Covid-19 Exclusives: Serving is a Sikh’s Legacy

loading Two volunteers cooking tomyam fried rice. Photo by: Esther Ping Dominic.

THE WADDA GURDWARA Sahib Penang runs a free community kitchen, and all are welcome to dine there regardless of religion, race, gender, age or social class. But with the closing of the temple’s gates following the MCO on March 18, its communal kitchen too had to cease operations. Regulars and the needy were instead directed to the Caring Society Complex.

But extra pairs of hands were needed for the already stretched local NGOs, and so husband and wife Daljit Singh and Sukhveer Kaur, who serve as the president and secretary of the Gurdwara’s committee, organised a community outreach programme. Volunteers were recruited, and dry rations were purchased and distributed to families of diverse nationalities, including migrant workers, across the state. “We worked with Panjam Food Rescue and one other individual who secured a permit to travel to those affected in Butterworth,” says Sukhveer.

Since August, the Gurdwara has supported 950 families. Daily meals were also prepared for senior citizens, stranded tourists, as well as the unwell and homeless. To avoid an overlap in meal supplies and resultant food wastage, the Gurdwara made sure to coordinate closely with other organisations. Muslims observing Ramadan also received 340 packets of dates, while care packs of face masks, hand sanitisers and antiseptic soaps were given to needy families, individuals and senior citizens who could not afford them.

Through members of the congregation and social media channels like Facebook and WhatsApp, news of the initiative soon spread, enabling the Gurdwara to reach a wider target group. But information received had to be vetted. This Sukhveer did by checking with her contacts to determine if the case was indeed genuine.

Upon confirmation, the team would reach out to the families. Rather than implementing a quota system, all rations given were customised to fit the needs of the families. “Having a quota system only limits our capacity to help up to a certain point. When our stomachs are filled but those of others are not, do we forget about them?” she asks.

Rations to be distributed to families. Photo by: Esther Ping Dominic.

The Gurdwara also offered psychosocial support to help those mentally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCO. The outreach programme’s management committee consists of a doctor and a nurse; for her part, Sukhveer holds a Master’s in Youth Work and Community Development, and is experienced in providing counselling. The cases that come in were divided between the team, and counselling sessions were conducted over the phone. Collectively, they managed to reach 189 individuals battling stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings.

Chronic cases of clinical depression were referred to MERCY, while the Women Centre for Change (WCC) was alerted to victims of domestic violence. Sukhveer shares, “It’s a blessing that we have WCC, MERCY and Befrienders. The people who received help got back to us and told us that they were very grateful.”

Wadda Gurdwara also created a “friendship zone” through WhatsApp for those suffering extreme bouts of loneliness, where they were encouraged to keep one another company through video calls. This group is made intentionally small to create a safe space for members to open up about their insecurities and without fear of judgement.

Volunteers loading the rations. Photo by: Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Penang.

A phone call would also be made at least once a week to senior citizens living on their own. Admitting that putting down the phone can sometimes be difficult since the seniors often have plenty to say, Sukhveer remarks, “At the end of the day, everybody wants to know that they are cared for.”

Having learned the concept of “serving” as a child, Sukhveer shares that she finds joy in helping others. “Altruism is a way of life for the Sikh community; and with this community initiative, it has been a team effort between people of diverse communities and backgrounds. We’re very grateful because we would not have been able to do what we did without the partnership of different organisations and individuals. I think we Malaysians can be very generous. If it is for a good cause, many are willing to come forward to share their resources,” she says, adding that aside from monetary aid, support also came in the form of food rations, face masks and hand sanitisers.  

For those who wish to volunteer their time and expertise, or to make donations, please contact Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Penang at 012-430 0497.

Esther Ping Dominic is a writer who is surprisingly still alive despite the saying “curiosity kills the cat”. Having been on the receiving end of undeserved kindness, she aims to live her life reflecting that.

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