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In Kashmir, Cancer Funds Saving Covid Situation

In Kashmir, Cancer Funds Saving Covid Situation

The critical cash meant for the treatment of the terminal disease is coming to the rescue of the needy in the Covid crisis.


Tech-savvy Sajid Sofi sensed it quite early that coming events would soon cast their shadow in his serene hometown on the banks of Mansbal Lake in the Ganderbal district.

It was early spring of 2020 and the permeating pandemic had already made a pariah out of a pilgrim. It had even devoured a “godman” who had returned from the media-hounded Delhi “markaz”.

After bringing the bustling Kashmir capital to a grinding halt, the virus was now threatening to make Sofi’s neighbouring township a “mini-Wuhan”.

Between that first Covid case and the consequent community caseload, the valley witnessed its classic community welfare system getting disrupted and disintegrating. Even the idea of community mourning became a ‘bugged and banned’ affair.

Such was the terminal terror created by the bludgeoning bug that towns and villagers became ghost towns overnight. The blood relations were kept at arm’s length. Some even hanged a telling message on their padlocked gates: “Please leave us alone for some time!”

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For the vale’s defiant population known for its solidarity sentiment, the sense of indifference created by the invisible enemy was disheartening.

But then, says Sofi, the man in his early-fifties attending a critical call in his Safapora, Ganderbal office, Kashmiris had to fight back another adverse phase in their backyards.

As part of the critical care, he along with his team members decided to dedicate their collective cause for the community care. This Samaritan cause had first begun years back when their hometown wore long faces over the fate of a local tailor.

Sajid Sofi attending a new case in his office. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

On one fine day in 2005, when Safapora’s Abdul Hameed Dar fell extremely ill at his shop, it alarmed everyone. Without sensing the real cause of his sickness, the tailor was driven to Srinagar for a tertiary-care treatment.

In a bustling hospital, some quick tests and scans were done. The results shortly rattled the poor family. Their headman much to the village’s dismay was diagnosed with cancer.

Despite leaving no stone unturned, Dar’s family couldn’t manage much help.

The searing family struggle would eventually mobilise the community support for the fundraising of Rs 27 lakh — the tailor’s tumour-treatment cost.

The amount was raised within no time with the support of the local civil society and baitul-maal.

But Dar couldn’t make it, and breathed his last in the city hospital, where he died just another simpleton from the pastoral pockets who couldn’t keep track of his falling health.

His demise left behind a huge unspent amount with the local fundraisers.

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After deliberating about it for days together, these welfare workers decided to help other cancer patients and the local needy families.

“The motive was to start ‘cancer and severe diseases treatment fund’, which since then has come to the rescue of many people in Safapora and adjoining areas,” Sofi recalls in his office while attending another emergency call.

Office of the welfare body. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

Till the spring of 2020, the welfare body would stick to the basics before the coronavirus shifted its gears.

Behind the change was the critical state of some northern belts of Bandipora, with Hajin and Sonawari, emerging as the reported ‘hotspots’.

Soon as they ventured into the villages with aid and attendance, these Safapora Samaritans only diversified their welfare role.

“Since at one point of time we had the highest number of Covid patients in Bandipora district, our welfare body only tried to save the situation by helping the needy,” Sofi says.

To tackle the Covid crisis, these helping hands had to capitalize on their cancer funds.

However, foot-soldiering for communicable disease proved to be a tough task for the Samaritans schooled in non-communicable disease management.

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But, as Sofi describes it, the team had to take the challenge head-on. And they did.

Office of the welfare body. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

During the first viral wave itself, these volunteers came to know about the growing oxygen crisis in their backyards.

Many local Covid positive patients were being told by hospital authorities to stay home if they could arrange oxygen concentrators.

“It was then a few financially unsound patients approached us for the assistance,” Sofi, overseeing the second wave operations in his hometown, recalls.

“We thought it’s high time to help these people. Without any delay, we got the required equipment and started distributing them among the needy.”

Stock they supply. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

In the ongoing health emergency, Sofi-led Safapora Samaritans are tirelessly providing oxygen concentrators, cylinders, wheelchairs, pulse oxymeters, nebulizers, beds and other equipment to the needy patients.

“We’ve kept the critical stock available at our office,” the team leader says. “It’s free of cost for poor patients, while others can just pay a nominal amount for sustaining this life-support campaign.”

But unlike last year, the present phase has greatly tested the team attending frequent medical emergency calls at night.

“At the drop of the hat,” says Sofi, “we ensure critical supplies in this fight between life and death.”

A welfare worker on a new case. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

Years after fundraising for the tailor, the Safapora welfare body has today become one of the vital grassroot crisis-managers in Kashmir.

They keep everything on record with the annual audit report and aspire to become a pan-Kashmir NGO from a localized welfare trust.

“We’re playing our part in this pandemic without affecting our basic role,” Sofi says.

“We’ve already around 70 registered cancer and other critical diseases patients whom we’re helping, alongside some 100 Covid patients we have already helped. We’ll continue to help our brethren — now and forever.”

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