Taking care of our Indian whanau - Vande Bharat Mission
With scores of Indians in New Zealand reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on their personal and professional lives, the Consulate of India and the Indian High Commission along with Bhartiya Samaj joined forces to take care of its community.
In this year of COVID-19, when the entire world was facing major disruption and distress, Auckland based Indian Consulate lived up to the expectation of its tag-line - Indian Embassy: Home away from home.
The office of the Consulate which is home to many Indians living in New Zealand, was able to indeed provide care and judgement-free support that we all associate only with our “home”, to Indians stranded in this region of the world.
The closure of India’s borders and the sudden dramatic halt of the entire global aviation industry left thousands of travellers stranded in New Zealand.
This accompanied with New Zealand’s Alert Level 4 lockdown put a large number of unsuspecting travellers, who were mostly in New Zealand on a short leisure trip or family visit, under immense level of distress.
It was during this challenging time that the office and the staff of the Consulate of India, under the leadership of Hon. Consul Bhav Dhillon spurred into action and worked rigorously and compassionately to offer support to temporary visitors from India.
Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust was one of the key organisations to have worked in close partnership with the Indian Consulate in Auckland and the Indian Embassy in Wellington to pool resources and volunteers together so as to make our stranded guests feel at home.
As the office of the Consulate remained open with its staff often working long hours to ensure ringing phone lines were always answered, Mr Dhillon in close cooperation with the High Commissioner of India, Muktesh Pardeshi and other senior officials worked diligently to develop a clear plan of action to help all Indians in New Zealand.
On one hand, there were scores of people who were stranded in New Zealand and were reeling with the uncertainty of travel, unplanned cost for extended accommodation and food. While, at the same time, there were hundreds of temporary migrants such as international students and people on work visas who became jobless almost overnight and were facing the crisis of putting food on the table and in some cases roof on top of their heads.
It was under this pressing situation that Hon. Consul and Mr Pardeshi finalised a comprehensive, multi-pronged plan.
First, it was decided to assuage the concerns of anxious travellers by providing them with certainty and direction about support from the government of India of a possible reparation in the near future. Towards this goal, a social media group was established to keep the maximum number of stranded passengers informed in real-time and address any concerns.
Simultaneously, in Auckland, the Consulate worked overnight to put out a clear plan for food distribution in close partnership from prominent community organisations, and community and business leaders.
To ensure maximum disruption to New Zealand’s strict lockdown rules and deliver maximum relief to those in desperate need, the Consulate office ensured that there was adequate media-advertisement to spread the word before the actual food distribution, and then strict social-distancing rules were enforced on the day of distribution.
The boxes of essential supplies included rice, pulse, sugar, tea, biscuits, canned tomatoes, fresh vegetables, fruits, noodles, oil, some spices, milk, hand sanitisers and masks.
Stranded Indian nationals were asked to register with the Consulate office, and slots were divided for each batch of hundreds to pick up the essentials to avoid creating a crowd at the office.
Subsequently, as the government of India decided to launch a global reparation program to be carried out by the Indian national carrier Air India, the Consulate’s office in Auckland spurred into action of scheduling the passengers based on compelling reasons to travel.
In this regard, while the lead of registration, planning and scheduling of return travel of stranded passengers was taken by the office of the Indian High Commission in Wellington, the responsibility of smooth delivery fell upon the Consulate office in Auckland as all departing flights were scheduled from Auckland.
Hon. Consul in close cooperation with Bhartiya Samaj organised the much-needed doctor at the airport to provide the mandatory medical check-up required before being able to board on any flights to India.
This was a big exercise that required the generosity of many volunteers and team of doctors who had made themselves available at no cost, at the behest of Bhartiya Samaj’s Jeet Suchdev and Mr Dhillon’s personal request, to help the fellow Indians stranded in a foreign country.
Hon. Consul Mr Dhillon ensured that he was personally present at the Auckland airport to oversee all necessary departure-procedures including medical check-up, along with the staff from the Consulate and the High Commission in Wellington.
To put in perspective, over ten Vande Bharat Mission led Air India flights flew to New Zealand to repatriate stranded Indian nationals to nine different destinations in India from June to September 2020.
Summing up the intense relief and support activities in the last few months, Hon. Consul Mr Dhillon said, “The entire relief operations was planned under the leadership of the High Commissioner of India, Mr Pardeshi and was executed on ground in Auckland by Consulate’s office with the support of all like-minded community organisation on the ground.”
“We are delighted that our offices were able to live up to the expectation of being a home away from home at the most important hour of distress in our part of the world. However, this could not have been achieved without the generous support all like-minded community organisations, business leaders, and volunteers who generously donated their resources to make our collective endeavours successful,” Mr Dhillon said.
Sandeep Singh, The IndianWeekender
Original article from community magazine Caring Aotearoa, Dec 2020