How a braveheart steers the wheel of charity to save lives as Covid wave rages on in Manipur

At a time when many people fear to even step out of their homes as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hits the state, Prakash Leitanthem from Waiton Makha Leikai, Imphal East has been braving it all and providing free van service to COVID-19 patients.

Van driver Prakash Leitanthem from Waiton Makha Leikai, Imphal East (Photo: IFP)


'Covid-19 2nd Wave - A Dedicated Van Service' reads a poster that is pasted in the back of a small white van zooming through the city. The owner and driver of the van is a 25-year-old school braveheart from Imphal East district of Manipur.  He has been braving the spread of the Coronavirus and providing his van service to those people in need of transportation during the pandemic.

At a time when many people fear to even step out of their homes as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic rages on in the state, Prakash Leitanthem from Waiton Makha Leikai, Imphal East has been providing free van service, especially to COVID-19 patients and others who wish to get COVID-19 tests done.

Prakash had to give up his main source of livelihood as a school van driver following the closure of schools in view of the pandemic since March 2020.

Looking for a source of income, he joined a building construction work to earn a few wages. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases rose and following the subsequent restrictions imposed by the state government, he had to leave the building construction work this February.

Undeterred and unbeaten by the adverse circumstances, this young man volunteered to make good use of his profession as a van driver and he continues serving the people in need during such trying times.

Since May 12, 2021, Prakash has been giving his best to provide help to as many people as he can.

As told by him, he wears a PPE suit while transporting the needy people around. He has provided his transport service to 90 to 100 people till date.

When asked about the driving force behind the wheel of charity, Prakash told the Imphal Free Press: "I volunteered to provide the van service because I feel that many people do not have transportation facilities to go for tests as the public transport owners are also scared to provide service at such times.

"In the absence of transport facilities, the number of people turning out for COVID test will be less and it can possibly be the reason for the spread of COVID-19 thereby leading to the increases in the number of new positive cases and fatality in the state," he added.

But why is Prakash risking his life during this time of rapid spread of the Coronavirus? Isn't he afraid of getting infected while venturing out and coming in contact with Covid-19 infected people?

Prakash said, "I do not have any fear of contracting the virus but I got really tired as I have to wear the PPE suit during the service...  I know that I am taking a risk by providing the service. However, I want to help people in need because many of them have already suffered a lot due to the pandemic and the lockdown".

However, there are days when he hardly receives calls from the public. There are also days where he has to start driving around from eight in the morning and on some days he has to provide the service even at midnight.

Apart from providing the van service, he at times has to take the responsibility to complete all necessary procedures in the hospital before the patients are admitted, he said. He also said that there are times where he alone has to take patients to the hospital since their relatives could not take them out of fear.

But, with no source of income, how is Prakash continuing to serve the people with such dedication?

"I have no more regular source of income but I do not charge any amount from the public," Prakash said.

He, however, accepts any amount given to him by the people who acknowledge the service he provides.

Besides, the Pradhan of Waiton Gram Panchayat Pukhrambam Surbala Devi bears the fuel price and maintenance charge of the van and provided him basic necessities at home.

Prakash has taken a decision to continue the service as long as the pandemic continues. He appealed to the people of the state to follow COVID SOP and at the same time help the people who are in need.

Except for times when he is on service, he isolate himself inside his house since the locals also requested him to stay home, he added.

Prakash's mother, Leitanthem Tombisana was surprised with his son's decision to provide the service to the people at times when people are even scared to go out. But she extended moral support and helped his son in whatever ways she could.

Tombisana said, "The condition of the battery in the van is not good enough. If my son has to go out, I have to push the van to manually start it. There was a moment when I had to push the van around 1 in the morning as my son had to go for the service”.

At home, the mother rear chickens, which is one source of income for the son and mother during the pandemic.

The Pradhan Pukhrambam Surbala also said, "After Prakash told me that he will use his van to provide free service to the people in need, I went and met her mother to get her approval”.

After the approval, Surbala bought a PPE suit for Prakash. She also assured to bear all the expenses for him. She explained COVID guidelines to the locals and members of local clubs and even convinced them to support Prakash in his humanitarian service.

The Pradhan has also approached the deputy commissioner and chief medical officer of Imphal East to acknowledge the dedication in serving the people and recognise Prakash as a frontline worker and a Covid warrior.

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First Published:May 28, 2021, 3:21 p.m.

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