A Bright Light in Bangalore – Young Photographer Seeks to Raise Funds for Metikuppe Village Amidst COVID Pandemic

Last night I was up late in bed reading Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise, a book I would prescribe to anyone feeling burned out, helpless, or otherwise depressed during these chaotic times.

After setting the book aside, I did what I’m sure many of us do but shouldn’t, I picked up my phone and jumped on social media. These days, with friends all throughout the world, it is the place where I receive most of my messages, a fact I am more than a little at odds with. This night, a friend of mine who lives in Bengalore shared a post from an account, with the accompanying message to “please see… and if possible, help out?”

Background:

India has been devastated by a second wave of COVID-19. Most recent news from the WHO* reports that India accounts for nearly half of all global cases reported in the past 24 hours, however that is only using the official statistics released by India’s government. It is certain that the actual statistics are under-counted, but by how much, nobody can be sure. Hospitals have been turning people away due to having no capacity, people are dying on the streets seeking emergency care. Cremation grounds are beyond maximum capacity, with one worker reporting that where once only four to six bodies would be burned per day where he works there are now sixty. Trees from public parks have been ordered cut down to supply fuel for burning. Dr. Dhiren Shah, a cardiovascular & thoracic surgeon in Ahmedabad, in an interview on the 25th May told the BBC it was “like the [atomic] bomb had already exploded.”

*Data from WHO as of 5th May 2021 indicated 721,398 global cases, with 382,315 coming from India

Blame does not fall squarely on the shoulders of any one entity, though it cannot be understated how irresponsible the government, Mr. Modi’s BJP party, has been in failing to instate national lock-down protocols. Furthermore, the holding of the religious Kumbh Mela pilgrimage and multiple political rallies allowed for catastrophic super-spreader events.

Amidst all the structural ineptitude there has been incredible efforts by civilians as they take to social media in order to coordinate resources for on-the-ground aid. Twitter has become a lifeline where people request emergency services such as oxygen cylinders, ambulances, meals, etc… Social media influencers are using their broad reach to “amplify” the hundreds of urgent requests their followers submit to them. There have been dozens of websites built that provide real-time updated data displaying the availability of hospital beds, oxygen therapy, and medications. In a time where conventional forms of support are failing people have turned to all they have left, one another. These days, though I am seven thousand miles away, this is constantly on my mind. So when I saw my friend posting about an opportunity to help I wanted to see what she herself had chosen to amplify.

What Happened:

What I found was young wildlife photographer Dhruv Matthan’s touching plea to help a struggling village located in the Kabini forest receive medical supplies.

The following is quoted from Dhruv’s public Instagram story post:

“My name is Dhruv Matthan. I am 14 years old and a student of Head Start Educational Academy, Bangalore. I’ve been visiting the Kabini forest since I was 10 years old to photograph wildlife – and more particularly in pursuit of Blacktie, our resident black panther.

During my adventures in the forest, I’ve had the privilege of being accepted into the lives of many people who keep the forest safe for the wild animals as well as for the humans who visit. They’ve allowed me to sit amongst their fires at night and listen to their stories and introduced me to the villagers who live in harmony with the wildlife.

Over the past few weeks, the COVID situation in Metikuppe Village in H D Kote has become critical. 70% of the villagers who live in and around the forest have tested positive. The nearest hospitals – in Bangalore, Mysore and Mandya – are already over-burdened with people dying of COVID. It is critical that we help the villagers and their families in their time of need.

If we can raise Rs 5,00,000/- we will be able to set up 8 beds with 4 oxygen concentrators as well as sufficient pulse oximeters to detect cases in the village early enough to get them timely care.

To help raise this money I will send prints of my wildlife photographs for each contribution of Rs 2000/- or more. Please choose from the set of 20 wildlife images in my feed.

My father, Rahul Matthan is working with Dr. Shashank of JSS Hospital Mysore to set up a COVID Care Center at Metikuppe Village. Dr. Shashank who is himself a wildlife enthusiast, naturalist and photographer, is also my mentor.

They need funds to:

1. procure oximeters

2. procure oxygen concentrators.

3. procure basic medication.

4. set up an isolation centre with oxygen facilities

I want to help raise Rs. 5,00,000 to help the villagers in Metikuppe.

WHAT YOU WILL GET:

Each image is carefully printed on RSW 270, A3 size paper. They are individually printed at Print Express and will be fit for framing.

Thank you for your help and support at this very critical time. Please do forward this message to everyone you know who loves wildlife and cares enough to help the rural communities associated with Kabini survive this second wave of the Pandemic.

Dhruv Matthan

How to contribute:

“If you would like to contribute please send me a Direct Message via Instagram (@dxm_master) or an email (dhruv@matthan.com) with the amount you would like to contribute, your email address and mobile number.

Please also send the titles of the images you would like me to send by selecting the from my Instagram feed. You can identify the images available for print by the hashtag #KabiniCovidFundraise.

Once I receive your email I will reply with details of payment.”

Perspective:

First, I have been deeply touched by Dhruv’s initiative. At such a young age he is trying to do what he can to help support a community in need which has greatly affected him. I reached out to him asking if contributions from outside of India would be possible. He explained that he was asking his mother if he would be able to use her PayPal account to receive contributions. Since our last correspondence it sounds like this will be possible.

Secondly, I know those sound like large numbers, and indeed they are. Rs 5,00,000 (five hundred thousand) equating to five lakh rupees, is an immense sum of money within India. But the current exchange rate equates that to only just shy of $6,775. As a photographer I immediately think of the number of cameras or lenses that cost more than that. So for less than $7,000, less than the cost of some cameras, a small emergency center could be created to help detect and treat COVID positive patients in Metikuppe Village.

Why this is so important:

The knowledge and wisdom that these villagers have regarding living in harmony with nature is essential in a world where so many of us are blind, disconnected from nature. We are not acting as the stewards of the Earth that we need to be, and as a result we have been blind to the effects of the climate crisis and the means with which we can mitigate them. Now, more than ever we need to preserve those communities that have a deep understanding of and connection to nature. We need to learn from them. We need them to pass their wisdom down through their children. We need to be accountable for the actions that our lifestyles and the decisions of our governments in directly impacting the climate crisis. But most of all, we need to help one another. We must reach out with compassion, across all borders and imaginary boundaries. We must walk willingly alongside one another.


Notes:

Currently I have pledged an initial Rs 10,000 ($135) towards relief efforts for Metikuppe Village and am talking with Dhruv to see if I can help him print and distribute any USA-based donations that meet the Rs 2,000/- (~$27) threshold.

Please reach out to me or Dhruv if you are able to contribute. I will be matching all donations (up to Rs 2,000/-) sent through me to a maximum of an additional Rs 10,000/- ($135). Additionally, I am running my own print sale to raise funds.


UPDATE: 9 May, 2021

It seems there are some complications with transferring money into India. I have been reaching out to various trusted organizations in the area to see if they can help. I have heard little to no response. At this time, any proceeds print sales dedicated to COVID relief will instead go towards general relief efforts until I can find a solution to directly support Dhruv and Metikkuppe village.