Volunteering in Mumbai During the COVID-19 Pandemic

After returning home in March to Mumbai, India for a family emergency, AECO Implementation Specialist Niranjan Prabhu was unable to return to the U.S. due to travel restrictions. He spent his time in India volunteering with a local pharmacy, the National Chemist in Matunga, Mumbai, and caring for stray cats, dogs, and crows. Below is his account of the experience.

I had to lead for Mumbai India on March 8th due to a family emergency. My father suffered a mid-line shift in his brain as a result of a stroke and had to undergo immediate brain surgery. After a month-long battle toward recovery, he unfortunately passed away on April 2nd due to complications.

The COVID-19 pandemic made everything worse for people with severe conditions; it’s hard to fathom the intensity of the situation unless you’re a part of it.

After my father’s passing, I struggled to return to the U.S. The situation in Mumbai was worsening as it was the hardest hit city with COVID-19 cases. As a result, India was under complete lockdown, banning all international and domestic flights. I didn’t arrive back in the U.S. until June 18th through one of Air India’s evacuation flights.

To keep myself occupied and regain some positivity after recent stressful events, I prioritized volunteerism. I take pride in Microdesk’s culture to give back to the community when an opportunity arises, so I did some community service and volunteering at a local pharmacy – National Chemist in Matunga, Mumbai, owned by a close friend.

At National Chemist, I spent most of my time transporting inventory from resellers, selling products, helping customers, managing the cash counter at times, and, most importantly, ensuring everyone was aware of social distancing and the importance of wearing a mask in a crowded city like Mumbai. We even had stray dogs relaxing near the shop making sure that everyone followed social distancing norms.

I fed a lot of stray cats, dogs and crows around the area on my way to and from the pharmacy. There are dozens of homeless animals in our area, and I took in a female cat who had just had kittens not long before. This experience was so rewarding that my wife and I were encouraged to adopt two female kittens at our home in the U.S.

We also had first-hand experience with COVID-19 as a lot of cases started to emerge around the area. Eventually one of our staff members contracted the disease, later passing it to the owner of the pharmacy. We immediately self-isolated for 14 days at his apartment to avoid the risk of spreading the disease to my family.

My friend had mild symptoms, mostly loss of taste and smell, but luckily his family members and I did not show any symptoms. Knowing that I was asymptomatic and had COVID-19 antibodies helped me mentally during my travel back to the U.S.

I feel I made good use of my time in Mumbai. I am glad that I was able to reach Mumbai just before the lockdown in time, spend quality time with my family and return to the U.S. just before the travel ban. Everything happens for a reason!