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‘Service to humanity’: How Australian Sikhs are helping out during the coronavirus pandemic

Several Sikh organisations and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) have come forward to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Source: Supplied

Several Sikh organizations around Australia have been providing support to people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. They have focussed on providing free food, logistics or groceries to the people who either face social isolation or are in dire need due to financial hardship.

The coronavirus outbreak has posed many challenges to Australians - while many had their work and incomes affected, some had to face a situation of not being able to support their daily needs.

A number of Sikh organisations and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) have come forward to help such people by providing free foods and groceries across the nation. 


Highlights:

  • Sikh organizations provide support to people affected by the COVID-19 crisis
  • Sikh volunteers distribute thousands of free meals and grocery items
  • They aim to serve international students and elderly people in self-isolation

SBS Punjabi has spoken to some of these organisations which have come forth during the COVID-19 pandemic, to understand what motivated them, and how they went about providing this assistance.

Click on the audio link above to hear our interviews with representatives of Australian Sikh Support, United Sikhs, Sikh Volunteers Australia, Khalsa Aid, Dal Baba Bidhi Chand and Turbans 4 Australia.

Sikh volunteer serving free food and drinks near a public housing tower at Flemington.
Sikh volunteer serving free food and drinks near a public housing tower at Flemington.
Supplied

Australian Sikh Support is a non-profit humanitarian organization that was founded in 2012 in Melbourne.

Set-up by some ‘like-minded’ international students, the organisation has seen a significant growth more recently.

“We have grown considerably after the input from so many local volunteers. We started as a small group but now have over 120 volunteers registered in our team,” said Gurjeet Singh, a representative of the Australian Sikh Support.

Mr Singh said the organization has been serving people affected by COVID-19 in Melbourne and Adelaide over last three months.

"We aim to reach and serve the people when they need us the most. We were heavily involved in the bushfire relief work until March 2020 but then had to stop due to travel and border restrictions, changing our focus to this area," he said.

"We extended our helping hand towards many international students, the homeless, the disabled, elderly and others in need who we’ve provided with groceries, fruit and vegetable boxes." 

Australian Sikh Support volunteers run a 'thank you' campaign as a token of love and respects towards healthcare workers in Adelaide.
Australian Sikh Support volunteers organised 'thank you' campaign as a token of love and respects towards healthcare workers in Adelaide.
Supplied
Australian Sikh Support also launched a 'thank you’ campaign to encourage frontline health workers.

“It was just a small token of love and respects towards our health workers who have been working in such a tough environment. As part of this initiative, we delivered food-items to the staff working at two of Adelaide's major hospitals,” he said

Gurjeet Singh says they’ve so far helped around 600 international students with an initiative that is driven by Sikh principles of service and care.

"The Sikh community always aims to fulfil our duty to help the needy. The philosophy of giving help in difficult times is part of the service path laid down by our Gurus and spiritual leaders,” he added. 

United Sikhs volunteers packing food containers at Tarneit.
United Sikhs volunteers packing food containers at Tarneit.
Supplied

United Sikhs is an international non-profit organization that started its operations in Australia in 2009.

Gurvinder Singh, a representative of United Sikhs, said that after starting in the field of legal advice, the organization is now making its ‘due contribution’ in humanitarian services as well.

"We have about 400 volunteers registered at the moment, but the active participant number changes based on the service needs," he said.

He said about 50 volunteers were engaged in ‘active services’ during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We are mainly focused on supplying groceries and ready-to-use food items to the needy people and international students," he said.

“Our volunteers work in accordance with Sikh principles of love, care and service to humanity.” 

United Sikhs volunteers ready to distribute free food  amongst the families affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
United Sikhs volunteers ready to distribute free food amongst the families affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
Supplied

Sikh Volunteer Australia (SVA) is a Melbourne-based charity organization that started its work in 2014.

Manpreet Singh, a representative of the organization, said that in 2017, they started providing free meals using ‘free food vans’, mainly in the south-east of Melbourne.

“We have over 170 volunteers registered with our organisation who have always been very passionate about ‘Nishkam Sewa’ which essentially means selfless service to humanity without the need for any recognition or reward,” he said.

The SVA provided free meals to people in self-isolation and those returning from abroad staying in Mercure hotel in Melbourne for their mandatory quarantine period.

They also served hundreds of free meals to the residents of public housing estates facing lockdown in the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne during the first week of July. 

Sikh volunteers out to serve food to lockdown-affected communities in Melbourne.
Sikh volunteers out to serve food to lockdown-affected communities in Melbourne.
Supplied by SVA
 

"At peak times, we have been supplying around 800 ready-to-serve food containers on a daily basis. This number has come down to 300 in recent days," said Manpreet Singh.

“As of the first week of July, we have served over 75,000 free meals and have further assisted over 500 families who reached us for help.” 

A team of Sikh volunteers preparing meals at a community kitchen in Melbourne's south-east.
A team of Sikh volunteers preparing meals at a community kitchen in Melbourne's south-east.
Supplied by SVA

Khalsa Aid is an international humanitarian organization that was started by Bhai Ravi Singh in 1999.

Harpreet Singh, a representative of Khalsa Aid, told SBS Punjabi that its local chapter began their services with the Townsville flood relief effort in 2019.

Mr Singh said that about 150 volunteers are associated with the Australian unit of Khalsa Aid.

"After the outbreak of COVID-19, we started supplying groceries and dry foods in almost all major cities. Out of the 30 tonnes of the material collected with the support of Sikh sangat, we have so far distributed over 26 tonnes,” he said.

“Khalsa Aid is based upon the Sikh principle of ‘Recognise the whole human race as one’. We always pray for the welfare of all mankind.” 

Khalsa Aid volunteers getting ready to distribute free grocery items.
Khalsa Aid volunteers getting ready to distribute free grocery items.
Supplied

Turbans 4 Australia is another organisation that is providing free services to the people affected during coronavirus pandemic.

Launched in Sydney in 2015, the organisation now contributes towards many reliefs works at a national level.  

“Our very first project was started a few years ago when we joined hands to support the drought-affected communities in Dubbo, in regional New South Wales," said Amar Singh who is the founder member of the organisation.

"For the past three or four months, our volunteers have been serving through our Sydney centres located Liverpool and Harris Park, Wollongong, Queanbeyan near Canberra, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne.” 

Turbans 4 Australia volunteers distributed thousands of free meals and grocery boxes to the people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Turbans 4 Australia volunteers distributed thousands of free meals and grocery boxes to the people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Supplied

Mr Singh said that around 70 volunteers of their organization served during the 'peak time' of COVID-19.

“We’ve so far provided over 30,000 free meals and around 25 tonnes of groceries have been distributed among the needy people and international students.”

"We have a responsibility towards our fellow citizens. The Sikh principles guide us to make our services accessible to those in need." 

Sikh volunteers served many international students and their families affected by the pandemic.
Sikh volunteers served many international students and their families affected by the pandemic.
Supplied

Dal Baba Bidhi Chand Shaoni was set up in the western Melbourne suburb of Plumpton in 2014.

Their representative Gurdarshan Singh said they have over 200 volunteers registered with them who aim to provide various public, social and religious services in the times of coronavirus.

"We started providing our free services on March 18 which is still continuing. The services include free supplies of groceries and free meals to those in need, mainly in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne,” he said. 

Dal Baba Bidhi Chand Shaoni volunteers ready to serve free grocery items to the people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dal Baba Bidhi Chand Shaoni volunteers ready to serve free grocery items to the people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Supplied

Mr Singh said that their focus has also been on international students and their families who have been facing difficulties after the spread of the virus.

"So far we have distributed over 50,000 ready-to-use free vegetarian food containers. Additionally, we’ve also distributed over 5,000 grocery kits to people going through financial hardships.

"The Sikh principles of the Welfare of All and Service to Humanity inspires the people and volunteers associated with our organization,” he added.

In addition to these Sikh organisations, many gurdwaras and other associated groups are also playing a key role in providing free food and groceries to the people affected during the pandemic.

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for food and essential supplies, work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. People are also advised to wear masks in public.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

Listen to SBS Punjabi Monday to Friday at 9 pm. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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