Hong Kong students of Indian origin do what they can to help during Covid-19

  • As India battles its second wave of coronavirus, teens in HK tutor, fundraise and send messages of encouragement as they battle guilt about being so far
  • Many students still have family in India, even some who have been infected with the virus, and report feeling helpless about the situation
Esther Cheung |

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India is struggling to cope with its second wave of Covid-19, and students of Indian origin in Hong Kong are doing what they can to help.

As India’s second Covid wave continues to ravage the country, the global Indian diaspora anxiously watches and waits.

In Hong Kong, there are nearly 38,000 Indian nationals or people of Indian origin, according to the website of the Consulate General of India in Hong Kong.

Although not all Hongkongers of Indian origin have family in India, many do, and among them are teenagers juggling worried calls to grandparents and relatives in India alongside their exams and everyday problems here.

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Many of these young people have been on high alert for news about India’s situation since the start of the pandemic.

Vijay Narayanan, a 12-year-old student at Island School, heard first-hand from family members in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu about the worsening crisis.

“My parents and I continually hear about the bad situation of hospitals, beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators,” he says.

The Hong Kong teen helping kids in India learn online

“It’s been hard for my family to accept this emotionally, and it’s very hard to accept the fact that we live far away from them and can’t really help much other than check up on them regularly.”

When Vijay’s maternal grandparents were infected with Covid, he and his family called every day while they were required to quarantine in their home in Karaikudi, a small town near the city of Madurai. Luckily, they had already been vaccinated, so the symptoms were not too serious.

Kriti Dhodi, 16, from Discovery College, also has family members who were infected with the virus but have since recovered.

Kriti and her peers made bracelets the colours of the Indian flag, and they are selling them to raise money to donate to the fight against coronavirus. Photo: Kriti Dhodi

Although the stress about her family being sick is over, she says: “It is still hard to accept the fact that I have been away from them, and really can’t do much to help. I often call my maternal grandmother who lives alone in Delhi to check up on her.”

Shraddha Rajesh, 16, from Renaissance College Hong Kong, expressed similar sentiments of helplessness and guilt when her grandparents became infected.

She says: “Supporting family members, especially elders, is a tradition ingrained in Indian culture. And in times like this where they need our help the most, my family and I have felt extremely guilty because the most we could do was make phone calls and check throughout the day.”

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Many of the students we spoke to recognised the important role played by frontline workers from doctors and nurses to people performing mass cremations.

Kriti says: “Due to the mistakes made by people along the way as well as the many election rallies that have been conducted, many Indian people - mainly doctors - have to bear the brunt for others’ callousness.”

Many of the students have channelled their frustrations into doing what they can from Hong Kong.

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Vijay is working with teachers at Island School to give presentations and distribute pamphlets among students about the situation in India, and organising groups to make postcards with encouraging messages for patients there.

Meanwhile, Kriti and her peers at Discovery College have organised a fundraising initiative at school selling handmade wristbands, woven in the colours of the Indian flag. The proceeds will be donated to a range of causes through a donation platform called Give India , as well as another charity - Hemkunt Foundation , which is helping Covid-19 patients by giving them oxygen .

Rhea Saxena, a 14-year-old student at King George V School, worries about her grandparents who live in Dehli. But she says it is also important to give back to people in need there.

Rhea Saxena (front row, right) visits a Building Blocks school in Bangalore, India in 2019. She now tutors many of these students virtually from Hong Kong. Photo: Rhea Saxena

During the pandemic, Rhea has been tutoring a group of students through an organisation called Educate to Empower. They connect tutors around the world with students from the Building Blocks schools, which provide education for young children living in India’s slums.

“They normally want to read stories, so I find a book online to read together. We look at how a story is structured,” Rhea says about her online tutoring.

She adds: “I’ve noticed their mood is quite bad now, and I have to do something energising to start the lesson. When they see me, their faces light up, and that’s extremely rewarding for me.”

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