At the tail end of 2012 my wife and I were invited to a Khalsa Aid dinner to celebrate volunteers and achievements that the charity had worked with over the year. I was unsure about what to fully expect. I knew that there would be a presentation and raffle.
In my view the evening was sensational. From volunteers who spoke passionately about the importance of developing thankful collections, world record breaking sky divers, mountain climbers and those who had a chance to witness first hand some of the self-less projects around the world. For example, helping orphanages in Haiti, helping families in a lost Punjab (India), organising water wells in Africa and organising trucks of aid and water to those displaced in Libya. These are just some of the projects Khalsa Aid (KA) have worked on. We walked away Thankful for the evening and inspired to do something for charity.
KA was started by Ravi Singh Khalsa in 1998. He contemplates:
I was a committee member of Singh Sabba Gurudwara Slough Executive committee from 1998-1999 (never been in any Gurudwara committee since but strongly recommend everyone should be in a committee at least once in their life). The forthcoming tri-centenary of the Khalsa was the main discussion point in most meetings. There were many opinions as to what was the best way to mark the 300th birth of the Khalsa. I was very adamant within myself that something good should rise to mark this historical occasion which not only got the Sangat (Sikh Community) involved but the whole world should be aware of this momentous occasion in the Sikh history. At the time of the celebrations across the UK (also the world) there was a very bloody war in Kosovo and every news bulletin carried the terrible pictures of the refugees struggling to cross the cold and mountainous border to reach a safer and peaceful Albania. The tide of refugees was a never ending tale of suffering and hardship. So I thought to myself that there was so much food at the Khalsa celebrations yet only 1700 miles away there were people fighting for a loaf of bread! I was reading a national newspaper when I read about a small group who were organising an aid convoy to Albania. The inspiration from Bhai Ghaniya Ji and SARBAT THE BHALLA (well being of all) came rushing into my mind and at that moment Khalsa Aid was born.
I spoke to my friend Jatinder Singh about it and he promptly got on to his computer to publicise Khalsa Aid and by the next day I had phoned the group from the newspaper to join them to deliver aid to the needy in Albania from the Sikh community. The Sangat was extremely generous in donating food, money etc and within 2 weeks we were on our way with 2 trucks and a van load of aid to Albania.
I interviewed Ravi back in 2009. You can hear the audio recording here:
It was at a interfaith event and it was great to see him representing the great work KA are involved in. What struck me the most was the way he ‘jumped’ into action. His energy and sense of true selflessness.
Anthropology texts suggest that it is human nature to trade and accept gifts if one is given. For example, one could argue that if a person gives someone a birthday present what they (the giver) receives back is a ‘feel good factor’. However, a true self-less individual will expect nothing back. He/She simply gives, gives and gives. A case in point is Haiti. Even today where we see some NGOs leaving the disaster zone and the whole country now no longer being featured in the public press, KA are still there sending volunteers, using the local economy to fuel recovery for Orphanages.
Tony Blair (Ex UK Prime Minister) remarked:
We can think of the great humanitarian enterprises which bring relief to those who are suffering – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, CAFOD and Christian Aid, Hindu Aid and SEWA International, World Jewish Relief and Khalsa Aid – all the charities which draw inspiration from the teachings of the different faiths.
In my view, sewa (self-less service) is what unites people from different backgrounds/faiths. In this mode they forget their differences and focus on the commonality between them (values et al) and focus around a cause.
I recently saw the Archbishop of Canterbury new year message (Video)
In his final New Year Message, Dr Rowan Williams said:
If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well, the chances are that if you slip backstage you’ll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round – and don’t forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups.
Dr Williams referred to the “Robes” project, where more than 20 local churches combine to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London. He said:
Religion here isn’t a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it’s a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated.
The latter got me thinking about how Sikh temples could get together to form sewa teams to help local communities and issues, for example: Homelessness and also work closely with other charities (Rotary Club international & Lions, to name a couple).
The strength of many and united we stand could be their motto! Some temples do work with other charities and give contributions but this approach could help greater community integration. Langar – Free kitchen to all is an amazing Sikh value.
Back in 2011 I both attended and was honored to be given permission to make a film about the Golden Temple exhibition at SOAS (University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (Video). The exhibition was attended by over 20,000 people from all walks of life. At one of the guided talks someone said/suggested (paraphrasing), ‘If Sikhs are known for their humanitarian work, maybe more information in the public eye could help stop post 911 mistaken identity’? Maybe, Sikhs are humble but some media is needed about what work is done, especially to help raise funds.
Our personal Thanks to Bal K, Ravi Khalsa (Founder & CEO of KA) together with the volunteers who set-up the event – Thanks for the eyeopener and long may you do great things.
Learn more about Khalsa Aid here.