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From the Field
Relief Workers' Report

UNITED SIKHS, an international non-profit human development NGO, is currently working to provide humanitarian aid to victims of the Asian tsunami disaster. Current UNITED SIKHS projects include relief efforts in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nicobar Islands, South India, and Aceh, Indonesia.

From the Project Coordinator's Desk
(January 13)
By Gurmeet Kaur, Project Coordinator for UNITED SIKHS Team India

It was 2:30 AM of Jan 13th and my cell phone rang. By the time I got to it to it, the Voice Mail system had picked it up. It was the 15th night since the S.E Asia disaster that; either I was woken up in the middle of night or had not even slept until that time. The thought crossed my mind; I can't handle it any more, this is it. I am calling the UNITED SIKHS folks tomorrow and will ask them to find another volunteer for this job. What am I getting ? More work everyday with bigger expectations I am unable to fulfill. Three to four hours of sleep each night uninterrupted if I am lucky. Another 5-6 or more hrs of commitment through the day when I have a full time job to keep, a child to raise a house to take care of ; all by myself? I haven't cooked a nice meal for us in last 15 days, the house is becoming completely un livable and am constantly struggling to meet the deadlines at work. I haven't exercised or been outside for a walk in fresh air, watered my plants or read my Baanis. I hadn't spend any time helping or even looking over my son's homeworks, calling or getting together with my friends. My Mom left yesterday to go back to India and I had spent less than 24 hrs with her in the past 15 days; that too taking volunteer calls and answering their questions; processing their applications as the Volunteer Coordinator for the GHANAIA project.

I checked the VM. It was Bhai Esher Singh our SE India Project Leader. I thought; don't they know it is night here. Of course he does, how many times have I called him when it is midnight for him. He said it was an emergency and I need to call him right away. Rubbing my rebelling eyes, I started scanning through my India logs for his latest phone number. Luckily I got through in the 6th try. He said they were stuck at Port Blair in the A&N islands in the Indian Ocean and that Campbell bay, where a lot of damage has occurred, is accessible only through army or air force. It is 300 nautical miles from Port Blair. Even if they take a boat it will take 2-3 days.There is only one flight that takes the relief material and they have agreed to send one person only. There are 5 organizations including UNITED SIKHS negotiating access. They have also mentioned that the return date of this person cannot be assured.There are more than 350 Sikh families in Campbell bay out of which approx 70-75 are lost. Some families have come to Port Blair and are putting up in a gurdwara where there isn't enough care available.The Sikh families are in Gobind Nagar , Joginder Nagar and Campbell bay. The tehsildars (adminstrators) etc. from the affected places have already moved to Port Blair. He added that the Port Blair got its first relief flight 70 hrs after the disaster and people are in bad shape. Administration is still struggling on what to do. Most of the flights are being used by MPs, MLAs and government officials whereas the victims are kept back. The relief camps at Port Blair were full and they met few families who were crying; they had lost everything and yet they were refused to be admitted in the camp since it was full.

Bhai Esher Singh and his UNITED SIKHS team had by now been phenomenal in banding up with other Sikh organization, providing short term relief in 4 villages in Cuddalore, adopting one village and starting rehabilitation work there and now he was directed by the HQ to go assess the situation of the neglected pockets of people. We had information on how ex-Sikh Service Men were asked to settle in the A&N islands and were neglected for the longest time. We had also been told that the government of India is allowing limited access to these islands. 'Recognize human race as one' the Guru's command meant we also have to look after our brothers and sisters we neglect the most 'the Sikhs'. It was time to see how the people who have always uplifted the downtrodden; saw the needs of others before their own; needed help. Now he is stuck there. He needed either a higher up government official to call the Secretariat or all the credentials of UNITED SIKHS along with a lot of legal paperwork, and its commitment to help the people in those islands before he was going to be allowed to assess the situation. I promised we will get him the paper work in a few hours and contacted THE person who could provide everything in time; MejindarPal Kaur the Director of EU chapter. I knew she will be up and unlike me she will not complain. The moment I thought of her I felt ashamed of complaining. This woman; what drives her, I don't know. I am volunteering 5-6 hrs a day and it seems to have upset my life completely ; but she is dedicating 20 hrs if not more and there were others Kuldip Singh the humble Director who would take any task and deliver on time; and not to forget the rest of the team - the volunteers who have been waking up at 4 AM every morning in Chennai and traveling 2-3 hrs to distant affected and neglected villages to provide food, comfort, clothing and love to the affected without any ulterior motive; getting back late P.M. and compiling reports to send to the HQ; making mid term and long term recommendations and getting ready to do it all over in a few hours again.

Then, the image I saw in T.V. of little boys and girls in a long line with a dirty pots in their hands; teary eyes with no knowledge of their parents or relatives being alive flashed in front of my eyes, and I saw my own son Angad Singh in that line. I forgot all my pain, took a deep breath and thanked the Guru for giving me this seva and slept like a baby for the next 2 hours. I had the satisfaction of doing my part.

-Gurmeet Kaur, Atlanta GA

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