“The Whole World Is One Family”: A Hindu Response to the Pandemic

This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. The series features racially and religiously diverse leaders across the United States who shared their stories with IFYC via one-on-one interviews. In addition to illuminating distinctive experiences of the pandemic through a faith lens, these interviews offer practical guidance for conducting vaccine outreach in thoughtful, culturally competent ways.   

The following interview features Manoj Pandya, former president and current director of the Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC), and Satish Garimella, member of HSNC and town councilman for Morrisville, North CarolinaIn Spring 2021, Garimella oversaw a partnership between the town of Morrisville and the local Hindu community that resulted in four vaccination clinics hosted at HSNC. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.   

Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC): To start off, it would be great if you could share a little bit of background about this place and how members of your community have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Manoj Pandya (MP): The Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC) has existed for the last 40 years. It’s a parent or main organization in the Research Triangle Park (RTP) with a 25-acre campus. HSNC has a temple, but more important is we have this huge cultural hall and state-of-the-art learning center with ample parking space. It's in an excellent location at the center of RTP. We always try to do the community events in a big way here, and especially this year we wanted to make a difference by providing pandemic-related assistance such as such as stitching masks, Covid-19 testing, and a food program. Every Friday and Saturday, we prepare food in our commercial kitchen with the help of community volunteers. We have so far prepared and delivered 45,000 meals to area food distribution centers and homeless shelters.  

Satish Garimella (SG): When coronavirus hit, everyone was shut down. We didn't know what to do. First, the senior citizens said they want to start making masks and then people started helping them. And then afterwards we wanted to go to the next step. So, again, a bunch of people came and said, "Okay, we want to start making food." I didn't want it to be a one-time kind of a thing. I wanted an ongoing thing where people see what we can do and offer, and this was our time to give back to the community. And these guys preparing food have been dedicatedly working over the span of one year. All the food is coming through volunteers. They're donating the food and we have a chef who is making the standards of what they like. So, a lot of the homeless … now they love it. The flavor [of Indian food] … people are enjoying it and we got a lot of kudos from the homeless shelters and others. 

IFYC: And now you’re hosting vaccine clinics here. Can you tell me about how that came to be? 

SG: So, Eastern Carolina Medical Center, who is organizing this in cooperation with HSNC and the town of Morrisville, they reached out to me and I said, "How much can you scale?" And they said, "How much do you want?" Then they said, "We have 800 shots. Do you think you can help us?" And I immediately reached out to HSNC and they said, "Hey, let's do it." And I said to the town, "Are you willing to partner with us?" They said, "As long as the shots are going to everyone in the town." Morrisville provides the EMTs and other stuff and now we’ve put over 11,000 shots in arms. 

And our whole goal was to bring that out to the community so people can go. I can say to my neighbor, "Okay, I'm going to go [get vaccinated]. Want to come?" We wanted to create that kind of a peer pressure saying, "Okay, because you want to have parties at the end of the day, you all want to get vaccinated." And it is local. You don’t have to drive as you did. So, people enjoy it. The timings are there. We have 40 to 50 nurses there. Within 10 minutes, you're out. What else do you want in your community? We are trying to do all these kinds of things.  

And we feel content because it is for a good purpose and people are very thankful of having these events here, so in that way it is from a faith-based perspective, like, "Okay, we are making a change in the community," and that's what we want. 

IFYC: On that note, as you think about all these different programs that you're doing, could you speak to how the Hindu tradition motivates or informs doing this work in the community?  

MP: The Hindu religion, as you might have heard, is a way of living your life. Respecting others, spirituality, and being helpful to others (Sewa) are the core values of the Hindu religion. HSNC facilities such as temple, cultural hall, learning center … are open to all. The main motive of HSNC founders was to build a center that can assist the community in meeting their religion, educational, social, cultural, spiritual, and family needs. 

You were talking about the food program, right? We said that every Friday and Saturday we deliver 400 to 450 meals and that costs us $250. Our community members have supported this food program in a big way by providing donations and volunteering help. This touches on another important aspect of the Hindu religion. On the death anniversary, or on birthdays or on marriage anniversaries, people believe in donating, and especially food. It’s called annadhanam (an offering of food)

SG: And we believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakamlike, the whole world is one family. So, for us, it is like, as he said initially, direct so we could congregate. The number of Indian families around this area is close to 70,000 people and by the grace of God, everyone has good jobs and so after some time, it comes down to, okay, how do we contribute back to the community? 

 

IFYC: That’s a question I was going to ask you as well. With so many people who have family in India … Have there been supporting networks or other things happening here, being so far from home? 

SG: [Early in the pandemic] I was working very closely with the Indian embassy because all the visas were canceled, and you had only emergency visas. It was painful because every week I’d hear seven to eight people have lost their loved ones in India, and they wanted to go. And many of the parents who were stuck here because of no flights allowed into India, their life medications were … They didn't have access to it. So, getting our local pharmacists and local doctors to give prescriptions in the meantime to get their life medications going was a big help. 

Right now, things going on in India are so painful because the first wave was, everyone was happy. There is Sewa International; they started fundraising and they have now, or last I checked, like five and a half million dollars raised.  

MP: So, on that line, recently we joined Sewa International … we started a campaign and so far, we collected $50,000 in donations from our community, which we have passed on to Sewa to assist in India in the form of oxygen concentrators, medicine, food, sanitation kits, etc.  

SG: Otherwise, you feel like you're here, but no one is helping back home. 

IFYC: I'm wondering if I ask a final question, you both could just give me your thoughts. Right now, we're dealing with Covid-19 and this pandemic, but there certainly have been lessons to learn about faith communities' roles in public health generally. So, from what you've been doing here, what lessons do you think we should be gleaning about how faith communities can play a role?

SG: That's a good question because this is not new, right? Obviously, we are not used to the pandemic and all those things, but the good part about HSNC … it has partnered with Triangle Area Hindu Temples (TAHTs) and HSNC has been hosting free medical camps for $10. You can get your blood work drawn, which would be $700 outside. And doctors will come there [to volunteer] and basically give free advice based on those numbers.  

MP: So, why and how it originated? In our community, parents and relatives come from India to visit their families in the U.S. and many of them do not have medical insurances. So, we thought, “How can we help them and also others who cannot afford Insurance?” Something like this for them, with the help of community doctors, will be of a great help. Hence, HSNC started this medical camp every year. It’s a big event for us. Doctors and medical practices around voluntarily assist with only one principle: giving back to the community (Sewa). Now anybody from the community can take advantage of the medical camps. These camps are going on for the last 15+ years. Earlier it used to be an HSNC-only event but now this is a unique combined event by all the temples in the RTP area.  

SG: Every year we do this. That has been going on very successfully and by doing that, just because there are so many unemployed people or even if they're employed, they don't have insurance. Anybody who wants to come in, so we used to get 1,000 people to come in, all the doctors will come there and basically give free advice based on those numbers and help the community. 

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.