“The Whole World Is One Family”: A Hindu Response to the Pandemic

This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. The series features racially and religiously diverse leaders across the United States who shared their stories with IFYC via one-on-one interviews. In addition to illuminating distinctive experiences of the pandemic through a faith lens, these interviews offer practical guidance for conducting vaccine outreach in thoughtful, culturally competent ways.   

The following interview features Manoj Pandya, former president and current director of the Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC), and Satish Garimella, member of HSNC and town councilman for Morrisville, North CarolinaIn Spring 2021, Garimella oversaw a partnership between the town of Morrisville and the local Hindu community that resulted in four vaccination clinics hosted at HSNC. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.   

Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC): To start off, it would be great if you could share a little bit of background about this place and how members of your community have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Manoj Pandya (MP): The Hindu Society of North Carolina (HSNC) has existed for the last 40 years. It’s a parent or main organization in the Research Triangle Park (RTP) with a 25-acre campus. HSNC has a temple, but more important is we have this huge cultural hall and state-of-the-art learning center with ample parking space. It's in an excellent location at the center of RTP. We always try to do the community events in a big way here, and especially this year we wanted to make a difference by providing pandemic-related assistance such as such as stitching masks, Covid-19 testing, and a food program. Every Friday and Saturday, we prepare food in our commercial kitchen with the help of community volunteers. We have so far prepared and delivered 45,000 meals to area food distribution centers and homeless shelters.  

Satish Garimella (SG): When coronavirus hit, everyone was shut down. We didn't know what to do. First, the senior citizens said they want to start making masks and then people started helping them. And then afterwards we wanted to go to the next step. So, again, a bunch of people came and said, "Okay, we want to start making food." I didn't want it to be a one-time kind of a thing. I wanted an ongoing thing where people see what we can do and offer, and this was our time to give back to the community. And these guys preparing food have been dedicatedly working over the span of one year. All the food is coming through volunteers. They're donating the food and we have a chef who is making the standards of what they like. So, a lot of the homeless … now they love it. The flavor [of Indian food] … people are enjoying it and we got a lot of kudos from the homeless shelters and others. 

IFYC: And now you’re hosting vaccine clinics here. Can you tell me about how that came to be? 

SG: So, Eastern Carolina Medical Center, who is organizing this in cooperation with HSNC and the town of Morrisville, they reached out to me and I said, "How much can you scale?" And they said, "How much do you want?" Then they said, "We have 800 shots. Do you think you can help us?" And I immediately reached out to HSNC and they said, "Hey, let's do it." And I said to the town, "Are you willing to partner with us?" They said, "As long as the shots are going to everyone in the town." Morrisville provides the EMTs and other stuff and now we’ve put over 11,000 shots in arms. 

And our whole goal was to bring that out to the community so people can go. I can say to my neighbor, "Okay, I'm going to go [get vaccinated]. Want to come?" We wanted to create that kind of a peer pressure saying, "Okay, because you want to have parties at the end of the day, you all want to get vaccinated." And it is local. You don’t have to drive as you did. So, people enjoy it. The timings are there. We have 40 to 50 nurses there. Within 10 minutes, you're out. What else do you want in your community? We are trying to do all these kinds of things.  

And we feel content because it is for a good purpose and people are very thankful of having these events here, so in that way it is from a faith-based perspective, like, "Okay, we are making a change in the community," and that's what we want. 

IFYC: On that note, as you think about all these different programs that you're doing, could you speak to how the Hindu tradition motivates or informs doing this work in the community?  

MP: The Hindu religion, as you might have heard, is a way of living your life. Respecting others, spirituality, and being helpful to others (Sewa) are the core values of the Hindu religion. HSNC facilities such as temple, cultural hall, learning center … are open to all. The main motive of HSNC founders was to build a center that can assist the community in meeting their religion, educational, social, cultural, spiritual, and family needs. 

You were talking about the food program, right? We said that every Friday and Saturday we deliver 400 to 450 meals and that costs us $250. Our community members have supported this food program in a big way by providing donations and volunteering help. This touches on another important aspect of the Hindu religion. On the death anniversary, or on birthdays or on marriage anniversaries, people believe in donating, and especially food. It’s called annadhanam (an offering of food)

SG: And we believe in vasudhaiva kutumbakamlike, the whole world is one family. So, for us, it is like, as he said initially, direct so we could congregate. The number of Indian families around this area is close to 70,000 people and by the grace of God, everyone has good jobs and so after some time, it comes down to, okay, how do we contribute back to the community? 


IFYC: That’s a question I was going to ask you as well. With so many people who have family in India … Have there been supporting networks or other things happening here, being so far from home? 

SG: [Early in the pandemic] I was working very closely with the Indian embassy because all the visas were canceled, and you had only emergency visas. It was painful because every week I’d hear seven to eight people have lost their loved ones in India, and they wanted to go. And many of the parents who were stuck here because of no flights allowed into India, their life medications were … They didn't have access to it. So, getting our local pharmacists and local doctors to give prescriptions in the meantime to get their life medications going was a big help. 

Right now, things going on in India are so painful because the first wave was, everyone was happy. There is Sewa International; they started fundraising and they have now, or last I checked, like five and a half million dollars raised.  

MP: So, on that line, recently we joined Sewa International … we started a campaign and so far, we collected $50,000 in donations from our community, which we have passed on to Sewa to assist in India in the form of oxygen concentrators, medicine, food, sanitation kits, etc.  

SG: Otherwise, you feel like you're here, but no one is helping back home. 

IFYC: I'm wondering if I ask a final question, you both could just give me your thoughts. Right now, we're dealing with Covid-19 and this pandemic, but there certainly have been lessons to learn about faith communities' roles in public health generally. So, from what you've been doing here, what lessons do you think we should be gleaning about how faith communities can play a role?

SG: That's a good question because this is not new, right? Obviously, we are not used to the pandemic and all those things, but the good part about HSNC … it has partnered with Triangle Area Hindu Temples (TAHTs) and HSNC has been hosting free medical camps for $10. You can get your blood work drawn, which would be $700 outside. And doctors will come there [to volunteer] and basically give free advice based on those numbers.  

MP: So, why and how it originated? In our community, parents and relatives come from India to visit their families in the U.S. and many of them do not have medical insurances. So, we thought, “How can we help them and also others who cannot afford Insurance?” Something like this for them, with the help of community doctors, will be of a great help. Hence, HSNC started this medical camp every year. It’s a big event for us. Doctors and medical practices around voluntarily assist with only one principle: giving back to the community (Sewa). Now anybody from the community can take advantage of the medical camps. These camps are going on for the last 15+ years. Earlier it used to be an HSNC-only event but now this is a unique combined event by all the temples in the RTP area.  

SG: Every year we do this. That has been going on very successfully and by doing that, just because there are so many unemployed people or even if they're employed, they don't have insurance. Anybody who wants to come in, so we used to get 1,000 people to come in, all the doctors will come there and basically give free advice based on those numbers and help the community. 


If you would like to know more about IFYC’s work on Faith in the Vaccine please click here to see how you can help.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Theodore Parker, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let’s bend it together.
In both my work as an interfaith leader and a dancer, rethinking is all about opening our minds, asking questions, and having conversations.
Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.
A global study of the communication patterns of 1.3 million workers during the global lockdown showed the average workday increased by 8.2% during the pandemic, and the average number of virtual meetings per person expanded by almost 13%.
Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.
The solution, said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, is “the loving care of a family, not another orphanage.” He pointed to Scripture passages that say God sets the lonely in families and call on Christians to care for those who have been orphaned.
The following interview features Debra Fraser-Howze, founder and president of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative that fortifies community infrastructure to better address the pandemic in Black communities. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The seven monks have been clearing brush from around the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and running a sprinkler system dubbed “Dharma rain,” which helps keep a layer of moister around the buildings.
Over 800 Muslim Americans are expected to attend the family-focused event at the Green Meadows Petting Farm in Ijamsville, Maryland, making it one of the larger such gatherings around the country in the era of COVID-19.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically.
Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy.
Our Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared in a remote rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Yet the debate about the vaccine in Tennessee is not solely a debate about science. Rather, I believe the vaccine debate is also a referendum on our public capacity to embrace vulnerability.
The study found that while there are many promising signs that students perceive support for their RSSIs on campus, there is also considerable room for improving welcome, particularly for students whose RSSIs are a minority.
Coronavirus deaths among clergy are not just a Catholic problem, said Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, with faith leaders across denominations having elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
Legislation legalizing human composting has encountered religious resistance from the Catholic Church.
From the 26th of November, 2020, a farmers protest has been in existence on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city. For the past eight months, farmers in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, have been fighting three laws that threaten the future of agriculture in the country.
Sivan and I feel that it is crucial to work for increased vaccination rates, particularly with more transmissible and potentially more deadly variants emerging across the country and throughout the world.
We made calls to friends, disseminated flyers, engaged in social media marketing, partnered with faith-based communities, and engaged the local health department to encourage members of our community to come to our upcoming clinic and get vaccinated.
"It’s not about accepting other’s beliefs and pushing your own away - it is about being respectful, while still having the freedom to express your beliefs"

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.