she lost her mother to a road accident in 2018. The initiative is a collaboration with the Vellore CMC Foundation in New York, which will route all donations, which are fully tax-deductible, to CMC Vellore.
The award-winning, Indian nonprofit institution was in the U.S. news recently as a case study in the Harvard Business Review, and for work by one of its medical college alumni Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery in the Department of Surgery at Northwestern. Bharat and his team performed the first double-lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient in the U.S., after her lungs were damaged by the virus.
As of Nov. 1, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker showed 8.1 million positive cases in India. The number of COVID-19 deaths that were reported totaled 122,111. CMC alone has a positivity rate of 16 percent, down from as high as 30 percent, according to Dr. Kishore Pichamuthu, professor and head, Medical ICU, Division of Critical Care at CMC. “We have 75 COVID ICU beds in six units. Around 1,000 critically ill patients with COVID have been treated in these beds since April 2020,” he says.
From the data provided by CMC, of the total 9,072 COVID-19 patients admitted at the hospital, 91.6 percent were discharged (as of 28 Oct). A total of 3,135 patients received a subsidy for COVID treatment to date – the total charity amount was approximately $1.5 million.
Resources are strained as more patients continue to seek treatment.
“Patients are still coming in swarms to CMC, mostly because of the large number of COVID beds offered by the hospital,” says Dr. Pritish Korula, associate professor, Surgical ICU, Division of Critical Care. “Treatment for COVID is expensive. While our hospital does its best to help numerous socioeconomically-deprived patients, it has been a struggle to meet patient needs as the volumes are so large and the pandemic has been going on for so long.”
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.
Around the same time, Shivina Chugh, a junior at MSJHS in Fremont, was becoming increasingly worried as well. Rishabh and Shivina joined forces to help raise awareness for this cause as both their moms have been at the front line fighting this war and wanted to do their part to save people’s lives at the front line. After researching how the risks faced by frontline workers could be mitigated, they found that, in addition to other PPE, reusable and washable bio-suits helped keep the infection rate low among the healthcare workers in South Korea. Their research indicated that these bio-suits were already used in a few emergency rooms in hospitals across the United States but were not readily available.
They ran the idea of sourcing the bio-suits by their moms, a few Intensive Care Unit directors, and infection control personnel in a few hospitals who saw this project’s great value. At this point, they started contacting a few more hospitals to explore an interest in bio-suit as a way to increase protection for their staff. Not only was this idea well-received by the hospitals they contacted, but they also started getting referrals.
Seeing a high demand for bio suits and other PPE, they decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds. Fremont Bridge Rotary Club also contributed to this cause by raising money for this project. Together they raised $4,050 and were able to work with a few vendors to get bio-suits and other PPE promptly and pilot it in a few hospitals.
These bio-suits were delivered to Medical staff in ICU’S of Kindred Hospital and St. Rose Hospital. In addition, handing over bio suits to Alameda Highland County hospital in Oakland, CA, was immensely satisfying to the team because these residents provide care for the indigent patient population and, with bio suits, could avoid the high risk of catching infections that can prove fatal.
Dr. Steven Sackrin, at Alameda Highland County Hospital, said, “I want to extend our sincere thanks to your organization, Save your Saviors. The contribution of personal protective equipment is deeply appreciated. The bio suits are a particularly great addition to our supplies. The bio suits offer a superior degree of protection. It is so nice that they can be cleaned and reused. Most of our patients already have immense challenges, medical and especially non-medical. And our environment is already a bit threadbare and not on many people’s radar. But a sense of mission generally infuses the facility. It was so great that your organization was willing to share its efforts and contributions with this institution. Thank you very, very much for your generosity, thoughtfulness, and the grit/work that it took to accomplish what you have done.”
Dr. Evelyn Nakagawa at Kindred hospital echoed similar sentiments “Save your Saviors has provided bio suits that offer an extra layer of safety and help healthcare workers focus on their work with peace.
Save your Saviors campaign initially raised money and helped save lives of Health care workers to buy Bio suits and launch them in several Intensive care units of Bay Area Hospitals. After finishing their first phase of helping Bay Area Health care workers, they have furthered this campaign to help some other segments of society who are greatly impacted in this COVID crisis time. They have done several drives to raise money to provide food and personal items required for the homeless shelter and domestic violence survivors. They are immensely thankful to several families in the Bay area who generously contributed to such a noble cause. One of the drives with their contributions, approximately worth $2000, has been shared with the vulnerable survivors in dire need.
Whether they are health care workers or underprivileged people in society like domestic violence survivors or homeless shelters, the fight to save people’s lives continues forward by these students’ efforts. They continue with their efforts during this unprecedented time. You can help their efforts here.
Shivina Chugh is a rising senior at Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, CA. She is very active in her school clubs, Relay for Life, DECA, Peer Support Group and is the co-founder of the Save Your Saviors, which has helped the medical community during times of COVID-19 and continues to do so.
Rishabh Saxena is a senior at Bellarmine College Prep School in San Jose, CA. He grew up building lego puzzles, tennis, and skiing. He is passionate about helping people. He founded Save your Saviors to serve the community.
As I sit in my family room, looking out at the smokey, orange skies of the San Francisco Bay Area, I can’t help but think about my child with special needs.
It has been 8 months since we have been stuck at home due to COVID. This morning, September 9, 2020, at 11 am, when I woke up, it looked like dawn. When I drew open my bedroom curtains, I saw the sky in bright orange color. I had never seen anything like it before.
I quickly looked at the weather on Google it said that the clouds covered the smoke which traveled during the night and will eventually open up the skies around 5 pm. I then looked up the weather in Cloverdale, CA. It was 81 degrees with clear blue skies! I was comforted that my daughter, Siri would be moving there soon, in early 2021.
As a parent of an Autistic child, I worry about her future. 180,000 adults live at home with their parents. Siri, a 27-year-old young lady lives with us, her parents, and her two younger brothers at home.
About 90 miles away from San Francisco is Cloverdale, in a small town in the beautiful Sonoma County, rests Clearwater Ranch. Their mission is to provide life-long housing and community that empowers developmentally disabled adults to live their lives to the fullest potential with dignity, purpose, and joy. What a comforting feeling.
Our family along with a few other like-minded families are working actively, partnering with a non-profit, Living Unlimited, to design, develop and implement a life-long housing solution for our loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
So as the skies burn, I think about the future. The future of my daughter, of disabled people, of seniors, and of myself. I have committed my time and my life to securing my children’s future. Have you?
Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on Pinterest, Instagram, and Youtube.
Brainy Haven is a nonprofit created by high school students from Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its founders, Raayan Brar, Darron King, and Siddharth Jha, worked collaboratively on the initiative after realizing the lack of online resources for not just the elderly, but specifically those with dementia-related illnesses.
“In the modern world we live in, using technology to better those around us is our obligation,” says Jha. “At Brainy Haven, our team hopes to serve those with dementia-related illness by aiding their process, which can be terrifying for many families.”
Brainy Haven aims to assist those with memory through the use of technological resources. Their website contains an assortment of puzzles and brain teasers for dementia patients to use, ranging from patterns to a fully functional memory game. Having already sent it out to many nursing homes, the team at Brainy Haven has received positive feedback from users.
However, wanting to do more, the three contacted a team at the University of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center to receive feedback on structure and implementation. “I had known the Alzheimer’s Center’s Director, Dr. Henry Paulson, from past events so it seemed like he’d be the perfect person to reach out to for help,” King explained, “Dr. Paulson kindly introduced us to a group of people with diverse skill sets working at the Center and they gave us some detailed, brilliant feedback.”
In addition to Brainy Haven’s carefully crafted program, users can find important information regarding dementia-related illnesses and their impact on the brain. The team was astonished to see the sheer number of people affected by dementia and they hope that through Brainy Haven, those who are lucky enough to not have been afflicted with dementia can take a few moments to educate themselves on what dementia really is and its effects on their communities.
Brar remembers reading an article from the Hindustan Times and being shocked at how many Indians that are personally affected by this devastating issue. “Helping the community during difficult times is an amazing thing to do,” Brar says, “I have always wanted to better society, and what we did is something so simple, but I do believe that it can help the lives of our seniors.” The trio is proud of the work that they had done, and now they want teenagers all around the world to do something similar and help benefit their community in some small way.
Sticking to their roots in India, Jha and Brar plan on sending out customized programs to homes in India. Both having had family affected by dementia-related illnesses, the two are aiming to help those suffering in their ancestral lands. “After talking to family members and visiting India numerous times as I child, I hope to be able to give back to the people of Bihar and others who have not been blessed with the same opportunities as myself,” says Jha. “Brainy Haven is the first step to accomplishing that goal.”
Siddharth Jha hopes to change the world and solve global problems through management and technology. When he is not coding, Sid can often be found playing a game of chess or partaking in any other strategic activity.
Raayan Brar passion in life comes from the joy of teaching others and helping the community. As a teacher at various student programs, Raayan knows and enjoys the true value of critical thinking.
Darron King is planning to pursue a career in the field of neuroscience and psychology in his future endeavors. He is interested in learning about the endless capabilities of the human brain and is excited about the future of neurology.
Ninety percent of adult smokers develop a tobacco addiction as teenagers or earlier. Since 2009, e-cigarettes have become a worrisome gateway to regular smoking. Addressing this dangerous habit early is critical in the journey towards a tobacco-free generation. In 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States. Now is the time to take action.
The fight against smoking is personal. Having grown up in India surrounded by smokers, and losing family members to smoking, my mother taught me the dangers posed by tobacco usage. Her argument was effective since I have never really considered trying a cigarette. And I think their generation did a good job at discouraging cigarette use. When I ask my friends they are likely to express disgust at the idea of using cigarettes, and youth cigarette usage is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, this disgust doesn’t seem to transfer to e-cigarettes, which are seen as cool and hip.
Flavors are a big reason my peers start using e-cigarettes. In fact, 4 out of 5 kidswho have used tobacco started with a flavored product. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Juul and other e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of kids and reversing decades of progress cutting youth tobacco use. The flavors lure them in, and the nicotine keeps them hooked.” I know many classmates and friends who vape. My neighbor’s son is still only in middle school, but he’s already become addicted to e-cigarettes. He started because he saw a chocolate flavored e-cigarette and thought it was fun to try. How bad can something that’s candy-flavored be? And I have a classmate who started vaping because his grandfather tried to quit using e-cigarettes. He tried his vapes. He still smokes cigarettes, and now, he’s addicted. Some of my friends talk about comparing peach and strawberry flavors and which is better. And every high school kid knows about that one bathroom where you can vape in secret. The fact of the matter is, flavored tobacco and exposure to it makes it far more likely for kids to get hooked. And Big Tobacco doesn’t care.
But the CA legislature can make a difference now by putting the lives of youth ahead of the profits of Big Tobacco.As a passionate anti-vaping and anti-tobacco activist, I am pushing the California lawmakers to prioritize youth health by supporting SB793, the bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco.
Senate Bill 793, written by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), makes it illegal to sell flavored tobacco or tobacco flavor enhancer products. This include tobacco products such as cigarettes including Menthol flavored, cigars, cigarillos, and chewing tobacco, as well as newer products such as e-cigarettes, vape juice, and vaping systems.
Thankfully, the bill was passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom after months of advocacy and hard work from young people and adults alike. I was extremely grateful to have participated in the signing process via Zoom.
It’s not easy being a Youth Advocate for quitting tobacco. At the 2020 National Symposium for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/what-we-do/youth-programs#ambassadors I addressed over 100 youth activists nationwide, sharing details about the harassment and attacks I faced on social media for speaking up against vaping. However, I am not deterred and will continue to find ways to help reduce the spread of tobacco in the communities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, that affects lungs, placing smokers and vapers at especially higher risk of complications
Aditya Indla is an emerging community leader with Breath California, a non-profit organization and he has spoken in front of Dublin, Hayward, and Pleasanton City councils in support of a flavored tobacco ban. He is working to improve the tobacco retail policies in Union City and Newark as the Co-founder of Project Aegle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he raised over $10,000 to 3D print PPE for health care workers and was recognized as one of the U.N. Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s Leaders who Inspire you to Change the World.
Dr. King’s words continue to be a powerful message for South Asians throughout the U.S.
Over the past month and a half, our country has been jolted by recent acts of violence against black folks. While systemic injustice and racism have existed in this country for centuries, there is renewed political engagement with the entrenched issues of race in our country.
For the South Asian community, it is more important than ever to be “accomplices” in the fight against white supremacy and racism. Several South Asian activist groups and nonprofits are paving the way to help our community uncover some of its entrenched prejudices. Through education and civic leadership, these groups are helping the community discover how to participate in today’s movement.
Why does this matter to the South Asian community?
The human dignity of black folks is something so fundamental that has been repeatedly ignored by our country. South Asians have often ignored their complicity in this reality by hiding behind the bootstrap myth or perpetrating harmful anti-black ideologies.
However, our communities are more interdependent than people might initially believe.
“Our stories are very much interconnected and to deny that it is the doing of white supremacy and colonization that tries to keep our people divided,” says Sabiha Basrai, a member of ASATA, a grassroots South Asian activist organization in San Francisco.
South Asians and black folks have a long and shared history. Black leaders have long fought for the liberation of South Asian communities. In the 1960s, the activism on the part of the civil rights movement banned national and racial quotas on immigrants, enabling the vast majority of today’s South Asian immigrants to come to America.
Solidarity with communities of color is more than merely a thought, it’s been exemplified throughout the course of history.
“A specific example of that kind of solidarity is demonstrated through Bayard Rustin who was a civil rights leader. He actually committed an act of civil disobedience in support of the free India movement in the forties. He locked himself to a British embassy in the United States to protest the British occupation of India,” says Basrai.
But over time, the South Asian community has forgotten about that solidarity. In today’s moment, it’s important to hear the call to action, Basrai advises.
What’s Caste got to do with it?
“We must examine and reflect on our own complicity with hierarchical systems, like caste, which enables so much police violence within our communities and within home regions,” says Mahn, communications director at Equality Labs. Equality Labs is an organization that fights against oppressive systems in South Asian communities through political education and collective organizing.
Holding complexity is an important part of this conversation, Mahn says.
“Caste isn’t just a theory. It’s a real experience of hegemony for a lot of people.” Black and South Asian experiences are both tied to hierarchies of power.
“Racial apartheid and caste apartheid depend on both racial abolition and caste abolition. They’re corollaries, they intersect in a lot of important ways for the South Asian community, but they’re parallel. They’re not the same thing,” Mahn says.
Caste continues to be crucial to the conversation about the South Asian diaspora. Last month, technology giant Cisco Systems was sued for discrimination against Dalit employees. The employee experienced verbal harassment and fewer workplace opportunities due to caste. These systems of harm are real and have tangible consequences in diaspora communities.
Progressive organizations like Equality Labs are encouraging South Asians to reflect on different vectors of privilege. While South Asians may be harmed by white supremacy in some respects, the community also benefits from the model minority myth. Similarly, it’s critical for South Asians to understand how they may propagate systems of harm.
“The incredible thing about activism is that there are so many different ways to be involved and each of them matter, each of them are important in terms of what the work is that needs to be done and the change that we need to see happen,” she says.
Getting involved can range from a variety of different activities, from attending protests, to donating to black non-profits, to starting conversations in one’s own community – the critical piece is personal education.
“None of us are born with bias against anyone. It is taught to us. And the beautiful thing about that is it means that it can be unlearned as well.” Sinha says.
Sinha says action is like a ladder. We have the personal-level, targeting biases in our own minds. We have the community-level, where we help people in our communities fight against these injustices. And finally, we have the policy level. It’s important to hold political systems accountable, “whether that’s through calling into different congressional offices and police departments, and being able to use your voice in whatever ways is comfortable to you.”
It’s important for South Asians to mobilize against anti-blackness.
“Where I really want people to understand that rather than being a source of fear or holding you back or paralysis that in fact, making even those small changes helps buffer us against racism. So if you’re feeling a little helpless or a little stuck pushing yourself to act on any level is a major part of what makes us heal.”
Today’s moment is different from anything in our recent history. Sinha thinks that shows promise.
“People are thinking about these issues for many people in a way that they never have before. And that just speaks to the power of the possibility and power of growth and change for humans.”
South Asian history is now inextricably linked to American history. The radical nature of today’s moment is important and will define the way our society functions for generations. We must choose the side of justice, for our collective liberation.
Swathi Ramprasad is a senior at Duke University. She enjoys learning more about the world through her South Asian heritage.