Following the death of a friend’s sister last May, Shahnawaz Shaikh established an initiative to distribute free oxygen to Covid-19 patients in India. Shaikh — known as “the oxygen man” — sold his Ford Endeavour SUV and created a 24/7 operation that has helped nearly 7,000 patients get oxygen.
“All she needed was oxygen — that could have saved her and her unborn child,” Shaikh says.
He says her death moved him to action.
Shaikh had already established his non-profit Unity And Dignity Foundation
(UDF) in 2014 as a side project. Last June, he founded its Ray of Hope initiative
initiative, to give free oxygen to coronavirus patients.
Shaikh spent $2,000 of his own money to buy 30 oxygen cylinders and offered them for free to anybody in need, spreading the open call through social media and friends.
The response was overwhelming. He said it gave him a sense of purpose, which aligned with his Muslim values.
Encouraged by his initial success, Shaikh decided to raise his capacity — but his funds were running dry. That month, to meet the rising demand for more cylinders, he sold his Ford Endeavour SUV.
Bought for the equivalent of $30,000, Shaikh accepted around $12,000 for the car. The money allowed him to buy another 160 oxygen cylinders. His efforts also brought him fame as word spread and more volunteers joined his operation.
At the time, India was in its first wave of the pandemic. Though things were bad, they were about to get worse.
Shaikh is motivated by the number of people he has helped and inspired by his Muslim faith. He continues to battle rising Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, oxygen shortages and price-gouging on the informal market.