Dr. Bronner’s has spent the past 15 years building a regenerative, organic, fair trade supply chain, investing in the farms and lives of the suppliers of our raw materials. This puts us in the unique position of having our ears to the ground, listening to what farming communities need in order to thrive. For several years, we have been responding to those needs by supporting programs that improve the lives, not just of the people who produce our raw materials, but of their entire communities (for an example of one such program, see this post about menstrual hygiene in India).
In Spring 2021, when Covid-19 was ravaging communities across India, we were called upon by Nihal Singh, the Managing Director of our local fair trade partner Pavitramenthe in Northern India, to help raise emergency funds for a Covid-19 prevention and medical relief campaign. Nihal is an entrepreneur and college-educated farmer’s son in his mid-thirties. His greatest joy is to use his business to bring development to his home area, the vast flat land dotted with small fields and villages. He dedicates his life to the Pavitramenthe community comprised of 6,000 families and farm workers located in the rural outskirts of Bareilly.
With initial emergency support from Dr. Bronner’s and the German development agency GIZ, they avoided the worst of the Covid-19 outbreaks in early 2020, but this spring, were far more vulnerable to the highly contagious delta variant.
Because we were positioned to make a big difference with a relatively small amount of money, we leapt at the opportunity and asked a few other like-minded companies to join us. With help from the members of the Climate Collaborative, we raised nearly $10,000 in Covid relief funds which Dr. Bronner’s then matched, to help Nihal and his team purchase and distribute medical supplies, PPE, ayurvedic medicines and immune supplements that have saved lives and helped the community weather the most recent storm of Covid-19 infections. Special thanks to Gaia Herbs, Hummingbird Wholesale, Amy’s Kitchen, Jimbo’s, BriarPatch Food Co-op, Nancy Hirshberg, and Carol and Scott Price for joining Dr. Bronner’s in sending nearly $20,000 USD in direct aid to the community.
Nihal shared that his number one concern was not the transmission of Covid-19 itself, but the panic and fear that had spread across the larger community. With dire news coming from all over India, and an overall lack of trust in public institutions and the government, people felt vulnerable and unprepared.
Throughout the pandemic, Nihal has leveraged his role as a community leader to spread accurate information about Covid-19 prevention, the importance of nutrition to boost the immune system, and is now busy educating the community about the importance of getting vaccinated.
With the Covid relief funds, Nihal’s team purchased fifteen “oxygen concentrators,” machines that provide a steady flow of pure medical-grade oxygen to people suffering with serious Covid symptoms. Up until this point, there were no other options for Covid medical treatment in this community as hospitals are inaccessible and transportation costs alone make the journey nearly impossible for many.
The oxygen concentrators were made widely available to anyone who needed them. Once the word spread throughout the community that they had oxygen, the news instilled a sense of calm and confidence that quelled some of the panic.
Over 100 people in the community have used oxygen concentrators and in several cases, the machines have saved lives. In fact, Nihal recounted a story that recently he was at the bank and a man came up to him.
“You are Nihal!” the man said.
Nihal, who had not met the man before, said “yes, I am.”
The man threw his arms around Nihal and proceeded to cry. He explained that his sister had a terrible case of Covid and could not breathe. The family was terrified. They were able to access one of the respirators and the sister was able use the machine to help her heal. The man insisted that the respirator saved his sister’s life.
Nihal proudly told us, “No one in this community will die because of a lack of oxygen.”
In addition to providing much-needed medical equipment to the community, the funds we sent supported another round of making and distributing approximately 100,000 cloth masks, widespread distribution of immune boosting tea using locally-grown ingredients, and purchase and distribution of ayurvedic medicines.
The immune boosting tea and ayurvedic medicines have been very popular, and people regularly come back to Nihal and his team to get resupplied. The tea is a brew of tulsi, hibiscus and chamomile and to date over 2,500 families and 1,500 farmworkers have received a large supply. Additionally, 2,000 families have received ayurvedic medicine specifically targeting Covid symptom relief.
Nihal also shared several “miracle” stories of individuals in the community suffering with Covid symptoms who took the tea and ayurvedic medicine, and within 48 hours were almost completely recovered! While these stories are anecdotal, Nihal believes when people have faith in a treatment, it lowers their stress, which in turn supports overall health.
Now, as the most recent outbreak is waning, the biggest challenge is convincing people that it is safe to get vaccinated. When we spoke with Nihal at the end of June, he estimated that only 1.5% of the community has been vaccinated and people are very scared of the vaccine, or they cannot sign up to get it because it requires digital access and computer knowledge that many rural villagers do not have. The Pavitramenthe team has been hosting public education sessions to share the benefits and safety of the vaccine, and they have personally been arranging appointments for people who do not have computers.
As we move into the fall harvest season, the need to keep people healthy is critical since the community relies on harvest in order to generate the money they need for the rest of the year. People must stay healthy and Covid-free in order to maximize the season. The push to get the community vaccinated is also critical and we are happy to know that Nihal and his team are using their roles as trusted leaders to help the community embrace the vaccines, but there is a long way to go.
If you would like more information about Pavitramenthe’s Covid relief efforts, or to contribute, please email email@example.com for details.
As Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” It is in working together that we are All-One!
Julia Edmaier and Alissa Hauser contributed to this story.