Message from the Director

Welcome to this most auspicious time of the Buddhist calendar, Saga Dawa. This fourth lunar month (May 12 – June 10th), commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of the Buddha Shakyamuni. During this time, we are encouraged to be especially mindful of all our thoughts and activities and to make offerings with the consideration of Buddha’s life and teaching on Earth. The tradition of this commemoration is an important reminder that a perfect, enlightened being, the Buddha, walked among us and demonstrated the full potential of this precious human life.

In the past month, India in particular has experienced an unspeakable level of suffering and fear as the pandemic has left few unaffected by death, disease, and loss. This dark time has also been met, with a light of love, prayer, and support from all over the world. Many people, who themselves are struggling financially and otherwise, have helped support emergency relief efforts in India. This is deeply moving. On behalf of our community, the people of Sarnath and Varanasi, I want to say thank you very much for all your efforts to bring attention and support to this vital cause.

It is also an important thing to know that the moment you begin helping in such a complex humanitarian situation, unexpected doors open and unexpected challenges arise. Our commitment is to help where help is needed and to be nimble and work skillfully with trusted partnerships. By the end of this month, working with both domestic and international partners, Sarnath and Varanasi will receive from SINI and Direct Relief a large shipment of critically-needed medical supplies, including oxygen concentrators, pulse oximeters, and protective equipment such as masks and face shields. In addition, we are starting food and small cash distributions to the poorest and most vulnerable residents of Sarnath and Varanasi. Volunteers in India, many of whom are recently recovered from Covid, are working to help make these initiatives possible. Their first wish post-recovery was to see how they could help others.

If you have ideas on how to help, or connections to medical or food relief organizations, and would like to collaborate with SINI, please reach out to us, as we continue to support the relief efforts as much as we can. You will find more information below on the efforts under way and how you can get involved.

In the meanwhile, please keep well, safe and happy. If there’s anything good that can come from such a time of hardship, it is appreciating the simple truth that the darker the time, the more beneficial the light.

With all good wishes and appreciation,

Tsering Gellek

Photo Credit: Reuters. Covid Patients in Varanasi receiving oxygen share a single hospital bed.

What We Are Doing and How You Can Help

The situation in India is grim on many fronts. Equal to the intensity of current events is a wish to meet these great challenges with an open heart and as much support as possible. SINI has been asked to use its trusted networks to provide relief. Stepping up to the challenge together, we have collected nearly $40,000 in funds and over $60,000 in donated medical supplies during the past two weeks. The first hurdle down, it turns out that clearing large deliveries of medical equipment through customs during a national lockdown is yet another challenge. Despite many obstacles, we hope to have a delivery landing in India by the end of May, which will then be transported from Kolkata, and distributed to the district hospital serving Varanasi’s poorest residents, many local clinics, and village community health centers.

Deeply concerned with the extreme poverty and hunger in the region, we are coordinating with our friends on the ground to bring food to families with the greatest need. One innovative solution proposed by our trusted partner, Navneet Raman, Director of the Benares Cultural Foundation, is to work with street food vendors to provide free meals for day laborers, household workers, rickshaw wallas, and individuals in need. We will be doing similar initiatives throughout the city with other organizations, as well.

We are moved by the outpouring of support from our international community, with friends and families banding together to raise funds. Please be assured that, as an all volunteer-run organization, every dollar you give goes 100% into the cost of supplies, transportation of goods, and direct aid. A little goes a long way in India: $40 provides essential food for a family of five to live on for one month.



Dr. R.K. Pandey, an Ayurvedic Doctor, is SINI’s community doctor and resident Chant Master. Following is his report on the critical situation in the Varanasi and Sarnath area.

“Over the past 15-20 days, the number of Covid patients exploded, taking everyone by surprise. In a short period of time, the number of sick rapidly increased to 50 times more than the resources of local hospitals. Fear is gripping the population, with people running to doctors and hospitals in high states of alarm. Some are really in need of emergency treatment, arriving with symptoms of decreased Oxygen saturation levels, only to find insufficient supplies to meet the demand. Add to this the people with only mild symptoms but utterly terrified, clamoring for medical attention. The hospitals are under great pressure and chaos is everywhere.
One day an influx of patients arrived at my clinic, many Covid-positive, with severe symptoms. That evening I realized I would surely catch it too. I planned to close my clinic for a few days, and offer phone consultations to all of my patients. After the third day, I started sneezing and became feverish. The following day my fever climbed to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. My phone was continuously ringing, and before finishing with one call, another was on the line. In that condition, I received more than 100 calls per day. I prescribed medicines for some, and for others, I offered mental and emotional support, because everyone was gripped by fear. I was both a doctor and a counselor, as I have not had to be before. At the same time, every day I received news of my relatives, friends, patients, and acquaintances’ deaths. During this period over 25 people I knew passed away. It was really hard for me to cool myself down in such a state. But I didn’t have a single second to think about the sad news coming in from all directions, as I was completely busy tending to my patients.

The relief efforts extended by Tsering with her friends through SINI and an aid organization called Direct Relief will provide great help to the needy, poor communities, and also to the front line workers. The community needs to be educated on how to protect themselves and their families with mask use and proper sanitization. This support will help to control the transmission of the virus.

I am very grateful to all of you for your kind support and donations. It is highly needed in this pandemic time. Together we will get through this.”