In May 2021, more than a year after the devastating pandemic began, the city-state of Singapore had largely contained the virus, with just single-digit community cases efficiently traced and placed under quarantine.
But for Singapore-based management consultant Ishita Dhamani, the relative safety of her situation offered little comfort.
She had just received sobering news from abroad – her pregnant sister and family in India had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Thousands of kilometers away, India was experiencing the peak of a crippling second wave of the pandemic with about 400,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths a day. The news and stories on her social media feed, once distant in faraway Singapore, hit close to home.
“It was a wake-up call for me,” Ishita said, realizing how dire the situation was. “I tried everything I could to arrange help, medicines, oxygen, tests for them. But with cases surging all over the country and basic medication in short supply, I felt so helpless.”
Ishita connected with support groups and networks to muster whatever help she could. It was in this moment Ishita found support from old university friends in Singapore who, like her, traced their roots to India. One of those friends was Rishu Choudhary.
Rishu joined UPS in Singapore in 2010. In December 2020, he relocated to Bangkok to become head of sales for UPS in Thailand. After he left Singapore, he kept in touch with the friends he’d made over the past decade, and as the virus situation deteriorated in India, they reunited around a common cause.
India had funds, but supplies were missing. So Rishu, Ishita and others put together a team to not only raise funds, but make them as useful as possible, procuring oxygen concentrators and supplies and deploying them to the worst hit areas in the country.
Project SUMO (Singapore Universities’ Mission Oxygen) was born, comprising a dozen or so Indian-born alumni of universities in Singapore, eager to send hope home. Within days of launching, Project SUMO had already doubled its initial fundraising target.
The group then faced its next hurdle: coordinating the logistics effort. Oxygen concentrators were rolling off manufacturing sites in China, Thailand and as far away as the Netherlands, and were desperately needed in towns and villages across India.
“This was when I spoke to The UPS Foundation,” Rishu said. “We needed help getting all that specialized equipment from one side of the world to the other in really challenging conditions.”
UPS had already committed $1 million in strategic logistics support to help the relief effort in India, which included shipping more than 5,000 oxygen concentrators. So the team built on that experience to send more than 100 oxygen concentrators gathered from suppliers.
“Firms and individuals came together by contributing their valuable time, skill and knowledge,” Ishita said. “We’re so grateful to UPS … you made this initiative possible in record time.”
Looking back on the efforts and accomplishments, Ishita says she realizes any effort, no matter how small, matters in the fight against COVID-19.
“My sister's family is well now. But it makes me realize that no one is safe in this pandemic until everyone is safe.”
For more information about Project SUMO visit sumo.sg.