IBM and Coronavirus stories

Bringing food—and awareness—to the streets of India


With a population of more than 1.3 billion, India faces an immense challenge in confronting COVID-19. Protecting so many people and ensuring that accurate information is widely available to everyone are daunting tasks.

The Indian government is aggressively promoting health and safety messages during this critical time, but gaps exist in people following these guidelines in the densely populated country. Dr. Mahesh Pavan Sathavalli and Subha Hari, IBM employees based in Bangalore, have witnessed firsthand the risks: groups gathering in public, inaccurate information being shared, people failing to observe precautions from the Indian government and health experts.

So, they set about making a difference.

After the Indian government implemented a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, Dr. Mahesh noticed that people continued to roam the streets and ignore government guidelines. In response, he created a WhatsApp group of almost 130 people to help develop and coordinate an awareness campaign.

Dr. Mahesh pre-recorded a message with information about COVID-19 and advice on how to protect against the virus. With speakers attached to an auto rickshaw—the small motorized vehicles widely used in India—the message has reached thousands of people in local villages near his hometown of Vayalpad in Chittoor District.

The messages urge people to observe social distancing, avoid crowded areas, wash hands, avoid touching one’s face, and wear a face mask. They also encourage people to seek medical attention if they have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

“This is an individual responsibility and the responsibility of every educated person to tell people who are not well informed that they have to take care,” said Dr. Mahesh. “It’s unfortunate to have this kind of situation, but this is something that we have to fight both at the personal and community levels, and we are doing it.”

Dr. Mahesh has also been distributing food packets and using social media to identify those in need of meals or groceries.

Helping People in Need

Subha, a Performance Architect with IBM India, operates a charitable trust called Light Lives, which supports underprivileged families in the areas of education, healthcare and self-employment.

With coronavirus making matters more challenging, Subha, along with IBMers and a few others, began providing grocery kits with rice, flour, oil and other staples. They also started cooking and distributing meals to around 550 people each day, and raised money to help the underprivileged with expenses such as medicine, gas and rent.

“I’m really sad to see the people around us,” Subha said. “Whatever we do is not enough.”

But Subha is having a huge impact through her work in areas of South Bangalore such as Avalahalli, Nayandanahalli, KR Market and Bytaranyapura. She has created a video in the local language with information about the virus and how to take precautions.

Other IBMers across India are also contributing to the fight against COVID-19 as part of the company’s volunteering program and through personal efforts and contributions.

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