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A screen displays the number of beds available in a full hospital in New Delhi, on April 30, 2021.Atul Loke/The New York Times News Service

When Yudhvir Mor, a country manager of a U.S.-based software firm in India, lost three friends and former co-workers to the COVID-19 crisis in the country last month, it tore him apart.

He began to think of how he could help their young families through the biggest tragedy of their lives. “The second wave hit everybody very hard,” he said. “I realized that many of my friends’ spouses were not working. How would they run their homes? That was the moment I thought the biggest thing I could put on the table was the network I had built over two decades in the corporate world.”

Mr. Mor reached out to his friends and colleagues through social media and set up a digital platform – Covid Widows, with a flagship initiative, Covid Women Help – that connects women who lost their partners during the COVID-19 crisis with organizations that can offer career opportunities.

The aim is to make the process hassle-free for the widows. They apply through the website by filling out a simple Google form with their credentials, location and contact details; volunteers assess each application and get in touch. The platform does not accept sponsorship or donations; all work is done on a purely voluntary basis.

The response has been overwhelming. In just a couple of weeks, Covid Widows has gained visibility on LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Instagram in multiple cities across the country. “We have had close to 3,000 women reaching out to us. Many women had jobs but they were low paying. Over 9,000 volunteers got in touch to help out,” Mr. Mor said.

Volunteers are vetted and mapped according to their skills. The team works around the clock, juggling jobs and family commitments as they go.

Among them is Vibhuti Sharma, an executive coach for leaders based in Bengaluru who chanced upon a post by Mr. Mor on LinkedIn. His story about starting Covid Widows resonated with her, and so far she has helped 20 women through the process.

“None of the women affected by the second wave were prepared to face a situation like this,” Ms. Sharma said. “Many have very young children to look after. They lost their world overnight. The initial plan was to get the women industry ready and help them back on their feet. But we soon realized the need was beyond just skilling or getting a job. They needed motivation and counselling too.”

What is heartening, she added, is that many corporations tweaked their recruitment process to take in a higher pool of women, especially in the IT sector.

One of the widows Ms. Sharma helped is Vidya, a 34-year-old freelance copy editor who works from home so she can raise her eight-year-old-son. (The Globe is using first names only to protect the women’s privacy.)

“I got to know about this initiative through my brother, who saw a message about it on WhatsApp,” Vidya said. “The process has been seamless. I uploaded my resume and it went into their centralized hiring system. … They connected me with so many people. It’s motivated me to get back to the field and rebuild my career and do something more substantial. Earlier, my husband brought in the larger share of the family income, while I contributed about 30 to 40 per cent. At the moment, I am interviewing for jobs in digital marketing and human resources that would suit my profile to ensure a regular flow of income.”

No two cases are the same, so the Covid Widows team evaluates the kind of help every applicant requires. “If they need grief counselling, we have volunteers for that too,” said Karan Parvesh Singh, a media volunteer with Covid Women Help and a digital marketer. “We also assist in building a resume and preparing for interviews. At the moment, about 50 candidates are in the process of interviewing for jobs and negotiating. About 100 corporates and multinationals have shown interest in collaborating with us.”

To date, about seven or eight women have already received job confirmations, according to Mr. Mor.

“I have got requests from women across the board,” Mr. Singh added. “Those just out of college, some without educational qualifications to those who are elderly. We are also trying to help women in the informal sector.”

India has lost more than 382,000 lives to COVID-19 since the pandemic hit. Early data show the second wave affected a significantly higher number of Indians younger than 45. More than 26,000 children have lost one parent and more than 3,600 have been orphaned in the pandemic, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights reports. A huge number of women have lost the main earning member of the family, leaving them with young kids and elderly parents to provide for. Even as they grieve the sudden loss of their partners, widows are facing mounting financial worries, such as hospital bills, school fees and rent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced measures to help families who lost the main breadwinner to the pandemic, including pension schemes and insurance benefits. What compounds matters is that only about 20 per cent of Indian women are currently in the labour force.

Covid Widows is not the only organization trying to help. Ruha Shadab, a Noida-based public-health professional and entrepreneur who runs Led By Foundation, a professional leadership incubator for Muslim women, is supporting families across the country who have lost their main earning member; more than 60 are now receiving a monthly stipend.

“Early on I began to notice the destruction that COVID is leaving behind,” Dr. Shadab said. “… As the second wave started declining we saw people trying to pick up the pieces. I personally witnessed hundreds of stories of grief. The idea behind the stipend is to supplant the income they have lost while they look for jobs. For example, one of the women I am helping lost her husband and is seven months pregnant, so she has started offering tutoring, hoping to get a teaching job in the next few months.”

Farzana, 35, heard about Dr. Shadab’s initiative as she was struggling to come to terms with the shock of her husband’s death. Mohammad, 37, passed away last month after a cardiac arrest caused by a terrible case of COVID-19 that had the family hunting for an ICU bed for days.

She has two young daughters: a seven-year-old and a 10-month-old. Her husband ran a driver-on-call company, Bangalore Drivers, with a network of 20 chauffeurs.

Farzana has never worked outside the home, but losing Mohammad has pushed her to take over the business to keep it afloat. At the moment she is getting by on the stipend from Led By Foundation, along with help from friends and her husband’s loyal clientele. “It was our dream to shape it into a big business. And then I lost everything. But I am hopeful I can restart it,” she said. “The encouragement both from our employees and long-time customers who urged me to keep it going gives me some confidence.”

The organizations working with these women recognize that they need to be in it for the long haul, and they would like to see more companies offer opportunities. “We hope to help at least 1,000 women to start their careers and make them financially independent in the next few months,” Mr. Mor said. Going forward, he wants to set up vocational and professional development programs for women who need support in smaller towns, perhaps by partnering with the non-profit sector.

“Our focus is on helping without leveraging money or donations. We believe the efforts of a volunteer community has a lot of power to tide over this massive human tragedy.”

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