San Jose teens raising thousands to aid India during COVID surge

A Fremont teenager is using her resourcefulness and networking skills to provide medical and other supplies to villages in India, where a deadly surge of COVID-19 is sweeping the country.

Aishwarya Manga, 17, has teamed up with a local nonprofit and leveraged her connections with friends, family members, young students and corporations to raise about $17,000 the past several weeks to buy the supplies.

“I wanted to help in any way I could,” Manga said in an interview Monday.

The money Manga and other youth volunteers collected through fundraising efforts is being pooled by San Jose-based nonprofit Empower and Excel to directly benefit villages largely in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The nonprofit’s CEO, Ayesha Charagulla, said she uses the money to buy and deliver supplies needed to help local government officials set up triage and isolation centers near regional hospitals and to expand the medical care that professionals can provide people impacted by the virus.

Beds, sheets, pillows, oxygen tanks, drugs and test kits are some of the supplies purchased from vendors, Charagulla and Manga said.

“My family and my friends’ family have been impacted severely,” Manga said about relatives in India.

“My grandpa’s brother got COVID and a few of our relatives passed away, and so did some friends’ relatives,” she said.

Manga, who will be a senior at American High School this fall, teamed up with Empower and Excel and began to spread the word about an online GoFundMe for the effort. She also spoke to large youth groups through an online academy to help drum up support.

Drawing on another fundraising method she’s used before for other local causes, Manga, a trained dancer, taught online dance workshops and donated their class fees to the effort.

Her mother’s company, Charles Schwab, matched $3,000 of the money from those dance classes and the online fundraiser, she said.

Charagulla’s son, Nihaar, 16, of San Jose who attends Bellarmine College Preparatory, spent his spare time knocking on doors for donations and soliciting money through WhatsApp chat groups, collecting about $15,000 total in short order.

He said the money also helped fund an ambulance serving people in many villages.

“Most of these people can’t afford an ambulance or to rent a car,” Nihaar Charagulla said Monday.

“The majority of people in these villages come from very poor backgrounds,” he said.

In all, with eight kids working toward the effort, Ayesha Charagulla said they have raised about $55,000 so far, funding enough equipment and supplies to help equip 15 triage centers.

India saw more than 2,400 COVID deaths and more than 100,000 new cases on June 6 alone, according to international health data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

“I feel very proud, grateful and thankful. It’s all mixed emotions, because we first-hand have seen a lot of friends impacted. It’s such a bad situation that they can’t even travel and pay their last respects to their family” members who died from the virus, Ayesha Charagulla said.

“I think a lot of people that I reached out to, they took the cause immediately to heart and were willing to help out in any way they could. There’s always strength in numbers,” Manga said.

“When we all come together,” Ayesha Charagulla said, “it’s like magic what we can do.”

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