Sneha Dhatrak, resident of Rajgurungar near Pune and a student at the Pimpri Chinchwad College of Engineering, has been spending her lockdown mornings helping 15 families in her housing society. “I taught a neighbour to pay her electricity bill online and helped others order groceries on WhatsApp,” she says. Her college mate, Saurabh Kumbhar, delivers milk packets to an elderly couple living next door. Like them, 60,000 students from 800 colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) are spending their lockdown assisting at least 10 families in their neighbourhood as part of an ‘adoption programme’ launched by the SPPU’s national service scheme (NSS), a government-sponsored public welfare initiative. The programme is a brainchild of Dr Prabhakar Desai, professor of Marathi language at the SPPU and the director of the their NSS cell, and Dr Nitin Karmalkar, vice-chancellor, SPPU.
Many of the students involved are also helping people identify COVID-19 symptoms and running errands for the elderly or the physically challenged. Around 4,500 student volunteers are involved in ensuring that government-sponsored provisions reach the needy.
With masks becoming an essential commodity, students have been making masks at home and have, so far, distributed 1.2 million masks. Another 41,000 students have enlisted themselves as ‘Blood Donation Warriors’, pledging to donate blood at the local hospital as demand arises.
The NSS has, till now, reached 300,000 families through this adoption drive. A few thousand students have also been trained to assist municipal officers and local authorities in back-office jobs if the need arises. “These 13,000 volunteers will be put on no-risk assignments where there is no contact with any patients,” says Desai.
Joining the students and teachers are colleges with chemistry laboratories, which have produced more than 6,500 litres of sanitisers for free distribution. A PhD student from the SPPU has also designed a ventilator that is being tested at the city’s hospitals. “The focus of the NSS is social responsibility and our 60,000 volunteers and 10,000 alumni members have all come together to fight as corona warriors,” says Desai.