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GLOBAL SIKHS — Ajit's Interview — NST (Sunday People) Feb 28
OVER the weekend, Malaysian newspaper, New Sunday Times, gave GLOBAL SIKHS-WAVES OF MERCY some good coverage. Its Sunday People section, a pullout within the newspaper, front-paged one of the mission’s volunteers.
Ajit Singh, one of the key managers at the Command Centre, was given the task of talking to the journalist when they requested to speak to a volunteer.
His story represents the story of the Global Sikhs-Waves of Mercy, the humanitarian relief team, spearheaded by the SIKH NAUJAWAN SABHA MALAYSIA, that is still at work in Aceh Indonesia. The next batch of volunteers – Team Six – is scheduled to leave on March 9.
Last week, I was down in Pulau Langkawi, the island about an hour's flight from Kuala Lumpur, where the WAVES OF MERCY team is based. The mission has been going to Aceh via ships that leave from this island, a popular spot for international tourists.
Captain Hugo Crawford and the team are still all fired up to continue with the mission. The are now headquartered in an apartment not too far from the beach. Photographs of volunteers are plastered all over the room. While I was there, they received a call from Capt Mario (who was injured in an explosion earlier and was flown onto a German warship, but now back in action).
Back at Sabha House, the headquarters of SIKH NAUJAWAN SABHA MALAYSIA, the sense of mission is still alive, though the number of volunteers has, naturally, dwindled. The operation is now headed by Jagdev Singh, who took over from Harvinder Singh, about a month ago.
GLOBAL SIKHS Lend a Helping Hand
New Sunday Times (27 Feb 2005)
By Loshini Catherine John
The tsunami disaster which struck last Dec 26 has brought the world together to help the victims. Ajit Singh tells LOSHINI CATHERINE JOHN how the Global Sikhs are doing their part in Aceh.
It has been nearly two months since the tsunami struck. The initial media frenzy has somewhat subsided, but the various efforts to rebuild what has been destroyed are still going on.
First there is the need to get those who have lost their families, loved ones and homes back on their feet again. Then, there is the urgency of rebuilding infrastructure in the affected areas.
The disaster saw many countries in the world coming together to help bring hope to the survivors. There was a tremendous need for money and contributions of food and clothing. While the donations in kind came generously, what was needed was manpower to deliver the goods.
Among the many support groups that have rallied round is the Global Sikhs. This is an international support group comprising the Malaysian Sikh Youth Organisation, the United Sikhs (an international NGO involved in humanitarian activities) and the Waves of Mercy (a non-profit organisation).
Ajit Singh, 45, a quality, logistics and purchasing manager with VA Tech Sdn Bhd says the organisation has close to 200 members. "This is the first time that many of us are involved in such a big project. Previously, our voluntary work involved working with underprivileged children, providing them with tuition classes and conducting camps for them," he says.
"We also provide food for patients at the General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur on Sundays," continues Ajit, who has been a volunteer with the MSYO for a long time. "Volunteering has always been part and parcel of my life. It is something I picked up from our parents.
And so when we heard about what had happened on Dec 26, I knew I had to chip in." Aid came in various forms - in cash and kind through its centre located in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. The organisation has managed to send its first relief team to Aceh in January.
"We wanted to concentrate on one country. Indonesia (Aceh) being the nearest and our neighbouring country, was an obvious choice. It is also one of the most badly hit. Besides, communication is easier as we speak the same language," he says.
When people heard of their effort, more volunteers stepped forward. Interestingly now, despite its name, the Global Sikhs have members of various races too. "Yes, help came from people of all walks of life and from all religions as well. People were not bothered with what we call ourselves. We have volunteers who are Chinese, Malay and the fifth team we will be sending consists of many Americans, Australians and Irish as well," discloses Ajit who is in the midst of preparing Team 5 for their mission.
On ships provided by Waves of Mercy, the volunteers have journeyed to Aceh to help with medical supplies, food and clearing up.
To date, the Global Sikhs have sent more than 75 members to lend a hand at various locations. The Indonesian Embassy in KL has been a great help to them as well, approving permits fast and getting things done swiftly in order for operations to run smoothly.
Though Ajit himself has not been to Aceh, his wife Renu is currently there. "She tells me that many are still traumatised and right now, what they need is rehabilitation and not relief," he says.
From setting up mobile clinics, running food camps, providing sewing machines for the women and fishing boats for the men, the Global Sikhs are doing everything possible within their means to help rehabilitate Aceh. "I have even written to celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey to tell her about our efforts in hope that more funds can be channeled to us," he says.
While those in Aceh are working round the clock, volunteers over here have their fair share of work as well. "Most of our members have day jobs. But they come to the centre right after work and do what they can - from getting more food supplies, answering phone calls and just making sure that the operations run smoothly. There is much more to be done.
"When we first started, we were going home at three in the morning then waking up at six to go to work. Now, we get to leave at about 1am. Sometimes it is tiring but when everyone comes together, we are all charged up." Surely having to balance a full-time job, a family and volunteer work must be overwhelming? "Even if my efforts here can save one life, it's worthwhile," reckons Ajit. "How can you equate one life to the amount of sleep you get? There are survivors who have lost their entire families. They really need a helping hand or just someone they can talk to."
Ajit points out that in one camp, there are some 60 families sharing two bathrooms while in another, about 140 people are occupying a tennis court. "The situation is so bad out there that for us to lose some sleep is really nothing."
While his wife is involved in humanitarian work, Ajit is both father and mother to his two daughters Baldip, 10 and Dilpreet, 7. "They understand that mummy and daddy are doing this for a good cause."
"It's important that the girls understand the importance of helping the less fortunate and volunteering. But most of the kids whose parents are involved in this undertaking fully understand what's going on," he says.
How long will Ajit and friends be running the centre? "For as long as we have funds and there are people needing our help," he replies.
Global Sikhs-Waves of Mercy: Background
WHO WE ARE
GLOBAL SIKHS-WAVES OF MERCY is the name coined for the international relief effort to help the earthquake and Tsunami victims in Aceh, Indonesia. It is an informal grouping of Sikh and non-Sikh organisations worldwide that want to assist in the relief mission. While the mission platform carries the name Sikh, it is open to people from all races, religions and nationalities. We have, both on the mission and at the headquarters level, volunteers from various races, religions and nationalities.
The mission is spearheaded by Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (Malaysian Sikh Youth), a Malaysian-based 41-year old youth organisation. This is a registered NGO in Malaysia and has performed various community projects in Malaysia and the Asia Pacific region. Website: www.snsm.org.my
Its key operational partner is the WAVES OF MERCY, a group of Langkawi-based sailors who have rallied together to make the ships available to carry forward the mission. It is led by Captain Hugo Crawford. Some of the sailors have lost their boats in the tsunami incident. Website: www.wavesofmercy.com
Its main international partner is the UNITED SIKHS, an international NGO with chapters in Europe, America and Asia. It has sent five of its members to Kuala Lumpur for the relief work in Aceh. In separate missions, UNITED SIKHS have also sent their members to Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Website: www.unitedsikhs.org
- Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), Washington, USA
- Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF), Washington, USA www.ggsf.org
- Gurmat Learning Zone. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learning-zone/
- The Association of Sikh Physicians for Involvement, Response and Engagement (ASPIRE), USA
- Naujawan Sabha Melbourne, Australia
- Dya Singh World of Music
Our mission is to assist in the humanitarian relief operations in Aceh, Indonesia, in the most effective manner as possible. Funds raised and assistance rendered will go towards achieving the objective.
24-HOUR COMMAND CENTRE
GLOBAL SIKHS operates a round-the-clock control and command centre n Kuala Lumpur. Tel: ++ 603 - 2283 3713
||Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia - Tsunami Relief
||Bangsar Baru Branch
||66, 68 & 70, Jalan Maarof, Bangsar Baru, 59000 Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia.