Guneet Pooni: "Sikhs Reacted Faster Than Our Government Did"

"All the things taught to us at the Gurdwara such as Seva, Sarbat da Bhalla, manas ki jaat sabh ekai pechanbo, we put into action when a disaster hits.”

Guneet Pooni
November 22, 2021 | 2.5 min. read | Original Reporting

As disasters of the climate crisis struck across British Columbia this past week, the Sikh community was praised for often being the first to show up to help those stranded and displaced.

Record-breaking rainfall came down on B.C., causing flooding, mudslides, and landslides that cut all major transportations routes. 

In Merrit and parts of Abbordsford, residents were told to evacuate their homes. Abbotsford is the heartland of B.C.’s agriculture, farmers did as much as they could to save their livestock and help their neighbours before they had no choice but to leave. 

It was not until Wednesday, November 17, that Premier John Horgan declared a state of emergency. However, the delay in a formal declaration did not stop members of the Sikh community to begin mobilizing critical humanitarian aid and food.

“You can rely on the Sikhs,” Jatinder Singh, Khalsa Aid Canada’s national director, says when asked if the reputation Sikhs hold for responding quickly to disasters is one commonly held across Canada.

Khalsa Aid Canada has been instrumental in mobilizing volunteers and getting food and supplies to regions cut off from the rest of the province. 

“The faith is literally designed for this,” he adds while providing an example of how a small population of Sikhs in Oliver have been cooking and delivering food to communities every day since the floods hit. “Our ability to mobilize so quickly is because our faith institutions were designed for this.”

Volunteers at Surrey’s Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib and Guru Nanak Food Bank prepped over 3000 meals, which were delivered by helicopter to Hope. Double mudslides had come down on Highway 7 and stranded travelers and truckers there. The volunteers have also been collecting donations at the Gurdwara with plans to drive trucks full of food to those stranded by taking routes through the US. 

Many other Gurdwara’s across the provinces have set up efforts to collect donations including Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar, located in Surrey, and Gurdwara Khalsa Darbar, in Vancouver.

The Kamloops Gurdwara Sahib Society and Khalsa Aid volunteers got food to truckers who, unable to leave their cargo, have been sleeping in their trucks. In Abbotsford, volunteers asked what evacuees needed and delivered by gathering donations of 300 pillows to bring to the shelter set up in Tradex. 

Jatinder Singh shares it is Sikhi that drives all of this.

“We not only pray for Sarbat Da Bhalla every day, we’ve made it our mission to ensure we provide relief and reassurance to those who are in need.”

It is not just organizations that have been active in relief efforts, individuals have stepped up for their community as well.

Tarnjit Kaur reported that the owners of Hope Pizza Place went car to car to serve pizza, hot tea, and toast to people stuck in their vehicles because of the highway closure and power outage and refused to accept any payments. 

On Twitter, Pavendeep Singh Gill thanked Manbir Singh and Jagdeep Singh for delivering “an entire tractor trailer full of groceries and supplies” to the Gurudwara in Kamloops.

As videos, images, and social media posts continually show more evidence of the community mobilizing to support those in need, Jatinder Singh says a sense of relief is the reaction from those on the ground when they see a Sikh.

“Increasingly, people know that if there is a Sikh population in their area, they can reach out and will get help,” he adds.

As the floods continue, Jatinder Singh shares that calls for help continue, from all corners of the province.

“Yesterday, we had a First Nation near Merritt reach out to Khalsa Aid asking for baby food, among other items. Our team in Kamloops mobilized and are sending the aid today. This is what we do. All the things taught to us at the Gurdwara such as Seva, Sarbat da Bhalla, manas ki jaat sabh ekai pechanbo, we put into action when a disaster hits.”

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Guneet Pooni is a freelance writer and is currently studying International Relations & Law and Society at the University of British Columbia. You can find her on Twitter at @guneet_p.


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