Community Voice

24 February 2005 13 Phalgun 536 Nanakshahi

How a Group of Washington Sikhs Responded to the Call for Tsunami Relief Volunteers

Editors Note: This report has been filed by Sher Singh of Washington DC who leapt into action as soon as we made a call for volunteers and donations. He has worked tirelessly with his team as if relief work was second nature to him. If money was collected he ensured that the donors received their receipts promptly. If clothes were donated he had a team to iron and fold them neatly into boxes. The result? More than half a tonne of food clothes and medical supplies were sent as aircargo to Great Nicobar. No they didn't pay the earth for the freight. UNITED SIKHS had arranged discounted freight charges which were paid for by the donors who supplied the goods. Here he recounts his motivation and a log of how the work was undertaken- almost to textbook precision.

For more information and latest news on UNITED SIKHS - GHANAIA Tsunami Relief Project, please check out: http://www.unitedsikhs.org

Leesburg, VA, USA - GHANAIA Tsunami Relief Project


On December 26th upon reaching the destination of our only short 4-day vacation in over a year (of which we had already lost a day due to airlines mismanagement) our family learnt about the devastation that the Tsunamis had wrecked in South Asia while most people were taking it easy in the United States during the perpetual Christmas and New Year's holiday season. Needless to say that several moments during our vacation were spent contemplating on the tragedy and praying for the people who had suffered through all this. But in the background an urge developed to do something to help out, something that our family had done before on smaller scales in a number of tragic situations. That led to a phone call to my dad, about the thought and with the encouragement offered by him we began thinking of ways we could best be of help to the victims. I personally am a firm believer that all thoughts of community service are implanted in us by the almighty God himself, and to not fulfill them is like not keeping your end of the bargain to God

So began the search over the web, television, newspapers of what relief activities were being planned so that at the very least we could as a family donate as much as we could afford to some of the organizations. In the back of our mind was also the thought of pulling off a relief drive effort similar to what we have done or participated in before in smaller levels, involving collection of relief supplies, clothes, funds, seeking volunteers, and networking with other organizations to maximize our productivity and impact. This grassroots level is not as easy as soliciting funds on behalf of an organization but it surely gives a very connected feeling to everyone who takes part in it, and through efforts like this communities emerge stronger and more faithful.

So as the influx of ideas came popping in our minds every moment of the day, we began writing them down, hoping that soon we'll be able to magically connect the dots by finding partners to work with who had similar initiatives. Instead of being bogged down by our existing commitments of work, family life, and other community projects we were in the thick of, we decided to keep going ahead with the effort while thinking of ways of leveraging all our other engagements to our advantage, rather than our disadvantage. We knew we had a big network of friends and family we could count on; we knew we had a great number of students in our school we could count on; we knew that our professional and business links would help us; and so on.

So, in the midst of our search and preparation of a project plan of what we wanted to do, we discovered that our very own, a Sikh organization, UNITED SIKHS, had begun a project under the name of Bhai Ghanaia ji to engage in the relief activities in some of the worst hit areas. Having known some of the organizers of this organization as being totally down-to-earth honest and hardworking people, with no other motive besides community building and with experience in working on tragedies of a large scale, we decided to support them wholeheartedly while encouraging and supporting anyone who was helping in this tragedy in other ways.

With a phone call to UNITED SIKHS after reviewing their updates on their website, we established a basic understanding of what our initial support would mean to their project. Our drive would raise funds and necessary supplies that would be enough to help the immediate needs of about 10,000 victims for a few weeks. We would have enough (and indeed we did) leverage to suggest where the monies and supplies that get collected from our end will be dispersed to or used for.

Activity Details

To provide a breakdown of the activities that took place in this effort, we have broken down the effort into weekly intervals.

Dec 26th to Jan 8th

Much of what happened in this period has already been said in the overview. In addition we prepared and printed posters, brochures, contacted possible volunteers and shared the vision with them, setup a hotline, looked for storage space for the supplies, collected news articles to share with people and to post on community bulletin boards. We translated our strategy into the following actions:

  1. We put out the message that we would be (for two weeks) collecting mostly door-to-door a minimum of $25 per family to procure emergency supplies and fund our operations. In addition we would also be accepting 5 sets of used clothes for women and children. In retrospect we found that some people were not too keen on giving us any funds, and most everyone wanted to give us many more loads of used clothes. A few people also began collecting used clothes on their own and called us later to have them picked up.

  2. We also contacted about 15 people to who we gave the responsibility for collecting funds and used clothes by contacting their friends and neighbors. This helped distribute some of the work.

  3. Next we went to several Temples, Churches and Gurdwaras to make announcements and put up posters to collect funds and used clothes. Of them the following institutions proved to be the most helpful: Raj Khalsa Gurdwara in Sterling, Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Fairfax, and Rajdhani Mandir in Chantilly.

  4. Some other collection techniques that we wanted to but did not have the time to engage in were: soliciting donations from small businesses, putting out our brochures or requesting our community owned businesses to share information about our project with their contacts.

  5. Below is a picture taken during the collection drive when we had setup a collection point at the Raj Khalsa Gurdwara in Sterling, VA.

Photograph 1. Washington Volunteers in Action

Jan 9th to Jan 22nd

  1. This being the last week to do door-to-door pick ups most of our volunteers were busy doing just that. During this time we contacted more friends, Gurdwaras, Sikh organizations, family members and coworkers to send us funds or go online and donate, and this proved to be quite helpful as well.

  2. By this point we had collected around $5000, which we went ahead and deposited, and earmarked them for relief operations in Indonesia and India.

  3. We also began to finalize the shipping arrangements at this time so that by the time our drive ended, we would pack everything around the 22nd and have it shipped soon after. However the shipping date slipped by about a week due to several reasons. The shipping activity could not have been done without the tremendous help of UNITED SIKHS' material co-ordinator, Anmolpreet Kaur and coordination by Mejindarpal Kaur.

  4. During this period two local DC area Sikhs and a friend of one of them from Boston who had shown a great deal of interest in going down and volunteering had nearly completed most of the formalities to go down to India. It was quite a chase for them to get their Visas, Vaccines, Tickets, etc. We are glad that they had secured funds from other organizations and in addition that we were able to partly sponsor their tickets, from $2000 funds specifically collected for that purpose. These young Sikhs were, Hargobind Singh Khalsa (son of a good friend Sat Want Singh Khalsa and the late Sat Nam Kaur Khalsa), Hargobind Singh Khalsa (a teacher at our Gurmat School and the son of my dad's golfing buddy Beant Singh and Sat Satnam Kaur Khalsa who also arranged a drive for the Tsunami victims), and Sat Bir Singh Khalsa from the Boston area. All products of the Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar. At the time of writing this report, they are back from Campbell Bay in the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, after a month helping the local islanders rebuild their lives. Ironically as I was writing this report I got a disturbing call and an email stating that since they were American passport holders, the local authority was unfairly asking them to leave. So after being sidetracked on that issue here is what I have to say: hopefully due to the contacts our family had on the Islands that we leveraged by making calls and with the protests arranged by the locals on their behalf the authorities were probably given enough reasons to back down.

  5. By the end of this period we had collected another $2500 which we went ahead and deposited to be used for relief operations in Sri Lanka.

Jan 23rd to Feb 1st

  1. Towards the end of drive we went back to most of the donors that had given us small amounts of donations to request them to donate some medical and personal hygiene supplies. However this was a last minute effort and did not yield much benefit, because all we could pack was about 20KGs worth of supplies. In retrospect, we should have requested people to donate those supplies as well with their used clothes, and we could have done a lot better.

  2. At the end of the collection we had close to a ton of clothes, of which after careful inspection around 685KGs were packed in boxes by category on Jan 30th. We had about 25 volunteers on that day and the whole operation from soup to nuts took about 7 hours. The freight charges of around $1500 were very nominal, and borne from separate funds, collected specifically for this purpose. We had already deposited $2500 specifically for the freight. The rest of the clothes were partly trashed because of their condition, or dropped off at the local salvation army because they were of types that we did not want to send. For the most part we sent children's and women's clothes.

  3. These pictures were taken at various times during the final stages of the project:

The rest of the photos can been seen at:


Close to 125 people will have donated around $15000 in all. We are hoping to make a last deposit of around $2500 in a couple of weeks to be used for activities in Indonesia and Campbell Bay. Some gave online, some cash, most gave checks and a couple of them have pending pledges. Some gave little, some gave a lot, but all gave from their hearts, so we are equally grateful to all. And we are especially thankful to the following organizations and volunteers for helping us out throughout the project:

Putting this report together has brought some of the memories of this drive in front of our eyes again and will help in closing this chapter in our lives and has offered inspiration to embark on new missions. In no way, do I personally or our family claim the credit for these efforts, and in no way are they more important than the service provided by countless other people working around the clock to help the victims, and most importantly no amount of efforts can erase the devastation caused by the Tsunamis and the hundreds of thousands of lives changed and/or lost in it, but they can certainly offer a hope that through sincere community service we can rebuild some of what was lost.

We as a family and I personally feel deeply thankful for being able to participate in this effort and am also thankful to everyone else who did. We will continue to find ways and encourage others as well to support some of the long term initiatives started by UNITED SIKHS in the Tsunami hit regions and any other humanitarian projects of this nature.

UNITED SIKHS will update you as we receive reports. For Relief Team updates see:

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


You may donate online by clicking above, or by cheque payable to UNITED SIKHS, and mail to a UNITED SIKHS regional office.

For more information on the GHANAIA tsunami project, e-mail us on:

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.

UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good.

Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all.

We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.