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January 6th, 2005               24 Poh (Samvat 536 Nanakshahi)

COMMUNITY VOICE

 TSUNAMI RELIEF AID IN SOUTH EAST ASIA - TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS

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contact@unitedsikhs.org

 

KUALA LUMPUR - The attempts to provide relief aid to areas worst hit by December 26th’s Tsunami disaster has proven a challenge for international relief agencies. Logistics of transportation to the areas for volunteers and relief aid supplies, furthered by security issues and a history of political unrest in many areas has complicated attempts to reach the victims. The crash of a supply plane at Banda Aceh airport delayed flights coming into the affected areas for more than 17 hours.

The constant barrage of flights into the airport has further slowed delivery of supplies, prompting the test of an innovative solution to access the out lying and remote villages by GLOBAL SIKHS, a Tsumani relief team comprising of Malaysian-based organization MALAYSIAN SIKH YOUTH (Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia) and global human development organization UNITED SIKHS. Instead of moving by air into Banda Aceh, the band of volunteers originating from Malaysia, the United Kingdom and Canada are moving via sea. The plan: to reach directly to affected areas without delay.

  Volunteers receiving supplies 
Above: Volunteers receiving supplies in Kuala Lumpur.
 

 

   
The group, which has gathered more than 500 tons of relief aid material, leave the island of Langkawi, Malaysia on Friday at 10am local time. They will be carrying medicine, emergency supplies, food, water, and several tons of body bags. Besides that, GLOBAL SIKHS will also be taking along with them generators, water purification equipment, and mechanical diggers.

Earlier, the team wanted to go into Aceh via air, having secured some 30 seats on flights chartered by a newspaper group. However, after the crash of the supply plane, the team's intelligence sources had found out that many relief teams were already at the airport, waiting in queue to move out into affected areas beyond the airport in Banda Acheh.
 
After much deliberation, it was resolved that the sea route, despite its inherent drawbacks of speed and last mile access, now seems more attractive.
 

 

 

The team of about 25 volunteers include 10 medical personnel. The others are engineers and Langgar (food) specialists. The team and supplies are being transported by a passenger ship and cargo barges. The passenger ship which carries the team members would be converted into a hospital ship on arrival as it has water purification equipment on board.

 

“We have chosen this method of access after consulting the Indonesian authorities and intend to setup base camp in Lhokseumawe in north eastern Aceh,” says Malkith Singh, a senior volunteer with Global Sikhs, who will be leading the first excursion.

 

The transport ships have been organized by a group of Langkawi-based sailors. They will be form a supply road from Langkawi to Lhokseumawe on a weekly basis.

  Coordination team finalizing details. 
Above: Coordination team finalizing details.
 

GLOBAL SIKHS have their operations centred at Sabha House in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. The centre has been frantic with activity for the last few days receiving donated items such as food and medical supplies from the public.

  Coordinator receives briefing. 
Above: Briefing meeting
 

The collaboration started with a simple request from UNITED SIKHS directors in New York and London to one of its directors, Rishiwant Singh in Malaysia: “We want to got to Aceh. Can you lead the way?”

 

Rishiwant Singh’s first reaction as he recalls was: “But there are loads of other aid agencies. What could we do? It is difficulty territory.”

 

Nonetheless, the phone calls to Rishiwant Singh didn’t stop. Jagdev Singh, UNITED SIKHS director based in Spain, called Rishiwant Singh at 5am and asked, “If no one else can help us, why can't five of us go?” He was referring to the five beloveds central to the Sikh traditions.

 

“I couldnt sleep that night,” recalls Rishiwant Singh. “First thing in the morning I went to Sabha House and met Malkith Singh of Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia.”

 

From there the partnership started and the rest is history. Since new year’s eve, the phones haven’t stopped ringing to the Indonesian authorities to get permission to enter the affected areas. Jagdev Singh arrived in Kuala Lumpur with a team of volunteers from the UK. Amongst them is Dr. Susheelwant Kaur, a young doctor who starts her posting at a hospital in Wolverhampton in February. Dr. Kaur says that the medical supplies kindly donated by the Malaysian pharmaceutical companies and the international public are sufficient for the few weeks but will need to be replenished regularly.

 
Harbhajan Singh, diarist for Global Sikhs, reports, “The last few days have been hectic, with plans changing by the hour. Each new development has required tweaking of the plan previously crafted.”


Meanwhile, Sabha House has been a hub of activity. Carloads of medicines and water bottles have been delivered. Phones haven’t stopped ringing. Now, after the long pause of waiting, the team is preparing to finally enter the field. Reports are received that the situation is very grim. Grown men who came to the affected areas to help have had to be sent back because they couldn’t stomach the smell of death.

  Coordination team finalizing details. 
Above: Operations Centre in Bangsar, KL 
 

 

Gurpreet Singh, a young volunteer for UNITED SIKHS from Eastern Canada, arrived on Thursday in Malaysia and joins the team at Langkawai as they depart for Aceh. UNITED SIKHS director in England, Mejindarpal Kaur, says the number of volunteers has been encouraging and overwhelming. “We have a sufficient number of volunteers at this stage of our project, which focusses on immediate food and medical assistance and assessment of long-term needs,” Kaur said, “However, we encourage individuals who would like to volunteer in the next stages to e-mail their applications to volunteer@unitedsikhs.org and to visit our website for further updates. This relief effort will require many volunteers and financial assistance from donors worldwide."


  Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat relief aid   Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat relief aid  

  Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat relief aid   Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat relief aid  

Above: Devastation in Tamil Nadu is evident as victims mourn and volunteers work to provide relief aid.

Meanwhile, GLOBAL SIKHS team members have undergone the necessary vaccinations and are psychologically preparing themselves. On Tuesday, team members who volunteered to go into Aceh also underwent a one-day course on basic relief work. The course, patched up at the last minute, brought together some experienced relief workers. Their experience and advise will surely better prepare the Sikh relief team. At noon local time on Thursday, GLOBAL SIKHS held a press conference in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, to describe their plans to the local and international media.

  Office bearers of Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat discuss relief efforts. 
Above: Office bearers of Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat discuss relief efforts in Cuddalor
 

This year Sikhs celebrate the 300th anniversary of the revelation of the ‘Red Cross’ ideology by the 10th Sikh master when he gave the 'first-aid box' to Bhai Ghanaia who provided relief aid to war-victims, regardless of their affiliation. In the 18th Century Bhai Ghanaia was a revolutionary, seeing divinity in all beings and providing assistance to everybody without prejudice. Inspired by this, UNITED SIKHS is calling their relief project GHANAIA (Giving Humanitarian Aid Necessities and Assistance Impartially to All) and hopes to live up to the great legacy.

 

In addition to their involvement in current efforts by GLOBAL SIKHS, the GHANAIA Tsunami Relief Project continues to extend in other areas affected by this tragedy. UNITED SIKHS coordinator in Thailand Amarjit Kaur reports that volunteers there are in consultations with local community organizations to arrange for rehabilitation of victims in Phuket, which has been a popular international tourist destination for many years. A team of UNITED SIKHS volunteers from the UK, Canada and USA will be providing medical assistance to victims in Phuket beginning in the middle of January.


 
Teams heading for Chennai and Sri Lanka, lead by UNITED SIKHS project leader Esher Singh of Patialia, are also departing soon, as they prepare for the largest relief effort in history. In Cuddalor area of Tamil Nadu, teams are working together under the banner of Guru Nanak Sarbat Sikh Sangat, to help rebuild the community’s infrastructure there.
 
Fundraising efforts have continued around the clock and around the world, as the increasing costs for rehabilitation efforts are overwhelming. UNITED SIKHS has drafted posters and sample letters, available on their website, for fundraising efforts to be coordinated around the world. UNITED SIKHS director in New York, Hardayal Singh, requested donors worldwide on Thursday to help with fundraising. “We ask individuals to approach their local community organizations, churches, gurdwaras and social groups to assist the GHANAIA Tsunami Relief project so that we can provide direct, immediate and effective aid to the victims of this tragedy.” He added, “We appreciate the support of the community thus far and we hope the continued support will be there as this is a long-term project with overwhelming costs. Donations to UNITED SIKHS can be made by bank transfer, cheque, in person, or online. The information for all of these formats is available on our website at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/reliefproject.html."
  Global Sikhs office headquarters 
Above: Global Sikhs operations office. 
 

   

Support 
None of this effort is possible without financial contributions. Please exercise your responsibility of Dasvandh (10% Donation from Income) and donate to the Relief Fund. Your contribution will have real, immediate effects that will provide sustenance and hope to the disaster victims.

Please donate, even if you cannot give a lot. Your contribution will help victims directly.

You may donate online by clicking above, or choose one of the following options for your convenience:

  • Donate by cheque/check payable to UNITED SIKHS, and mail to a UNITED SIKHS regional office.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE GHANAIA TSUNAMI PROJECT,
 

Our Mission
 
To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.
 
UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities.
 
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