Three Friends Unite to Give Personal Help after Harvey’s Destruction

Drs. Anjana Samadder (left) and Udaya Shivangi and Manju Sachdev (right) shopping for supplies at Walmart

Drs. Anjana Samadder (left) and Udaya Shivangi and Manju Sachdev (right) shopping for supplies at Walmart. Photos: Dr. Udaya Shivangi & Dr. Anjana Samadder

By Dr. Manju Sachdev

VICTORIA, TX: It’s September the 1st, 11pm, and I am glued to my television set while watching the devastation that Harvey has created in Southeast Texas. Feeling helpless, and asking myself …..what can I do to help….I suddenly get a phone call from a dear friend, Dr. Udaya Shivangi of Jackson, Mississippi, saying … “Manju, I’m coming to Houston – let’s do something and help the people!” I am thinking … people, which people, and where, when, and how? Udaya connects us with another dear friend, Dr. Anjana Samadder from Columbus, Ohio. That three-way call becomes a part of destiny slowly unfolding as a major episode in each of our lives.

It’s September 6 and I’m excitedly driving my big Texas-sized SUV at +85 miles an hour from Victoria down the only major highway that is currently open and accessible in post-Harvey flooded Houston to reach Bush Intercontinental Airport. I arrive, excited to know that I have help with my mission, and to see two familiar faces with broad smiles and small carry-ons!

The three friends handed out lunch boxes and the supplies they bought at Bethel’s Heavenly Hands Baptist Church.

The three friends handed out lunch boxes and the supplies they bought at Bethel’s Heavenly Hands Baptist Church.

We hurriedly rush to a local Walmart to buy supplies needed by the families affected by the hurricane. When we are finished, each of us has a cart filled to the top with every item imaginable – from shampoos to towels to baby diapers and food galore! We decide to have dinner at a local Indian restaurant and meet a long-time resident of Houston, Vinod Shah of ABC Travels, to gather information about the status of the local community and where the need is most felt – both amongst Indians and non-Indians.

The next day, we make visit Bethel’s Heavenly Hands Baptist Church which served as a temporary shelter for victims of the storm. While driving, we tuned in to the radio for breaking news of the next big Category 5 hurricane to hit the US, Irma, already levelling islands in the Caribbean. Houston traffic was beyond horrific as major highways remained under water, with only a few major thoroughfares being accessible. Yet much to my surprise and despite the mile long lines, Houston was calm and collected with no one honking and people giving way for others to pass.

Just as we’re finishing giving out lunch boxes to the needy people, a very tall and distinguished man who resembled former President Obama walked into the gymnasium. People gathered around him, beseeching, “Pastor, Pastor, can you please do this and that …. .” Pastor Walter August Jr. assumed the role of a modern-day messiah while he led us all in prayer, creating an ambiance of blissfulness and peace. We later spoke with him and came away with feeling that Houston is strong and united and will get through this.

Our experience with “hands on” volunteer work at the Church was unspeakably rewarding. However, we also wanted to understand the political, social, and economic impact that Harvey has left behind. After leaving the Church, we connected with Indian Consul General Dr. Anupam Ray who outlined the work that the Consulate has been doing to help with restoration. He mentioned the projects that several local Indian organizations are engaged in, and how the Indian community has come together like never before.

We learnt that two notable organizations – Sewa International and India House – had come to rescue many families and we met with them. We learnt that approximately 77,000 homes in Houston were submerged under water, many of which belong to Indian families. An Emergency Houston What’sApp group was created during the storm to coordinate rescue efforts, and it managed to help those Indian families who were totally helpless during the storm. Ray pointed out that there are many sources to donate to for Harvey relief, but that as an Indo-American community we should remain united and make our voices heard by collectively contributing to ONE major fund instead of diversifying and scattering ourselves.

Two days later, September 8, Udaya and Anjana returned to their home states and I drove back alone on Highway 59 to Victoria. But slower this time, as I cherished the precious moments spent with two dear friends on our mission of selfless love, giving, and with no expectation in return. I have come away with a renewed faith in the grand scheme of things called LIFE, and acceptance that all people are basically good…. unfortunately it sometimes takes a natural calamity to realize it.