India Covid-19 Relief Fund – A Crisis without Borders

4 August 2021

Summary of Myriad Canada’s Special Event on COVID-19 India Emergency Response

On June 11, 2021, Myriad Canada and a coalition of Indo-Canadians under the leadership of Narinder Dhami gathered online with aid organisations in Canada, India and beyond to discuss India’s COVID-19 catastrophe and Canadian relief efforts. The discussion centred around the situation in India and its repercussions for Canada’s South Asian community, action being taken by organisations supported by the India Covid-19 Relief Fund and what Canada’s government and people can do to support these efforts.

The event was moderated by The Globe and Mail columnist Rita Trichur, a Canadian journalist of Indian ancestry who has written about the toll the COVID-19 crisis has taken on India and Indo-Canadians.

“It has been a challenging year, not only across Canada, across India, but across the world,” Narinder Dhami, Managing Partner of Marigold Capital said in her opening remarks. India had prided itself on limiting the impact of the pandemic until a second wave saw cases spiral out of control. In total, over 383 thousand lives have been lost in India to COVID-19 so far, while the healthcare system has been pushed beyond its limit.

For Indo-Canadians, this is much more than a staggering statistic. The grief over those lost to COVID-19 reverberates deeply inside Canada’s South Asian communities. “South Asians in Canada like me are basically fighting two pandemics: one here and one tens of thousands of kilometres away,” said philanthropist and India Covid-19 Relief Fund coalition member Sabina Vohra-Miller. “Almost every day we hear of someone within our circle who is either sick or has succumbed to COVID.”

Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar added that the 1.37 million individuals who make up the Indian diaspora in Canada are “a powerful base to create more help for India.” The panellists emphasised that India’s crisis was everyone’s crisis, and that we must seek collective solutions. “While we may be half a world away, we’re really not: we’re all facing the same things,” said Rahul Singh of GlobalMedic.

Joining Forces for Maximal Impact

Dhami described how she and other Canadian leaders mobilised to form a coalition to answer India’s call for help, partnering with Myriad Canada in April to create the India Covid-19 Relief Fund. “The Fund addressed some of the pain points many of us were experiencing in terms of the variety of opportunities to support India: navigating the political situation, understanding how to give in a way in which your dollars can drive the greatest impact,” Dhami said.

Through the generous support of Canadians, the India Covid-19 Relief Fund has raised $550,000 and millions of donated masks. “It has been such an amazing show of our partnership with India,” Dhami remarked. Myriad Canada Executive Director Benoit Fontaine emphasised that on-the-ground partnerships were key in vetting organisations with maximum impact and minimal management costs, with only 3% of the funds going to overhead.

Updates from the ground

The discussion included a round of updates from the Fund’s partner organisations, which are carrying out the urgent and vital work of meeting the overwhelming needs on the ground in India:

KHALSA AID – Delivery of oxygen concentrator units to civil hospital in Delhi, India

Khalsa Aid International is a UK-based humanitarian relief charity with a Canadian office that provides support around the world to victims of natural and man-made disasters. National Director Jindi Singh described the organisation’s efforts in the Northwest of India, where they are providing oxygen concentrators to individuals and ventilators and PPEs to hospitals. Singh expressed concern about the potential impact of a third wave during India’s slow vaccine rollout.


Global Medic – Preparing to deliver 144,000 KN95 masks

GlobalMedic is a Canadian organisation providing disaster relief and life-saving humanitarian aid around the world. CEO Rahul Singh outlined the organisation’s efforts to protect healthcare workers with sufficient PPE as well as providing them with oxygen concentrators and diagnostic tools to limit the overwhelm on the healthcare system.


GOONJ – Ladies receiving much needed supplies

Goonj addresses crucial gaps in rural infrastructure, water, environment, livelihood, education, health, disaster relief and rehabilitation. Founder Ashu Gupta described their work across 27 states of India, sketching a crisis complicated by internal displacement and migration, widespread hunger and disastrous cyclones. Goonj has been focused on large-scale food support, especially in rural areas, and on supporting heavily impacted marginalised communities.


SNEHA – Waiting in line for ration packs

SNEHA works with vulnerable women and children to break the inter-generational cycle of poor health across seven slums in Mumbai. CEO Vanessa D’Souza talked about the challenges in continuing their health services as well as providing information on COVID-19 and coping with the increase in hunger and domestic violence during lockdown. Food insecurity is a major issue and there is an urgent need to get vulnerable communities vaccinated.

A collaborative vision

While India is one of largest contributors to the Covax vaccine-sharing facility from which Canada has benefitted, the country’s own vaccination rollout has been painfully slow. “Ensuring that the world has equitable access to vaccines offers protection to everyone,” argued Vohra-Miller. She and Senator Omidvar voiced their support for waiving patents on vaccines and Canadian contributions to Covax.

The panellists agreed that the crisis was an opportunity to strengthen collaboration between India and Canada on many levels, exchanging India’s vaccine production expertise with Canada’s knowledge of universal healthcare. The Canadian government must also leverage its foreign aid by seeking out the most effective ways to help, supporting smaller local organisations which are more agile and transparent.

“Only together are we going to beat this, and the only way to help India is by driving funds and resources into groups that are part of the solution,” said Jindi Singh. Dhami concluded, “That is core to why we came together: we believe and have done the diligence and strongly back these organisations because they are driving tremendous impact on the ground.”