He may be a non-Liberian, but Upjit Singh Sachdeva, the Honorary Consul General of India in Liberia, has always come to the aid of Liberia– demonstrating resilience in the midst of the novel coronavirus that is ravaging the country.
Through his COVID-19 Stay Home initiative, the India Consul General has shown compassion to the most vulnerable population of Montserrado County, ensuring that they do not go to bed hungry for more than 78 days.
Starting in the middle of April, Sachdeva, alias Jeety, who has invested millions of dollars in Liberia and created hundreds of jobs through his Jeety Trading Cooperation, began feeding thousands of vulnerable people fresh, nourishing, often hot meals two weeks after Liberia announced its first lockdown.
“The lockdown has dried up work and income for many people, leaving them to worry about how they will feed their families. And this has hit the vulnerable segment of the population that depends on the daily hustle to survive,” Jeety said.
“As an individual who Liberia has blessed a lot, it is my bound duty to give back whether in times of need or not. It is the moral obligations of my family and me, to help Liberia in times of need, including this crisis that has created conditions where citizens, who are economically vulnerable and food insecure, find themselves battling hunger.”
As a global public health emergency, COVID-19 has not been limited to a specific place and in Liberia, it has pulverized the country’s already struggling economy, creating economic distress that has left many people in the informal sector finding it difficult in earning a living.
With a vibrant youth population, Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, with the vast majority of its youthful population jobless—constituting half of the country’s vulnerable population. As a result of this situation, millions across the country lack access to basic needs such as food and water. And with the coronavirus pandemic, the situation is becoming worst on a daily basis for the people who find themselves in such an unenviable position.
But amid the increased hardship that comes along with the coronavirus, acts of generosity are being shown as Jeety demonstrates that even in the most distressing times, humankind can show love in the most inspiring ways.
“We realized we were on the brink of a humanitarian crisis—food crisis. So my family and I, including the company workers decided to expand this initiative, which we had already started on a small scale in Vai Town where I lived,” he said. “What we’ve been able to do is to use empathy to help solve a crisis—feeding the most vulnerable.”
At the food distributing sites in Vai Town, Slipway and Center Street, the charismatic Jeety, clad in jeans and a sky-blue shirt, with his face hidden behind a face shield and a cloth mask, steps out of his car, along with his team, to set up the table for the food distribution, hand washing buckets and handing out masks to those who do not have in order to get food.
Besides being nervous about the novel coronavirus that has overwhelmed the entire globe, Jeety and his team ensure that those in the queues for food are at least two meters apart from each other for safety reasons. Thereafter, he joins his staff at the back of the table to help with the food distribution, which usually lasts for 20-30 minutes instead of just sitting in his car.
Even though he is at risk, Jeety says his “thoughts are more about the poor who need him, especially at this time, for food. Helping the poor get food at this time of crisis is more important than anything. This is what keeps me going.”
When some ignore the handwashing buckets while approaching the counter from the queues, he cries out, “Please watch your hands properly. It is not only for your safety but for all of us here.”
‘No Plan to halt’
On a ride to Center Street to climax the food distribution for the day, Jeety brushed aside concerns that he plans to halt the food feeding program since the country is gradually returning to normalcy as coronavirus cases remain low. Rather, the upbeat Jeety plans instead to continue this initiative past COVID- 19 as he cannot “afford to see people going to bed with empty stomachs again.”
“This is not a quick impact project, but one that is meant to last for a long time. My family and I have decided to take this initiative beyond COVID-19 every time we think big, we deliver. And the money always shows up. My goal right now is to decentralize the food feeding program across Montserrado and then to the entire country,” Jeety said with a smile on his face.
As of July 20, 2020, Jeety’s initiative continues to give out more than 5,000 plates of food per day, including some to healthcare workers at the John F. Kennedy Hospital (JFK), and it has partnered with the Monrovia City Cooperation to help with the distribution exercise.
Adding, he said: “We also extend our program to JFK for the staff and the patients as well. It is difficult for me to feel the entire population but whatever amount of people that we can reach out in a day we will.”
“It is saving”
While on Center Street, a woman yelled out to Jeety from the sidewalk and simply put her hands together, as a way of telling him, he’s a blessed. And on his way back to his home in Vai Town, two elderly vulnerable men walked to his car to thank him for feeding them.
“He’s a walking model of how the elites and the wealthy should behave to their fellow citizens in the 21st century. Without his intervention, many of us would have been going to bed hungry,” the men said.
And as he hands out food to vulnerable people in Slipway and Vai Town, receivers of the food appeal to him to not stop the initiative because “it is saving them as they do not go hungry anymore.”
One of those persons is Christine Wea, a mother of two children who have been going through tough financial difficulties to the extent she is unable to feed her children, including herself, during the pandemic.
“I am so grateful to Jeety. It has been very hard as a single mother since I depended on washing clothes to earn a living and my customers no longer request my services. I am always optimistic that I will get food in the evening to eat, which helps feed my family.”
Meanwhile, Jeety has vowed that the Stay Home Feeding program will continue to grow and that he and his team are learning as they go. He remains confident that they will pass the test of COVID-19 by “ensuring that the vulnerable do not go to bed with empty stomachs.”
The businessman, who has lived in Liberia for more than 8 years, is one of the country’s top investors. But in recent times, he has attracted more attention with his humanitarian work– the stay at home feeding initiative that has fed more than 214,017 people in the space of more than two months.
Reporter Simeon S. Wiakanty contributes to this story.