Kohima: COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Nagaland, putting tremendous strain on the state’s healthcare infrastructure. However, one entrepreneur, John Bendang, is trying his best to ensure that no COVID-19 positive patient has to wait for an ambulance. His solution: a DIY ambulance. 

Nearly a week ago, Bendang, a village-level entrepreneur (VLE) who runs a Common Service Centre (CSC) in Medziphema under Dimapur district, decided to convert his car – a Suzuki Zen Estilo – into a temporary ambulance. For the past five days, Bendang has responded positively to all patients, including those infected with COVID-19.

In a conversation with EastMojo, Bendang recalled how it all started.

“One evening, I came across a family with sick persons waiting for a vehicle to take them to the hospital. Since everything seemed normal, I greeted them and continued with my journey. As I returned about 3-4 hours later, I was surprised to see them there as no taxis or autos were willing to take them to the hospital,” he said.

Bendang has converted his small car – a Suzuki Zen Estilo – into a temporary ambulance

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That’s is when Bendang decided to take the family to the hospital.

“Fortunately, all of them tested negative for COVID-19, and I dropped them back to their home. But this incident made me think about people who do not own a vehicle. What if they need to go to the hospital at night? And so on”.

Wasting no time, Bendang sought permission from the Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) to voluntarily provide free vehicle service for patients requiring medical attendance at hospitals.

Taking a day to modify the vehicle, Bendang successfully built compartments to ensure there was no direct contact with the patients. He also equipped himself with layers of masks and gloves.

A personalised poster with the message “Don’t panic. Remember 90% of all the COVID-19 patients have already recovered” is also attached in the patient’s compartment to spread positive thinking among patients.

A personalised poster inside Bendang’s car-cum-ambulance reads: “Don’t panic. Remember 90% of all the COVID-19 patients have already recovered”

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Bendang said that every evening, he would drop by a riverside to wash the car and also change his clothes before heading to his shop (CSC), where he is self-isolating.

“I’m also taking good care of myself because the work I’m doing is risky,” he tells EastMojo. So far, five patients who availed of his free transportation service have tested positive for COVID-19.

Father to a four-year-old, Bendang sad that due to the nature of work, he is also unable to meet with his daughter. He revealed that many people in his locality are not happy with his voluntary service, fearing that the locality may be affected.

“I may be blamed if any situation arises. It is discouraging in some ways. But there are even more people, including strangers, who call me up to appreciate what I am doing,” he said.

He tells EastMojo that at the end of the day, it is timely help that he can deliver to people in need, and that gratifies him. He added that the local Angami tribal body and the district administration have been very supportive.

While Bendang can easily stay in the comfort of his home and spend time with his family, he is determined to take the opportunity during the lockdown period to help those in need.

“Society has given us so much. I may not get an opportunity better than this to give back. There are many hospitals with just one ambulance which caters to serious patients. Someone has to take the risk and help our people,” he said.

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Bendang has built compartments to ensure there is no direct contact with the patients.

Very often, Bendang would provide a round trip for patients. During interactions along the journeys that he made in the past days, he said that he has also learned many things.

“I have realised that there are many of our people who are less fortunate than us and need our help. I think those who have the means should be able to freely give to those who don’t,” he said.

Bendang doesn’t just drive his patients and their families to their homes, he also assists with the registration process at the hospital reception. At present, he is only catering to patients in the Dimapur district. “I am alone, so I will be unable to cover the other districts. But I will continue till the time the lockdown is lifted,” he added.

During his free time when there are no patients to cater to, Bendang would spend time at his shop (where he is isolating) to do the paperwork for clients that has piled up due to the lockdown.

“I’m making sure that I am not just sitting idle. I have also registered at least 120 people for vaccination. Anyone struggling to register for vaccination can always reach out to me”, he added.

Bendang can be contacted at +917085387405.

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