Covid-19 Stories: Why I made a Facebook Community for Indian Americans

Jun 23, 2021 05:13 PM IST

Gaurav Kalra is the admin of Indian Expats in USA, a Facebook group which has nearly 30,000 members.

Gaurav Kalra is the admin of Indian Expats in USA, a Facebook group which has nearly 30,000 members.

Representational Image / Pixabay
Representational Image / Pixabay

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"Everyone I know has been affected by COVID-19 in a variety of ways. Most of us have seen some negative change or impact across major aspects of our lives. Today, I am reflecting upon an unexpected positive. The pandemic significantly changed how we work. I live in Milwaukee in the U.S and my daily commute to work in the neighbouring state was 80 miles one-way. The commute was long, tiring and always left me wanting to pursue personal pursuits. Being able to work from home since the onset of COVID-19 gave me this "extra" time I could reallocate.

I was making plans to visit my family back in India when the pandemic hit. The government of India imposed a nationwide lockdown to prevent spread of the virus. India also banned all commercial passenger flights, and the travel plans were suddenly in jeopardy. I had no emergency back home at that time, but I came to know of many friends who were frustrated at not being able to visit a family member with a severe illness and were desperate to travel to the other side. Over the years, we expats grew accustomed — some would say took for granted — our freedoms to travel, visit friends and family wherever they were. The flight ban was completely new for all of us.

I realized what we expats were missing was a community where we could ask questions without being judged, get all relevant information at one place, and provide emotional support to each other. On one of those days, I came up with the idea of this Facebook group 'Indian Expats in USA'.

In no time, the idea took off and the group became a go-to place for all travel and immigration questions. Shortly, a limited number of flights were reinstated with several new regulations in place. I used to follow all government & airline websites, social media handles religiously and share instant updates in the group. All the efforts were worth it when someone was able to meet their family back home. The members started to bond with each other and always repaid the gratitude by helping others in times of need. Members would thank me and share their stories with me which would only inspire me to keep going. I know community members who got stuck in a third country and the information they got from the group turned out to be life-saving. There are more stories than I can share in one blog post. I even penned a poem to sum up the emotions we all experienced while living in a different country.

One year later, we are a 30k strong community of expats who look out for each other and share what they have gone through to make it a bit easier for others. Recently, when the U.S. government announced a ban on most of the travellers from India, our community came together, and thousands of members offered to help families of those who are stuck in India. Unfortunately, one of the most active members of the group expired after he travelled to India to help his family members and our community generously contributed funds for his family. The common theme, as you may have noticed, is compassion.

You will see talks about financial investments, starting up a new venture, buying a home or car and much more. I regularly conduct surveys on topics of common interest and start threads to engage the community. I share relevant media articles and we all get to know different perspectives without any hate or trolling which I usually come across elsewhere. I even started a feature so that members can post sensitive questions anonymously when they are looking for privacy. I am certain there are other platforms to discuss immigration/travel related questions, but I wanted something broader. With this group, I believe, I have been able to do just that. I wish there was such a community when I arrived in the U.S and was looking for advice on just about everything.

To my surprise, I have received private offers to sell admin rights to this group twice within the last year and I politely declined on both occasions. I could never put a price to the collective knowledge and experience of everyone who is part of this awesome community. As they say, some things in life are really priceless.

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