South Asian Perspective on COVID19: Helping Hands

April 13, 2020 | By Priya Chatwani

Helping Hands logo

While at home due to COVID-19, Priya and her friends started Helping Hands, a program that matches seniors and immunocompromised individuals with local volunteers.

For the entire world, the last few weeks have been uncertain and frightening. Just last quarter, I was enrolled in Global 101, Introduction to Global Studies. One of our classes was about pandemics. We discussed the global spread of measles, ebola, smallpox, and malaria and how the response differed across nations and regions. COVID-19 had just appeared in Wuhan, China, and my peers shared their perspectives on the media, speculating on whether the disease was being blown out of proportion.

Just a month later, I was saying goodbye to my friends without knowledge of when I would see them next. As seniors, we treasured spring quarter, having built up expectations for it the past couple years. We looked forward to savoring our last moments together before following new and uncertain paths across the world. Suddenly, it was lost. To my friends who left already or would be living and working somewhere far away, I didn’t know when I’d see them next. I felt scared. Our world’s normal was being redefined each day. On the day spring quarter was officially announced to be online for its entire duration, I began the process of saying goodbye to my college experience.

Upon returning home, I’ve been surrounded by love, family, and privilege. I’ve cleaned my room, watched movies, and spent time with my sister Nisha, a freshman at USC. With more time on our hands, I wanted to find a way to help in this crisis. I also wanted to mobilize young people like me with similar desires to help. Our partner JJ in Houston helped Nisha and me launch LA Helping Hands to pair elderly and immunocompromised individuals with local volunteers who can provide virtual companionship, deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions, and more.

Near the end of March, LAHelpingHands.com went live, and a couple days later, Stanford freshman Ananya Karthik created a branch in Santa Clara County (SCCHelpingHands.com). Nisha, JJ, Ananya, and I are in constant conversation about how to best market our service, partner with other organizations, and protect vulnerable folks throughout the process. Our friends and peers have since created branches in Tahoe, New Jersey and Philadelphia, and Seattle. Houston and Miami are coming soon as well! Our work has been featured by The Beach Reporter and Wanderly.

It has been amazing to put my energy into something that gives me energy.

Higher-risk individuals and families in our neighborhood call me to express their fears of running out of food or leaving to pick up medication or walking their dog. Many have mobility concerns that prevent them from waiting in long lines for items they need. A Helping Hands volunteer can’t do everything, but they can provide assistance and virtual companionship during this critical time.

Helping Hands Website
Helping Hands Instagram
Helping Hands Facebook


Priya Chatwani is a senior studying Computer Science and South Asian Studies. She is from Manhattan Beach, CA, and enjoys dancing, coffee, and travel. Next year, she will work as a software engineer at Remix, a start-up that helps cities plan public transit.

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