Meet the Solve Ninjas who stepped up in the second wave
As the second wave of Covid19 devastated the country, five Youth Board Members came together to set up a Disaster Management Task Force, start an information helpline and create a verified directory of resources for multiple cities. We caught up with Lalith, Lavitra, Sneha, Rajashekhar and Sruthy to find out how they got this running off in such a short time and what they’ve learned from the experience.
The idea was a simple one: connecting people to the resources they required during the second wave. “Our main focus was on Covid beds, followed by treatment resources like oxygen, plasma, food and medicines,” shared Lalith, a Civil Engineering student and Solve Ninja for three years. “The goal was to be reliable and help as many people as we could.”
These efforts were initially being managed by Reap Benefit mentors, but as more and more SOS requests came flooding in, these five Solve Ninjas stepped in to take the work forward and develop it into a helpline-like system.
The first step was to understand what the team could do and if it was within the scope of their planned work. A structure was planned, and five different teams were created and volunteers were roped in to handle requests in the most effective way possible.
Requests Team — Checks for and enters incoming requests into the database
Verification Team — Verifies the requests that have come in
Information Team — The provide the necessary leads for resources to the requester
Directory Team — They collect and verify resources and leads. The verified ones are used by the information team
Follow-up Team — They take over from the information team and follow up with the patient to see if the leads or resources provided worked for them or not. If not, then it goes back into the loop.
Sorting through an information overload
“We had to collect leads from Social Media platforms, verify them and then record them so that other teams could have easy access to information when connecting people to what they needed,” says Lalith who lead the Directory team. He shared that there was a massive information overload, that was causing panic and confusion and spreading false hope amongst people “We have to remember that not everything we read is true and this applies to patient requests and resources too. Often people with urgent needs failed to find what they required because they were spending precious time following up on resources that are not real.”
Emotionally draining but rewarding
Sruthy has been a Solve Ninja for two months, and lead the information delivery team. “We started out by taking up requests, validating them and then giving attendants relevant leads. We soon evolved as a team to start calling the official BBMP helpline number to find and book beds for patients.” Sruthy says one of the hardest things she faced was to keep morale high for herself and her team. “Many resource verification calls lead to dead ends or our leads were not useful. When faced with this situation, it was all hands on deck but sometimes those efforts would fail too because of lack of resources. It was so hard to not feel helpless, but when we had attendants thank us and bless us for our efforts it reinstated our hope.”
“It’s been a roller coaster ride of emotions these past two months and it’s made me count my blessings every minute of every day.” says Sruthy.
Veteran Solve Ninja Rajshekhar agrees that it was extremely trying to learn that people they were assisting were no more. “ The emotions conveyed by their attendants was so hard to digest and we felt terrible we hadn’t been able to do anything for them. We would feel so helpless, but our weekly team calls with Anwesha, Archana and Ashish were what motivated us to come out of this helpless feeling.” he says.
A well oiled machine
Sneha says her biggest learning from the experience was the importance of having a well oiled machine. “Once we had a good system in place things flowed smoothly. An efficient workflow and having a team you can rely on to cover for you was essential. We did our work in intensive shifts and sometimes we just needed a break. It was so important to know that there was someone to shoulder your load, no questions asked.”
Sneha says the team had regular check ins every 2 days with each other to make sure everyone was ok. “We would try to keep some time aside to chill for a bit and keep things light at the end with funny remarks or jokes. This was important as the work was very overwhelming.”
Always have a plan B
Lavitra has been on his public problem solving journey for three years now took on the role of leading the requests team. “We scoured social media and community WhatsApp groups for SOS calls and entered them into our system. As the volume of requests increased we onboarded volunteers to help us. Each person worked a set number of hours every day, something that demanded focus and a deep rooted desire to help those in need.”
Lavitra shared that no matter how much one plans and tests there will always be setbacks. “My biggest learning was that ones plans should be dynamic and we should always have a back up. When plans failed we had to switch to plan b asap. I learned how to communicate with others, lead a team and time management skills. It was a great experience working with others who were driven by a shared goal. Plus seeing the groundswell of support on on social media was heartening.”
Our five leads and 23 volunteers took on 82 requests (including requests for beds (72,)plasma(4), Oxygen cylinders (2),blood (2), Remdesivir (2) and Ambulance (1), they made a total of 70 calls and fulfilled 10 of the requirements.
Unlocking begins but the work doesn’t end
As the cities, districts and states slowly begin to unlock across the country, the initiative has already evolved and transitioned into the next phase: the Covid Bed Task Force (CBTF). Reap Benefit has collaborated with various NGOs to create the CBTF which is a partially automated version of the helpline system we were following. It involves a chatbot taking requests from users and pushing it down the pipeline till the requirement is met, with various verification checkpoints.
If you’d like to join these Solve Ninjas in the fight against Covid19, there are many ways you can pitch in to help: online and offline.
Skills required depend on the volunteer role that one takes up, but the common skills required are data entry, communication, and teamwork.
You can sign up on the Solve Ninja WhatsApp Chatbot here.
WhatsApp 91 8095500118 with the message “covidwarrior” to sign-up.
A huge shout out to our Solve Ninjas for their service, empathy and resilience.