Sana, a young Kashmiri studying hotel management in the Indian state of Haryana, was diagnosed with leukaemia in April 2015. To raise money for her treatment, her family even sold their land.
“Sana was beautiful, as if God had made her with his own hands,” said her sister Sadiya. “Being the youngest of the three siblings, we loved her most. We tried everything to save Sana till her last breath. But we could not save her.”
The disease claimed Sana’s life in February, but her story inspired a Kashmiri crowd-sourced charity to help patients suffering from cancer and other diseases requiring expensive treatment in Indian-held Kashmir.
At the hospital, Sana’s sister was given a suggestion by an Kashmiri attendant – she was asked to appeal on Facebook on behalf of Sana. The appeal, coupled with a photo of Sana and a certificate from the hospital went viral and her family were able to raise $40,000 in one month.
Later a group of businessmen in Srinagar launched a crowdfunding campaign called #TwentyRupeesMiracle. It asked for contributions of around $0.30, per month to the Lalla Ded Charity. The charity is named after a 14th-century Kashmiri female poet whose name evokes “motherhood, affection, empathy, love and care,” said one of the founders, Mubashir Aslam.
Within days of seeing the campaign on Facebook, over 50,000 donors from across the world had signed up. The founders are now hoping to double the number of registered donors to 100,000, which would bring in about $30,000 a month.
According to Dr Lone Maqbool, head of radiation oncology at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), some 95% patients visit SKIMS for treatment and the remaining 5% who can afford the expenditures visit other cancer hospitals in India.
Before the advent of social media, traditional charities travelled long distances to villages and towns to collect funds to help patients cover treatment costs. But expanding communities, difficult terrain, lack of trust and credibility made it hard to reach many people.
“Once we collect the money, it is sent to credible charity groups, which help patients in financial distress. We send it to patients through Help Poor Voluntary Service and Cancer Society of Kashmir,” explained Aslam.
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Eighteen-year-old Towseef Ahmad Bhat was diagnosed with acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. The doctors told him the disease could spread to his lungs and he would die in two years. Five days of treatment cost his family $35. Towseef’s uncle also circulated an appeal for help on social media catching the attention of the Lalla Ded Charity.
The group sent $1,000 to the Help Poor Voluntary Service, which bought medicines for Towseef.
“Today, he is feeling better, his health has improved and is now able to move, though slowly, on his own,” said Ashraf Bhat. Doctors told the family of the boy that Towseef would recover fully in four months.
“We could not save Sana,” said her sister, “But if Lalla Ded Charity can save someone’s life by donating money, it would be a tribute to my sister and her battle.”