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SEVA Trust

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Students of Cranfield University received food parcels and special dietary needs from SEVA Trust Volunteer Ram Prasad

A charity that helps international students said lessons have been learned after aid was slow in getting to those that needed it during lockdown.

The Bedfordshire-based Social Education Voluntary Association (SEVA) Trust UK said no-one seemed to have thought about students who had “nowhere to go”.

Some said they struggled to get food and to access hardship funds.

Charan Sekhon, SEVA chairman, said a “good community system is now in place” after it assisted hundreds of scholars.

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SEVA Trust

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Volunteers for SEVA Trust, Raj Shah and Ella Shah, helped at the Luton Food Hub, other hubs were in Bedford and Milton Keynes

The charity, based in Sharnbrook, said it helped more than 300 people studying at five universities who were living in Bedford, Luton, Milton Keynes, Cranfield and Hatfield.

“In the first four to six weeks of lockdown there was hardly any help as all university support offices and premises closed,” said Mr Sekhon.

“As there were no flights, they didn’t have anywhere to go.”

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SEVA Trust

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Charan Sekhon (left), with Bedford Food hub Coordinator Jatinder Singh, said when lockdown started the charity had about 30 volunteers, the number has increased to about 70

Cranfield student Abhay Vir Singh, 24, lives in Bedford and said not returning to India was the “right choice” and he was grateful for the help he received from SEVA and his university.

“At the start it was quite confusing – you didn’t know who to approach and what to do.”

Mr Sekhon said things had changed and they were now liaising with other community groups and the universities, which had also set up their own support systems.

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Shivangi Sharma

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Students Shivangi Sharma and Manoj Manoj were helped with their “basic needs” they said

Shivangi Sharma, 22, is studying for a masters degree at the University of Bedfordshire.

She said that, as a vegetarian, she struggled to get the foods she wanted as shops ran out and she could not ask her parents for help as they were in India.

The charity delivered “ration kits” and helped her to apply for a hardship fund.

She now volunteers for them because “if you take help, you have to give help as well”.

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Heema Chauham

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Heema Chauhan said the food she was given “tasted like home” as at the start of lockdown the food she needed “ran out”

Heema Chauhan, 21, studying and living at Cranfield University, said receiving “staple foods” and hot meals twice a week meant “I was able to keep focused on my studies instead of thinking of where we would get food”.

Alison Whaley, director of student experience at Cranfield University, said: “The start of lockdown was an unknown for us all and it was fantastic to see the community spirit that meant students, staff, charities and the wider local community were able to come together to support each other.

“We are grateful for the work of the SEVA Trust and the support they have given our students, alongside the wide-scale support that the university has put in place.”

A University of Bedfordshire spokeswoman said it had “always provided a huge amount of support for international students who are struggling, including during this unprecedented time, a hardship fund and care packages with basic essentials for those in financial difficulty”.

“One of the challenges we face is that students don’t always highlight their difficulties and don’t contact our support team. We would urge students who are struggling, to get in contact straight away,” she added.

SEVA is continuing to aid 31 students and 19 vulnerable families and elderly people in isolation, it said.

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SEVA Trust

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Students from Cranfield University said the help they received “changed everything”

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Coronavirus: Help ‘slow’ to get to international students

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