Shocked by the death of an infant for not getting blood donation in time, a school teacher created an informal network of blood donors that now has 14000 members. Saqib Mir met the co-founder trio who supervised donors in last more than seven years in changing the lives of people by offering their blood without any compensation and far away from the media
In June 2021, Rayees Ahmed Bhat, in his late 20s, from Anantnag was asleep when a phone call disturbed his dreams. The caller was a young woman admitted to Maternity and Child Care Hospital. She was pleading with Bhat to save her life but surprisingly Bhat is neither a doctor nor any faith healer.
The woman found Bhat the only person who could save her life by arranging a few pints of blood. Bhat quickly rang one of his team members, Shahid Manzoor Nanda, informing him about the phone call. Nanda, without wasting time rang up a volunteer Sharik Ashraf and then both of them, Nanda and Ashraf, drove towards the hospital on their personal bike. Seemingly for the distraught woman, it was the happiest moment. They donated blood and the lady was declared out of danger.
This was not the first time Bhat and Nanda, and their volunteers saved a life. They have been doing it since 2014 and have already saved thousands of lives along with their third member of the core team, Mohammad Abbas Parray. The trio is residents of Anantnag and are known faces in the town for their life-changing donations.
Their service is free and no compensation is paid or asked for. They are an informal group. By now, they are a network of more than 14000 youth from almost all districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 14000 volunteers, only 9327 are registered with the team that operates through a chain of Whatsapp groups. So far they have donated 7315 pints of blood points. These volunteers remain ready for the donation and they report to the hospital within the shortest possible time.
All these volunteers are mostly from south Kashmir. Srinagar has a representation of around 500 volunteers. There are donors from the north Kashmir districts and also from Jammu. Some of the donors are Kashmiris living in Delhi and other metropolitan cities.
Srinagar is the network’s weakest point. The city requires most of the blood but the network has the least number of donors. This impacts the efficiency of the network.
“It is a great initiative and I have myself joined it and have donated blood several times,” said Owais Mir a volunteer from Khanabal. “Most of my friends followed me and joined the initiative.”
Rayees Ahmed Bhat, the main face behind this initiative is from Sursona village near Batengoo, in Anantnag’s immediate town. He is a professional teacher.
In 2014, soon after the devastating September floods, Bhat received a distress call from his relative whose child was admitted at GB Panth Hospital in Srinagar. His relative was desperate for a pint of blood. Bhat agreed to donate and started driving towards Srinagar.
“As I was on the way to Srinagar, I received one more distressed call from the same relative who informed me that the child died as he couldn’t receive transfusion on time,” Bhat lamented.
This news shocked Bhat. There and then, he decided to do something for those who need blood during emergencies. Bhat reached home but could not manage to get out of the shock as he failed to reach Srinagar in time. But the incident led him to start thinking about the issue – how he can help those who need blood immediately. He set up a few WhatsApp groups, an Instagram page, Twitter handle and a Facebook page with the name Kashmir Blood Donors (KBD). This he discussed with some of the friends and once they approved the idea, he added them as volunteers. Initially, those added were his relatives, friends and some boys from his village.
With every passing day, more volunteers joined Bhat’s initiative. By 2014 end, Shahid Manzoor Nanda, 3, a shopkeeper joined Bhat. Nanda was one of his trusted acquaintances who was known in his locality as a blood donor.
Nanda remembers the day when Bhat rang him up the first time and requested if he can donate a pint of blood for a patient in a nearby hospital. “I was playing cricket that time in my locality at Nandpura Khanabal,” Nanda said. “I agreed and donated and that was the time I got introduced to Bhat and decided to work with him.”
Nanda took this initiative to his relatives, friends and boys from his locality with the sole objective that “ collectively we can save more lives”. In the subsequent days, more youth joined the network.
When this news reached Mohammad Abbas Parry, 29, a resident of Hanji Daanter village, who serves the Power Development Department he too joined. Parray led his circle to join the initiative. Though a majority joined, there was a group of people who understood the importance of the initiative but had apprehensions about the donations.
In order to allay fears, Parry said he did the basic thing. “I put the photograph of myself in my cell phone in which I was seen donating blood,” Parray said. “I ensured that the people who were apprehensive about the transfusion see the photograph. This marked the beginning of trust.” All other donors copied the idea and put their selfies as their status on all their social media platforms.
Eight Years Later
Almost eight years of the initiative, 50 to 60 new volunteers join the group daily. The group receives calls and text messages on their social media handle from almost all the districts of Jammu and Kashmir, mostly Kashmir requesting them to arrange blood for the needy. Patients, as well as their attendants, call them. Off late, the public and private hospital managements are also in touch with them.
“They are playing a very good and positive role in the society,” Dr Shuaeb Bhat, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Pathology in GMC Anantnag, said. “Whenever our hospital is in need of blood, we call them and they immediately send their volunteers. They are doing a wonderful job and they must keep this good work going.”
The trio has set a proper protocol in place for dealing with the cases. Those volunteers who reside in the nearby locality of any hospital are not preferred to donate blood during the daytime as they need them during the nights when it is less possible to bring volunteers from distant places.
Nanda said that presently they have more than 23 active WhatsApp groups and each group consists of 250 members and all the members of these groups are volunteers ready for donations any time. Once a member receives an SOS call or message, he posts it in the WhatsApp groups and on the group’s official Facebook page. Once the message is posted, more than one volunteers come forward for the donation.
“Sometimes when we post an SOS message our volunteers get literally engaged in an online brawl and everyone wants to donate,” a beaming Nanda said. As the donor for any emergency case is arranged, he himself goes to the particular hospital on his own expenses and donates the blood. “Neither we provide the donor with any compensation nor those who require the donation can offer anything. He is not allowed to accept any gift even in the form of juice, or from the patient or from his attendants.” Some volunteers even prefer, to go to the hospitals in Srinagar owing to its less volunteer number as compared to south Kashmir.
Catering To Hospitals
Apart from the primary and secondary health care facilities, the group sends volunteers to the tertiary health care facilities in Srinagar including SKIMS Srinagar, Bones and Joints Hospital Srinagar.
“The Lala Ded Hospital in Srinagar and Maternity and Child Care Hospital in Anantnag are the two hospitals where almost every day we send our volunteers because these hospitals literally need a pool of blood on daily basis,” Nanda said.
Both the medical and the paramedical staff of the MCH Anantnag feel grateful to the team for the extraordinary work they do.
“These are actually these Kashmir Blood Donors who run this hospital otherwise there would have been a surge in the number of daily casualties and the rate of transferring of patients to LD hospital Srinagar would have gone up,” said a paramedic staff from MCH Anantnag, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The team has also arranged blood several times for the patients admitted to different hospitals in Delhi. Parray remembers the day he received a call from an unknown Kashmiri from Medanta Hospital in Delhi, requesting him to help their 12-year-old boy survive. The young boy was supposed to undergo heart surgery. Initially, Parray was surprised that wherefrom they got his phone number but without paying much attention to it, he posted an SOS message on their Facebook page and within minutes he received a call from one of his friends in Delhi who agreed to donate blood and within minutes the case was closed.
The team has some lovely donors, who are frequently being referred to. These include two volunteer brothers from Srinagar. One of them, whom the group identified by a single name, Musa, has donated 50 pints so far. They have an elderly donor, Mohammad Abbas from Dialgam, in Anantnag periphery, who has donated 33 pints. As for as eight to ten-pint donors are concerned, the group has plenty of volunteers.
A young donor Waqar Misgar from Anantnag has won hearts owing to his peculiar quality. “When Misgar goes for the blood donation, he waits with the attendants until the surgery of a patient is over,” Bhat said.
The initiative and its requirement have encouraged women to be part of the group. The group has many female donors on its list and they donate regularly.
“On a daily basis, the Kashmir Blood donors donate eight to ten pints of blood,” Bhat said. The volunteers include almost 1000 youths who not only donate blood but also donate blood platelets as well.
Bhat feels that despite so overwhelming response, still, a section of people responds to the idea with fright and inhibitions. Some people believe while blood donation would be safe, platelet donation may be worrisome.
Even though there are takers to the initiatives from all streams and areas, the group does face several challenges. During the pandemic, it was quite hectic for the KBD to manage movement and curfew pass for the donors. They had to put in the effort and finally, they got a positive response from the local administration.
“So far the KBD is a team of three members with more than 14000 volunteers but now we are going to register it as an NGO as the local administration is suggesting us to do so,” Bhat said.
Misra Banu, an elderly woman from a south Kashmir village feels extremely grateful to KBD for saving her life by donating blood. “I was in dire need of blood and couldn’t arrange it from anywhere,” Banu said. “One of my female relatives contacted them and they sent a donor and saved my life.”